Traveler's View: National Park Service Is Sending Conflicting Messages Concerning Bike Race At Colorado National Monument

The Park Service needs to reiterate that Colorado National Monument will not be a backdrop for a professional bike race. NPS photo.

Sadly, in less than four months the National Park Service seemingly has reversed itself and cracked open the door to a professional bicycle race climbing through Colorado National Monument.

Back in mid-August the Intermountain Region's director, John Wessels, appeared to lock the door against that possibility, saying the event "conflicts with federal regulations and agency management policies."

And yet, earlier this month the Intermountain Region announced it would take a new approach to deciding what activities are appropriate within the boundaries of the red-rock monument in western Colorado. The Park Service didn't unequivocally roll out the welcome map to the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, but that appears to have been the message the Grand Junction race supporters received. Last week they announced they would bid for a stage of next year's race, and raised the prospect of a route through the monument.

Park Service officials clearly erred in handling this issue, and should go back and reread not only Mr. Wessels' August letter, but also the opinion that Park Service Director Jon Jarvis voiced in March 2011 when he supported then-Superintendent Joan Anzelmo's decision to prohibit a stage of the race from riding through the monument.

“Closing the park to accommodate the needs of a commercial bike race goes against our management policies, would adversely impact park resources, and would deny access to the park to other visitors,” Director Jarvis said at the time. “Federal law and NPS policy restrict commercial activities in national parks to those that are ‘necessary and appropriate’ to park purposes. This bike race is neither necessary nor appropriate in the park. Superintendent Anzelmo made the right call.”

What has changed?

Along with the clear concerns that the race on its face is not appropriate for the national monument, there are also worries that if the Park Service approved the race, other units of the park system could find themselves fielding similar proposals.

Don't think so? In the past the monument has been the backdrop for non-competitive "citizen rides," such as the Denver Post's Ride the Rockies event. After one such event some years ago, Shenandoah National Park officials were asked to open Skyline Drive to a professional bike race.

"Some organizers and promoters wanted to use part of the Skyline Drive for the 'Tour d' Trump' - a race loosely modeled after the Tour d' France," recalls Bill Wade, who at the time was Shenandoah's superintendent. "We said it would be against NPS policy and cited the provision. The promoters cited the Colorado Monument bicycle use along with the 'Rim Run' in Crater Lake (National Park) as being 'events' that were allowed in National Park Service areas that were also 'against policy.' Fortunately we prevailed, but I think the problem with precedents is a real one."

There also was an instance several years ago, Mr. Wade notes, when backers of a car race, including the late-Paul Newman, wanted to stage a race at Floyd Bennett Field at Gateway National Recreation Area.

"My recollection from talking with Barry Sullivan, then superintendent, was that the promoters had done their homework and also cited some 'events' going on in NPS areas that were inconsistent with policy," said Mr. Wade.

As Traveler has said in the past, while professional bike racing is exciting to watch, and the red-rock beauty of Colorado Monument a breathtaking postcard for not just Colorado but the entire National Park System, the two don't belong together.

Commercial activities that prevent use of the park by visitors have no place in NPS areas. To contend that such a race is necessary to heighten the prospects of redesignating Colorado Monument as a national park -- something U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper raised in 2011 -- is terribly myopic and undervalues the wonders that exist there.

Park Service officials need to end the confusion by issuing a clarifying statement that professional bike races will not be allowed to take place in the national parks.


Money and politcal power.

One question, was a certain Donald involved in any way in that Tour d'Trump?

I wonder how, or if, this issue bears on discussions of elevating the monument to national park status.

I keep forgetting that you can find anything on the Internet. I Googled "tour d'trump," and here is some of what if found. This, from a May 1989 Sports Illustrated article:

If you could get past the name, the Tour de Trump, without losing your lunch, and if you could somehow divorce the sporting event from the excess baggage that went with it—the Trump Princess, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the chest-Trumping cameos of King Donald himself, whose ideas for improving the Tour de Trump included adding a few laps around the White House and continuing the race to Los Angeles via Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco—what you had was a pretty nice bicycle race.

I haven't had lunch yet, so can't lose it. But I did just lose my appetite.

What about commercial activities like concessions and horse rentals? The aversion to commercial activities seems a bit too sweeping to me.

Zeb, concessions and horse rentals are in place to benefit/serve park visitors, and do not require shutting down the park to the public for upwards of 12 hours. Professional bike races have nothing to add to the national park experience, in my opinion.


I don't disagree, but then your statement might be a bit reworded. It's not an aversion to commercial enterprise as much as an aversion to closing the parks. In another thread, somebody indicated that part of Olympia was closed for a day so that Honda could shoot a commercial. To me the line should be whether the park would benefit from the closure. Whether the closure is due to a veteran charity walk or a commercial race is not relevant. It's whether there is a benefit to the park. From that perspective, closing a park to shoot a commercial does not pass muster. On the other hand, if the closure will bring a lot of folks to watch the event, and in turn appreciate the park, then it may be worth it. Obviously, closures ought to be published way in advance and be limited. It can't become a monthly thing, but I could see a couple per year.

