Traveler's View: No Professional Bike Racing At Colorado National Monument

Is a bike race necessary to build upon the spectacular scenery and rich natural and cultural resources of Colorado National Monument to justify a name change to Colorado National Park? NPS photos.

If a professional bike race charging through Colorado National Monument is the key to the rugged red-rock landscape and its treasures in western Colorado being redesignated as a "national park," then it's time to end the discussion over a name change.

The contention by U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper that running a stage of the 2012 Quiznos Pro Challenge through the monument "can significantly add to the stature and profile of the effort to designate the Monument as a National Park" is shortsighted and seemingly shows a failure to fully appreciate that which the monument preserves.

Within its 20,534 acres Colorado Monument offers visitors not just the soaring beauty of rock monoliths reaching into the sky and intriguing and fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts essential to life on the Colorado Plateau but also tombs of fossilized dinosaur remains and their footprints and puzzling traces of prehistoric cultures. All set against a colorful ruddy sandstone backdrop.

No doubt, it would be a dazzling backdrop for television cameras following more than 100 elite cyclists during one stage of their seven-day run through Colorado. But the impacts and disruptions it would have on the monument alone make it unsuitable. Superintendent Joan Anzelmo says the race would require the monument to be closed to the public for at least 12 hours during the monument's high summer season, and during the race aircraft would hover overhead the peloton while support vehicles and caravans carrying VIPs snake along Rim Rock Drive behind the racers.

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. Yosemite National Park officials back in 2009 reached a similar conclusion when they declined a request to allow a professional bike race to weave through the Yosemite Valley.

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 is terribly myopic and undervalues the wonders that exist there.

If generating more tourism dollars for the surrounding area is what really is driving Mr. Udall and Mr. Hickenlooper, a much more lasting and stronger driver would be the "national park" imprint, something Mr. Udall can advance through legislation that rightfully stands on the well-established merits of the monument.

Comments

Sounds like a great way to bring attention to the awesome parks we have in the US. Trade-off.

Kurt,

I get from the article that you are against the race going through the Monument but I can't really tell why. Is it solely the conceptual conflict of a commercial activity in that area? The 12 hour closure? How many people would that actually affect? Or is there some fear of permanent damage. If the latter, what damage caused how?

If there are good reasons to be against it, I may be with you, but they aren't clear to me yet.

Ecbuck,

I think there are a number of inherent conflicts with this proposal, beginning with the need to close the monument for at least 12 hours to the general public to stage a bike race.

What would you think if you were driving, say, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon, and you planned on stopping at Colorado National Monument and Mesa Verde along the way, but when you pulled up to the gate of the monument they said, "Sorry, we're closed today so we can host a bike race"?

Then, too, there's the impact the race would have on the park. Have you ever watched the Tour de France or any other professional bike race? Not only do you have the peloton snaking through the monument with its support vehicles, emergency vehicles, sponsor vehicles, and VIP vehicles, but you can have hundreds, if not thousands, of onlookers lining the road.

And if you approve a professional bike race through Colorado National Monument, what about one through Yellowstone, or over Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain, or through Arches National Park? Where do you draw the line?

Finally, the implication that a bike race is needed to justify renaming the monument as a national park is ridiculous.

This (the unexpected closure of a park I was visiting) has actually happened to me. I was visiting Salem Maritime NHS in Massachusetts on July 4th but couldn't access most facilities because a private company was setting up for the town's fireworks display. As I live in Oregon, that might well have been the only time I will ever visit Salem, MA, so it's quite possible I will never get to see the historic buildings and ships that site has to offer.

So, while the closure of Colorado NM might seem like a minor annoyance, for the traveler with limited vacation time and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit, it will definitely be a "big deal."

I agree 100% with Kurt. No commercial uses for our National Monuments or National Parks should ever be on the agenda. These beautiful, fragile National Monuments and Parks belong to all the people, all the time. Naming a bike race after a sub sandwich shop is a bit much in any case. I live in Colorado and you can be sure that Udall and Hickenlooper are hearing from me.

I'm not sure that the environmental impacts of such a race couldn't be mitigated with good event management. I've been to large crowded events in NPS units (I mentioned the Blue Angels) in San Francisco last year, and the LE rangers and US Park Police did an excellent job of crowd control, although they only closed off several roads to new vehicle for a few hours.

I looked at the park map of Colorado NM. Basically one way in or out, but with an alternate road that doesn't seem to have an entrance station. Close it for 12 hours and there does seem to be a pretty substantial problem. I've dealt with event closures before. On the way to Grand Teton, we had to go around Twin Falls Idaho "Pioneer Days" celebration. However - that could be handled by using surface streets. I could imagine closing off Colorado NM for 12 hours could mean race viewers might do illegal things such as illegally camp on the side of the road. I think people simply watching from the side of the road could be mitigated with strict enforcement to protect the fragile soil, but the hard part would be how race viewers would get in/park/etc.

