Public to get a say on monument
Feds seek local input on activities inside the park
Grand Valley residents will have a say in the kinds of events that will be permitted on Colorado National Monument, the National Park Service told The Daily Sentinel.
The new, first-in-the-nation process represents a commitment by the Park Service “to engage in a genuine and meaningful way with the community on what can happen on Colorado National Monument,” John Wessels, Intermountain Region director for the Park Service, said on Thursday.
The Park Service has found itself in the last two years the target of criticism for its rejection of proposals for bicycle races along Rim Rock Drive through the monument.
Monument officials rejected the proposals citing a variety of reasons, including the possibility that races could disturb habitat and wildlife and that such an event wouldn’t fit into the mission of the monument.
The new effort is to establish, with public involvement, the way that monument officials ought to evaluate applications for special events there, Wessels said.
The purpose is “to take the subjectivity out of it” when evaluating proposed events and establish criteria, “so we don’t make decisions in a personality-based way,” Wessels said.
The local organizing committee that sought to conduct a leg of the USA Pro Challenge bicycle race along the 23 miles of Rim Rock Drive saw the Park Service announcement as an opening.
“It’s a good opportunity to more fully explore how we might make available the type of event we’ve been talking about,” said John Hopkins, chairman of the local organizing committee, calling it a “very positive development” for the community in general.
Gov. John Hickenlooper called the announcement a step in the right direction that will “ensure that the public has input when it comes to protecting and enjoying this national crown jewel. We appreciate the National Park Service’s interest in having an open and honest dialogue with the community about activities in the monument.”
The Park Service will hire a third-party facilitator to shepherd the process of public involvement and a schedule of events will be released, Wessels said.
The planning process will engage the public in discussion about how the Park Service should evaluate requests for special-use permits for events, including those that would require partial or full road closures along Rim Rock Drive. It also will address how to handle commercial services, such as guided rock climbing or bus tours.
The monument is a significant revenue generator, the Park Service noted, citing a 2010 Michigan State University report showing that 433,561 visitors spent more than $21 million in the valley.
Colorado National Monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert, who took over as head of the monument seven months ago, said plans for the new evaluation process have been in the works for some time.
“It’s a vision we have had here at the park” as officials there have worked through the existing process, Eckert said. “We want to learn what aspects of the monument experience are important and meaningful to park visitors and the community as we develop a holistic plan that addresses the numbers, the diversity and complexity of the events being requested.”
Once it’s in place, the process could be considered as a model for other 398 properties managed by the Park Service.
The process will set out clear expectations for applicants, park staff and the public, Wessels said, noting that demand for special events, from large ones such as bike tours to weddings and other less visible events, is rising.
“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,” Wessels said in a statement.