Respecting the power of place at Colorado National Monument

By Joan Anzelmo

A century ago, Colorado National Monument joined the elite group of America’s very first national parks when it was established as the 25th unit of the United States National Park System.

Indigenous peoples had long known of its powerful splendor and held the lands sacred for centuries before European settlers moved into the Grand Valley. By 1906, the new settlers had fallen head-over-heels in love with the breathtaking cliffs, canyons and towering monoliths that formed the backdrop of their daily lives.

Grand Valley citizens — led by the efforts of John Otto, Walter Walker and the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce — worked hard to see this magnificent landscape and geologic wonder protected as a national park. Bills to establish a national park were introduced in Congress but they languished and were never passed. Ultimately, President William Howard Taft used the Antiquities Act to establish Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911.

The present day monument is fortunate to have close connections with its adjacent communities and the staff works hard to balance protection of the extraordinary natural and cultural resources of the monument, while engendering a wide variety of experiences and opportunities for the public.

In 2010, Colorado National Monument welcomed 738,252 visitors, with people enjoying road touring, hiking, camping, biking, climbing, photographing, painting and many other outdoor pursuits. The monument served over 10,000 students in District 51 with curriculum-based field trips, a summer junior ranger day camp and many other educational programs for local kids, including helping to fund bus transportation for valley students.

The monument issues an average of 70 special-use permits annually for weddings, family reunions, memorial services. Other special events include Community Hospital’s annual Tour of the Valley, Ride the Rockies and Bicycle Tour of Colorado, Mesa State College cycling team’s spring hill climb time trials, Mesa County Technical Search & Rescue Team’s July 4th Independence Monument Climb, Centennial Band Concert and the Rim Rock Marathon. The Monument also provides many free interpretive programs and events, including “A Walk through Time” and the Serpent’s Trail Challenge. So, as you can see, the monument hosts a number of wonderful events each year including popular cycling events.

But a modern day professional bike race is quite another thing.

In November, I received a request from the Grand Junction Local Organizing Committee, asking to hold a stage of the Quiznos Pro Challenge professional bike race in Colorado National Monument in August 2012. I carefully reviewed the proposal with various National Park Service staff. I referenced the NPS Management Policies and the Code of Federal Regulations to provide specific guidance. I consulted with Yosemite National Park colleagues who had recently turned down a request for the Tour of California, a pro bike race, using the same criteria.

Ultimately, I made the decision not to issue a permit for the professional bike race due to the impacts to the monument’s resources, including its wildlife, birds, reptiles, native vegetation, biological soil crust, cultural resources — including historic Rim Rock Drive and its historic stone walls constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Additionally I evaluated the impact the race would have to monument visitors at the height of the busy visitor season and the impacts to my neighbors in Glade Park as the race would require a full closure of all of historic Rim Rock Drive for up to 10 hours.

The National Park Service supported my decision and I offered the organizing committee the option of a ceremonial lap for the racers, without as many support vehicles and no aircraft or helicopters. This option was not acceptable to the group.

Subsequently, the Grand Junction LOC decided to seek the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall to ask the National Park Service to continue discussions with the LOC about the race, and that is what we are in the midst of doing.

In this the centennial year for Colorado National Monument, I think it is worth pausing and asking ourselves as a community how much we value having such a national treasure in our own backyard. Do we care enough about preserving this gem for the benefit of all the citizens of the Grand Valley and the nation? Are we willing to make the sacrifices necessary to have the monument remain the sublime place it is for another one hundred years?

I look forward to continuing the conversation with the community.

Joan Anzelmo is a 35 year career public servant who joined the National Park Service in 1976. Anzelmo has worked in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National parks as well as served as the agency’s national spokesperson.


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