Monument officials scale back effort on management plans
A much-heralded effort to draft a plan to manage visitors and commercial uses in Colorado National Monument streamlined the way staff handles permit applications, but was scaled down from the ambitious goals first outlined.
Colorado National Monument and Park Service officials this week conducted meetings in Fruita, Glade Park and Grand Junction, inviting residents of the gateway cities and the community that overlooks the monument for a variety of discussions, including one on a report that was gleaned from similar meetings held last year.
The Park Service hired a Boulder company, CDR Associates, to conduct meetings in the same locations and to draft a report.
The Park Service paid CDR $26,876, which included planning and conducting the listening sessions, interviews with 30 people and the final report.
The money, said monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert, was well spent.
“I think the issues and members of this community are worth that time and investment,” Eckert said.
One conclusion from the original sessions was that many people in the Grand Valley were unsure of the nature Colorado National Monument, a 20,000-acre landscape of stark ochre monoliths jutting out of red rock canyons.
CDR Associates also found confusion among respondents about the way monument officials evaluated applications for special events, such as bicycle tours and bicycle races across Rim Rock Drive.
The Park Service had rejected multiple proposals to run professional bike races across the monument, despite the support of a local organizing committee, Gov. John Hickenlooper and others.
“Colorado National Monument is a world class scenic wonder, so it is no surprise that it is also a highly sought-after venue for special events,” John Wessels, intermountain regional director for the Park Service, said in November 2013 in announcing the step. “The Visitor Activity and Commercial Services Plan will bring greater transparency to our decision-making process, and will draw upon the community’s knowledge and connections to the monument to inform our decisions on future activities.”
Eckert, who took over in 2012, presided over this year’s listening sessions assisted by Park Service personnel. CDR Associates employees didn’t attend the sessions.
Though a visitor activity and commercial services plan no longer is envisioned, the effort already has resulted in a streamlined process for the handling of special-use permits that allows staff to consider events as “part of a bigger picture,” Eckert said.
“It’s probably the epitome of adaptive management,” Eckert said. “In the end, I don’t know if there will be one huge document or not, but I definitely see the information we’re gathering to be extremely valuable.”
One offshoot of the process is that monument staff will gather information about rock-climbing locations, something that hasn’t been catalogued or mapped.
Monument officials last year evaluated 65 special-use permits.
A more “cohesive” approach to those permits allows the staff to consider even the most visible of applications, such as for a bike tour, as “one-65th” of the applications and how each fits in, Eckert said.
The Glade Park listening session was the best-attended of the three this year, with two dozen people attending. The Grand Junction meeting attracted somewhat fewer participants and the Fruita one fewer than a dozen.
Eckert said she envisions more outreach-type meetings around the valley, possibly inviting people to informal coffees and the like.