For Jan C., the fact is there are commercial uses within the NPS - and lots of them. It's as basic as commercial use permits for wedding photographers or tour buses, and can get as complex as concession contracts or even working farms at Point Reyes National Seashore. Numerous movies and commercials were filmed at NPS units, including the Grand Canyon IMAX movie that showed people accessing areas that I'm sure would be off limits to the general public. I thought that the Marines had a commercial at Grand Canyon NP, but apparently that was filmed at a part of the GC on the Haulapai Reservation.

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2009/04/america-s-marines-commercial-shows-four-national-parks-not-six

I've definitely seen races at NPS units, and have even encountered a few firsthand. There have been several versions of the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon over the years, which of course starts with racers jumping from the side of Alcatraz. Earlier versions had runners along the Dipsea Trail, which partially winds through Muir Woods NM. I was hiking the Dipsea Trail once when I noticed runners with race bibs closing in on me. It was some local race, with no signs and no closures. I was heading back to my car on the Matt Davis Trail when a racer passed me by, tripped over an exposed root, and got up to continue. Also Death Valley has a few races, including ones that supposedly occur during the middle of summer.

YPW

This race is in it's 36th Year.
http://www.craterlakerimruns.com/

I ran the 6.7 Mile leg finishing 2nd (age group). Body never felt so drained of Oxygen at the 7200 Ft. altitude. Had to laugh when the maintenance crew chose to close the rest rooms for cleaning 45 Min. before the race started. They did give in and let us use the facilities as part of their Adaptive Use Policy, LOL!

I agree that this is an inappropriate event, since as others have mentioned, the commercial activity would essentially close the entire park to all visitor use for an entire day during a busy time of the season. In this location, viable alternative travel routes that would bypass the event in the park aren't available.

A general guideline for commercial activities in parks, such as the film making mentioned above, is that the activity isn't supposed to interfere with normal visitor use of the park. That's why such activity is often conducted in locations, or at times, that are not usually accessible by most visitors. At one time, that was NPS policy, although it may have changed.

Policy or not, does some "interference" with normal visitor use occur during large special events and even some commercial activity in NPS areas? Yes, but rarely do those events shut down an entire park for a full day.

The park made the right call on this one, and deserves to be supported. When in doubt, err on the side of protecting the experience of visitors who came to see and enjoy the park resources, not a commercial sporting event that can be held anywhere there's a paved road.

This is just about as disgusting an idea as when the National Parks Foundation sponsored Jeff Corwin's reality TV show 'Race To The Moment' series in Joshua Tree National Park..

Kurt

"What would you think if you were driving, say, from Rocky Mountain National Park to Canyonlands or the Grand Canyon, and you planned on stopping at Colorado National Monument and Mesa Verde along the way, but when you pulled up to the gate of the monument they said, "Sorry, we're closed today so we can host a bike race"?"

I would feel the same as I do seeing access limited elsewhere. The difference here is it would be a tangibly large crowd I could actually see. Whereas a flower, insect or even a BIRD can shut down an entire area and never actually be seen.

I'm with Kurt on this one. Look at how the thousands of current visitors to our national parks abuse them; walking anywhere but on designated walkways or trails, tossing garbage wherever they feel like, starting fires because they feel as if it is their right (even though the hire fire danger warnings are up), etc.

I can just picture bikes crashing, people walking and vehicles pulling off the road where they want. Have you ever seen the garbage tossed at the NYC marathon? Takes days to clean that up.

The last thing I want to see in a national park is all those TV antennas extended as far as they can go. Would look great, don't ya think?

People go to parks to think, walk, hike, climb and commune with nature not hundreds of bikes.

Matt Stubbs:
I would feel the same as I do seeing access limited elsewhere. The difference here is it would be a tangibly large crowd I could actually see. Whereas a flower, insect or even a BIRD can shut down an entire area and never actually be seen.
That comparison isn't even remotely the same thing. We're talking about all the paved entrances to an NPS unit with no means for visitors already inside to get out. I know your main concern is about ORV beach access, but a 12 hour closure of all entrances to Colorado NM is not the same as seasonal closures of beaches at Cape Hatteras.

National Park Ranger and other staff at each location have a duty to protect and preserve by having a bike race though Colorado it not close the monument for the day for visitors but also would put at risk all the natural wonders and the reason the monument was created. Remerber that we want the monument to still be there for future generations.

For Anonymous (February 22, 2011 - 11:58am), I don't know if you'd necessarily get the same problems with a professional bike race. The NYC Marathon has about 50,000 participants, while a professional stage race has only 128 racers. They've got professional support vehicles and cleanup would be nowhere near as difficult as a major foot race.

You should see what happens every year at Badlands NP around the time of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Groups of loud motorcycles pass through for a visit on the way. I hear the NPS brings in law enforcement from other parks just in case.

As for designated walkways, off trail travel is actually legal at many NPS units unless it's posted otherwise. I had a ranger at Yellowstone who said they encourage dispersed off-trail travel except for geothermal areas where it can dangerous. However - the key is **dispersed** such that the effects aren't concentrated in certain popular visitor areas.

