Bike race hits another bump

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—John Wessels, regional director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service, talks with reporters after leaving a meeting concerning the use of Colorado National Monument for the Quiznos bike race.

Allowing a professional bike race in Colorado National Monument would set a precedent that would reverberate throughout all parks in the National Park Service network, according to an official from the National Park Service.

John Wessels, the Regional Director of the Intermountain Region of the National Park Service, made his comments Friday during a meeting of local community leaders, local politicians and representatives for federal lawmakers eager to see the 2012 Quiznos Pro Challenge Bike Race traverse Colorado National Monument.

Wessels said Friday that authorizing a commercial race goes against the agency’s policies in any of its parks, and he is concerned about the impacts the conserved space would incur from a large-scale bike race. However, the ultimate decision rests with the head of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, and that ruling will be issued from Washington, D.C., in about a week, Wessels said.

“Ultimately this superintendent did exactly as I asked her to do,” Wessels said about Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo’s handling of the proposed bike race. He further backed Anzelmo, expressing concerns about the vitriol among community members and race organizers surrounding her denial for the proposal’s first draft.

“It is something that will be sorted out in Washington, D.C.,” Wessels said of the final decision.

Wessels said allowing a race at the monument may open the door to commercial races at Rocky Mountain National Park, where they are not allowed. Organized bike rides at that park are allowed for nonprofit groups.

Members of a local organizing committee, which includes Mesa State College President Tim Foster and Daily Sentinel Publisher Jay Seaton, submitted a proposal to Anzelmo that was denied late last year. It requested, in part, permission for bike riders to loop through and over the monument three times and to allow media coverage in the form of helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes.

A second, more modest proposal, which is the one National Park officials in Washington will be considering, requests access for riders to loop twice across the monument and finish in downtown Grand Junction. Spectators on the monument’s Rim Rock Drive would be limited to pedestrians and bicyclists, and other considerations were taken to minimize impacts to areas off the roadway.

Committee members contend having Colorado National Monument as a route is the ideal location to showcase the beauty of the Grand Valley. They question why the race can’t be there after it hosted a stage race for the Coors Classic professional bike race in the 1980s.

Wessels said Friday the designation of the monument on the historical register in the ensuing years, legislation from senators further protecting national parks and the recent discovery of rare animal tracks has emboldened regulations against commercial uses.

Members of the local committee lately have garnered support from the city and county, as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, for the bike race in Grand Junction, and specifically on the monument.

“It is such a fantastic venue that we’re talking about,” committee member Scott Mercier said at the meeting. “(With) guys on bikes there’s not going to be damage to the park done. This certainly is a very low impact way.” Mercier said fireworks at the monument during a New Year’s Eve celebration to kick off Colorado National Monument’s centennial year was damaging to the area. He also asked Wessels why commercial outfitters, such as rafting and helicopter companies, are allowed in other national parks, including a park he and his family had just visited: Grand Canyon National Park.

Wessels replied that commercial uses in national parks are allowed if they can engage all visitors and provide users a better experience while at a park. Those kinds of decisions to allow vendors to work in the parks aren’t made lightly, he said.

Proposing the stage race for other parts of the Grand Valley for 2012 isn’t yet being considered, committee member John Hopkins said.

“We’re not at that step, yet. Quite frankly, we want to keep the focus and attention on the monument at the present,” he said. “I would have liked to have a yes today, but I didn’t get it.”

Another hiccup has surfaced as cities are getting ready for the 2011 Quiznos Pro Challenge. The second stage of this summer’s race is slated to traverse Independence Pass outside of Aspen. Pitkin County historically has not allowed helicopter usage because of its impacts on residents and wildlife.

Quiznos race officials want to close the pass for the race and allow in-air media coverage with helicopters. County commissioners there will consider the application next week, according to The Aspen Times.


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