PARKS:

Pro cycling race barred from Colorado National Monument

The National Park Service for the second time has rejected a request to route a professional bicycle race through Colorado National Monument despite lobbying by some of the state's most prominent elected leaders.

NPS Director Jon Jarvis said in a statement this week that "closing the park to accommodate a commercial bike race" is not a proper use of the national monument, and that Superintendent Joan Anzelmo "made the right call" last December when she rejected the initial proposal to run a stage of the 600-mile Quiznos Pro Challenge bike race through the western Colorado park.

The race proposal had raised a number of thorny policy questions, and some feared that if NPS allowed the race through the monument, it could open hundreds of other park units to similar large-scale events, violating the Park Service's primary mission to protect and preserve park resources for future generations.

"Federal law and NPS policy restrict commercial activities in national parks to those that are 'necessary and appropriate' to park purposes," Jarvis wrote. "This bike race is neither necessary nor appropriate in the park."

Jarvis' decision came after NPS officials met last Friday with a race organizing committee composed of Grand Junction, Colo., leaders who have lobbied to host a stage of the race inside the monument as a way to boost the local economy and raise the national profile of the monument and surrounding region.

The local committee's efforts were supported by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Sen. Mark Udall (D) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R), whose district includes the monument site. Tipton argued in a letter to the Park Service last week that it should approve the race, citing "the much needed job creation that it can bring to the area" (Land Letter, March 17).

"Obviously, we're disappointed in their decision," said John Hopkins, co-chairman of the Grand Junction Quiznos Pro Challenge Local Organizing Committee.

Hopkins said the seven-member committee would meet soon to decide its next step, which could include submitting another revised proposal to NPS or charting an alternate route that would take the race through Grand Junction but avoid the monument.

"We had some very prominent political folks who were supportive of what we were doing, and we need to consult with them and see what their thoughts are," he said. "I don't know where that may lead us at this time. But clearly this is an event we all think we'd like to bring to the valley."

The local committee's initial proposal to run three laps along the monument's Rim Rock Drive would have required the monument to be closed temporarily to the general public to accommodate potentially tens of thousands of racing fans, as well as dozens of race team vehicles, helicopters and other aircraft that would film the event. Access to the monument would also be restricted for pre-race setup activities and post-race cleanup, Anzelmo said.

Anzelmo rejected the first proposal in a Dec. 16, 2010, ruling, writing that "the size and scope of the proposed race stage would result in damaging impacts to Colorado National Monument's natural and cultural resources" and would also "disrupt flight patterns and nesting of birds of prey including golden eagles and peregrine falcons," as well as "disrupt desert bighorn sheep mating behavior."

The committee submitted a revised proposal in late January that scaled back the request to two laps on Rim Rock Drive. Organizers also offered to limit the number of support vehicles and fans along the race route, as well as require aircraft to remain at 2,000 feet or higher when flying over the monument.

"We really did believe that we had addressed the issues that had been raised in the initial rejection and that the Park Service would approve our revised plan," Hopkins said.

A complex issue

But the prospect of staging a professional bike race through the monument raised issues beyond the one-time event.

Park Service officials and conservation groups warned that allowing the Quiznos Pro Challenge to use the monument would set an unwelcome precedent that could open the entire 394-unit national park system to commercial events.

NPS in 2006 finalized revisions to its management policies governing the types of events a monument can host. The revised rules state that "the Park Service will not permit the staging of an event in an area open to the public, or the closure of an area that is open to the public," if that event "awards participants ... prizes of more than nominal value."

The policy was tested in 2009, when the Park Service denied a permit to Medalist Sports LLC -- the same group organizing the Quiznos Pro Challenge -- to host a stage of the Amgen Tour of California through Yosemite National Park.

Rick Smith, executive council chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, said NPS made the right call on the Quiznos Pro Challenge. And, he said, critics of the agency "should remember that National Park Service policy and regulations apply to all 394 units of the national park system. An exception made in any single case would be precedent-setting and have major impacts nationwide."

The local organizing committee has questioned whether the NPS policies can be used to reject the race proposal, arguing that they are "an internal management policy that, by its own terms, has no legally binding effect."

Hopkins, the local organizing committee co-chairman, called the issue "interesting" and said it is "something I think we need to look into."

But Anzelmo said: "As far as the agency and the Department of Interior is concerned, the decision by Jon Jarvis is the final decision. We're now looking forward to getting back to our primary responsibility, which is taking care of this place and serving all the visitors who come here to enjoy the monument."

Streater writes from Colorado Springs, Colo.

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