I live fairly close to the Monument. They used to run the Coors Classic on the Monument, and I don't remember any complaints about it--we just thought it was cool, and that the racers were lucky to get to ride it. I actually worked briefly for Denny Huffman, the superintendent who banned the race. Gosh, he was a control freak. Anyway, although I would prefer that the bike race take place, and I was disappointed about the decision, I was also not surprised. Here is more about the Coors Classic and here is one of their citations which talks about the banning: I mean, half a day's closure guys. What's the big deal?

When Obama and Beiden can close down a Park for a freekin' photo op/drive by, I think a bike ride with hundreds if not thousands of riders and spectators is reasonable.

Federal law and NPS policy restrict commercial activities in national parks to those that are ‘necessary and appropriate’ to park purposes.

If the purpose of the park is "to preserve, protect, and enjoy" this part of the Colorado Plateau, it seems pretty clear that, as pointed out in the article, a bike race is not "necessary" to preserve, protect, or enjoy the CP.

Jude, I think I would be concerned about the precedent this might set (as the article also points out). If the rules can be set aside here, why not anywhere else? And if for half a day, why not for a whole day? Or a weekend? In fact, what would be the point of having the rule at all?

When Obama and Beiden can close down a Park for a freekin' photo op/drive by, I think a bike ride with hundreds if not thousands of riders and spectators is reasonable.

I'm guessing that when a U.S. President or Vice President visits a national park, it's not considered to be a "commercial activity."

With all respect to virtue and good things, there is no bigger "commercial activity" or bigger corporation than the US government. Complete with all the temptations that test CEO's all across the country with ever decreasing oversight. Billions and billions of dollars in reality. Altruism in any of this in this culture is a rare commodity. That cruize through the only National Park by both Obama and Beiden was all about Government Unions and the environmental community. More candy, freebies and closing down a part of a park with much more political gain than a bike race where actual citizens might benefit. Just saying...

Trailadvocate, if the post had been about how political figures affect national parks with their visits, your comment would be a point. Don't forget, Mrs. Bush liked to visit national parks and those visits caused disruptions, and I'm sure other residents of the White House and members of Congress of both stripes have visited parks. The Traveler is not intended to be a political lightning rod for any party, and unless politics is key to the topic at hand please refrain from inserting them into the thread.

I hear you, Kurt. I will leave the motivations of Mrs. Bush, Obama and Beiden for visiting the Parks to others to surmise. I'm in the Teddy Roosevelt school of connecting with the Parks in very personal ways and when necessary, political when the former is but symbolism.

Great site BTW, Kurt!

Precedent is a strong concept in our country. In my 30 years of park service I have seen it come into play way too many times. You allow a Cub Scout troup who gave community service to the park to use an area for a ceremonial fire and then 15 groups of all different types are demanding, not asking for, the same privilege. Then the same demand is made at other parks pointing toward the first one as the example.

The old adage "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" also comes into play in these types of instances. A nearby park issues a permit for a bass tournament of no more than 100 boats and on the day of the event 150 participating boats show up overwhelming park resources and blocking out use by recreational boaters. When park management complains and discusses not allowing future events to the group, suddenly you get phone calls from local delegates, state senators and others to "accommodate" the group who are now emboldened and next tournament 200 boaters show up. I have experienced this.

Park management sometimes has to make the hard decisions. Insert the word please for fool in Lincoln's quotation "You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all the time" and you have the world in which we live. However, while people pleasing is certainly in our decision making process, resource protection trumps people pleasing. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

The park service needs to stick to their guns and say no to this type of activity.

Very well said, Ranger Dave.

I second Ranger Dave's comments and experiences.

Thanks, Ranger Dave, for the reality check

I don't second Ranger Daves opinion. These are public parks, paid for by the American Public. The NPS is simply the caretaker for these wonderful sites. The issue with the bike race is not 'resource protection' as the race would evidently use the existing paved road and turnouts designed for travel. Use of lands outside the corridor would be minimal and could be mitigated at the races' expense.

Don't tell me parks is 'overwhelmed' by users at authorized events. The parks management has law enforcement authority just for this reason. They use it, as they should, when necessary.

Parks managers are there to manage park uses. Analysis of the varied requests from the public for use of parks is major part of their job. There is a structured process to conduct this type of analysis. Mitigation of impacts and who pays is part of the analysis. Procedures like bonding exist to assure that you don't have 200 boats show up when 100 are authorized. If the parks are overwhelmed by an authorized activity, they haven't done their job very well.

Political pressures are also part of the parks managers jobs. The public will pressure the parks for what they want. The NPS will also solicit through these same politicians for what they want, usually more money. It's the way the system works and generally, it works pretty well.

I don't personally have a dog in this hunt. I trust that the NPS will do a reasonable job in an analysis. If the event should be allowed, NPS will manage (protect) the resource so that it is there for the rest of us.

I do get tired of the attitude that the public will destroy our parks if we let them use them.

Let's amend that last sentence just a bit to read: ". . . the public will destroy our parks if we let them abuse them."

The trick is determining where the split between use and abuse lies. That is sometimes a very fine line and is profoundly subjective. But if the Park Service errs, I hope it would be on the side of preservation.

It's hard to see how a few cyclists will abuse the park roads. :)