The 2012 Quiznos Pro Challenge through the monument "can significantly add to the stature and profile OF THE EFFORT to designate the Monument as a National Park"--weird sentence. Does an "effort" really have stature and profile? Why not raise the "profile" of the monument by highlighting ITS "stature," which has nothing to do with a bike race.

My remark was intended to the fact of showing up at a park and having it closed... That is it. Nothing like driving 6 hours to find six new plovers nested overnight successfully blocking the remaining access. This is why I bring my boat to Cape Hatteras now so I may bypass the NPS all together on my own little sandbar.

Matt Stubbs:
My remark was intended to the fact of showing up at a park and having it closed... That is it. Nothing like driving 6 hours to find six new plovers nested overnight successfully blocking the remaining access. This is why I bring my boat to Cape Hatteras now so I may bypass the NPS all together on my own little sandbar.
Again - your case is not the same. This case at Colorado NM is about effectively closing off all the vehicle entrance and exit routes into the park for anyone visiting for any purpose, whether it's the race or someone who attempts to visit without knowing about the race. If a beach is closed on short notice at Cape Hatteras, you'll at least have the opportunity to get out of there, and there will still be access to the visitor centers, lighthouse, and all paved roads leading in or out. I've certainly had to deal with closures before, whether it was a trail, a road, or a visitor center. The beach closures at Cape Hatteras are small potatoes compared to effectively locking in the visitor population at Colorado NM for 12 hours.

The park supt estimated that it might attract 30,000 to 50,000 spectators, which would be a lot considering the annual visitation is about 800,000. Even if most of those spectators were watching this stage outside of the park, it still sounds like a problem given limited parking, no shoulders along most of the park roads, no lodging, and no places to eat inside the park. Setting up tenporary sellers permits could get tricky.

Having been a cycling enthusiast (but not necessarily an avid race fan) I've seen some of what these races look like. There's probably a big crowd at the start and finish lines. For a race like this, I would expect there wouldn't be a huge crowd in the middle. The crowds tend to hang around towns with amenities and maybe big-screen video showing the race progress from cameras mounted on support vehicles and helicopters. I've seen pictures of these races going through mountains, and they typically include stark images of the pack riding through a barren landscape. I would expect that the start or finish would be in Grand Junction. However - I would have to see what the plan is. Again - this doesn't seem like a place that is built for a whole lot of visitation at one time. It could very well be like some of the nightmare traffic scenarios I've seen at stadium parking lots or maybe a major city after 4th of July fireworks. Or Yosemite Valley during peak season. ;)

This from a letter I wrote to the Grand Jct. paper about the bike race. It was addressed to the former editor of the paper who had written an editorial in favor of the race:

Dear Mr. Herzog:

I read your Sunday column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel regarding the Quiznos pro bike race. I can sure appreciate your interest in promoting Colorado National Monument. However you have, if you will pardon the pun, chosen the wrong ‘vehicle’.

The National Park Service policies, adopted in 2006 after national public involvement and 45,000 public comments, clearly state that a special event may be permitted “when there is a meaningful association between the park area and the event” and “when the event will contribute to visitor understanding of the park area.” The Quiznos pro bike race fails both of these criteria. Moreover, Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations that governs what occurs in all areas of the National Park System requires that the Park Service deny permits for events that are “conducted primarily for the material or financial benefit of a for-profit entity; or awards participants an appearance fee or prizes of more than nominal value…”

When I read the Quiznos Pro Challenge tag line on their website “60 miles an hour on one inch of rubber”, it is apparent what the pro race is looking for – maximum speed and thrill. All understandable for a commercial professional mega sporting event that Quiznos is trying to host throughout Colorado. But it is not appropriate to take place in a national monument or a national park.

Superintendent Anzelmo is simply implementing regulations and policy in denying the permit for a stage of the race to take place in Colorado National Monument. She has graciously offered the Monument for a ceremonial lap by the racers without the attendant helicopters, small airplanes, and race support vehicles that are part of the pro-race. I hope the race organizers accept her offer. In your column you claim that you want to avoid controversy. This would be a good step in that direction.

Thank you.

Rick Smith

I just wanted to clarify that I looked more into the Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon, and found some more details on the course. I supposed previous versions did start from Alcatraz, but the 2011 course description mentions that they start from a boat adjacent to Alcatraz. However - the bicycle and run portions of the race do go through Golden Gate NRA areas, including Crissy Field and several of the former army batteries.

http://www.escapefromalcatraztriathlon.com/Race_Info/course.htm

The race itself is run by a for-profit entity and there is some decent prize money.

Rick Smith's comment above is a nice summary of why the park made the right decision in denying this permit.

Let's hope heavy-handed politics don't trump a reasonable policy.

My family and I also had a horrible time visiting two Nat'l Parks. We planned a tour of Grand Teton & Yellowstone. Grand Teton was awful: an airport was cause for constant jet noise. No quiet meadow tours of bison calling and airy silence. Then, a road bike event was ongoing in Jackson. We now include planning our camping trips to be far away from any 'public place' that has been overrun by commercial uses.