Tour company’s plans for monument on hold

A California company’s request to conduct tours of “epic high desert vistas from quiet Colorado National Monument” is up in the air, and tourism officials said they’re doing all they can to keep the company in the Grand Valley.

The company, meanwhile, said it remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached for tours that begin this spring.

The National Park Service has said it will take another year to complete a visitor activity and commercial services plan. Officials said last year the plan would be a first-in-the-nation effort to help managers evaluate proposed uses of the lands they administer.

Colorado National Monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert in December put on hold an application by Backroads, which markets bike tours to upscale participants, pending completion of the study.

That has company and tourism officials frustrated.

“This is exactly the type of business we want to go after,” said Barbara Bowman, division manager of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau. “We’ll make sure they are taken care of to keep the business in Grand Junction.”

Backroads hopes to run three trips this spring and five in the fall using the monument as a “grand finale” to five-day tours that begin in Grand Junction, go to Moab, Utah, and then return to Grand Junction, regional manager Linda Cassell said.

Backroads, which markets bike tours of Arches and Canyonlands national parks in Utah, began working with the visitor and convention bureau on a tour on the monument 18 months ago.

Including Colorado National Monument in the itinerary makes sense, Cassell said.

“As long as we’re flying in and out of Grand Junction, why not highlight your beautiful city?” Cassell said. “It’s really nice to include that beautiful piece of land that is an awesome bike ride.”

Landing Backroads was something of a coup because the bureau has worked with the company for 15 years, coordinating arrivals in Grand Junction with travel to Moab, Utah, for the actual rides, Bowman said. Usually the tours include 26 mostly upscale riders at a time. As many as 250 people might participate in tours over the course of a year.

“They’re trying to branch out” with a Grand Valley ride, Bowman said.

Backroads began inquiring about a monument ride long before the National Park Service announced plans to craft a visitor-activity and commercial-services plan.

Eckert this year did approve the ICON Lasik Tour of the Moon bike ride over the monument in October. That event has a cap of 2,000 participants.

The difference between the larger Tour of the Moon and the Backroads proposal is that the Tour of the Moon is an established event, Eckert said.

Officials want the public to weigh in on new commercial uses of the park as the Park Service drafts its new plan, Eckert said.

Many other uses, such as weddings, reunions and other small gatherings, can continue while the park service works on the study. Eckert said.

The Park Service initially put the programmatic environmental assessment for the visitor plan on a fast track. A third-party organization was to be selected to facilitate discussion of the plan. Regional Park Service officials, however, have made no announcement as to the status of the plan.

Backroads remains hopeful the Park Service will approve its planned tours.

“If not, we’ll have to redesign the trip,” Cassell said. “Quickly.”


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