Colorado National Monument is the Yosemite of bicycling world

The local organizing committee for the proposed Quiznos Pro Challenge bicycle race and the regional director of the National Park Service will sit down later this week and try to reach agreement on a race next year that, in part, would cross Colorado National Monument.

There is reason for hope that the regional director will overturn the monument superintendent’s denial of the permit for the race. A park service insider told me the director is a reasonable person and he’s likely to stick to discussing what the real issues around the race should be, not the bogus ones raised by the superintendent in her letter of denial.

We’ll see. The race will happen or it won’t. I can’t help but think it’s too bad we are where we are, when one considers where we could have been.

Wouldn’t it have been more productive for everyone involved if, instead of checking with Yosemite National Park for precedent, the superintendent instead had looked to her own park for precedent. Why Yosemite is a precedent is beyond me. The Grand Junction committee didn’t apply to race in Yosemite. Checking to see what some other superintendent did shows us only that the bureaucratic pack mentality is alive and well on Colorado National Monument.

Colorado National Monument has already been the site of a pro bike race, one everyone agrees was a success on all counts. There were no downsides for the monument, for the community or for the racers.

But back to Yosemite. And a lot of other national parks, for that matter. Yosemite happens to be blessed with some of the world’s most challenging rock climbing routes. The park has capitalized on that. Officials realize what they have is something that can’t be found elsewhere and they make climbing a key part of the experience offered at Yosemite. Ditto for Grand Teton National Park. And Denali National Park.

If the superintendent of Colorado National Monument would pay some attention to her own park, she’d realize that what she oversees is a place for world-class bicycling. When the Civilian Conservation Corps built the 23-mile-long Rimrock Drive in 1933, it created not just a highway across some spectacular canyon country, it created one of the premier bicycling routes in the world. Rimrock Drive is to bicyclists what El Capitan, Half Dome, Denali, and the Grand Teton are to climbers.

Except, unlike the Park Service attitude in those parks, where climbing is promoted and encouraged, the monument doesn’t want anything to do with bicycling. The superintendent has been unpopular with the local bicycling community since she arrived and instituted some new restrictions on bicyclists. They were in the name of safety, but the bicyclists think, correctly, that they were nothing more than a solution in search of a problem.

If monument officials had really thought about what was presented to them when the bike race committee asked for a permit to race over the monument, they would have realized they had just been given an opportunity to capitalize on one of the park’s main attractions. Instead of citing bogus issues like the impact to a solid rock wall when it is struck by a 140-pound bicyclist on a 12-pound bicycle (hint: the wall wins), they could have raised real issues, like crowd control, insurance, traffic and litter. Those are problems that deserve to be discussed, and will be if the Park Service decides to grant the permit. They also are issues that are solvable.

They could have used the race to showcase what the monument has to offer bicyclists. They could have begun exploring the possibility of some kind of bicycling concession on the monument. They could have started the process of creating mountain biking trails on the monument. (Mountain bikes are currently not welcome anywhere other than on paved roads in the monument.) They could have said to the local bicycling community, let’s talk about what we can do together that will make the monument an even better bicycling venue.

They could have done what Yosemite does. Yosemite lets climbers know they are welcome in the park. Colorado National Monument still has the opportunity to say to the world: Come on up and bring your bicycle.

That would require imaginative, creative thinking. Maybe that’s the way the regional director thinks.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel and a former member of the Colorado National Monument Association board of directors.


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