John Otto would have embraced Quiznos Pro Challenge bike race

Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper have what might charitably be called full plates. The senator has, among other pressing issues, an out-of-control federal budget to deal with. The governor has to find solutions for a state heading toward insolvency. So it was a shame indeed that last week both of them had to take time from those issues to deal with, of all things, a bicycle race across the Colorado National Monument.

But that’s exactly what happens when a federal agency — in this case the National Park Service, which operates the monument — runs amok.

Monument Superintendent Joan Anzelmo denied a request for the Quiznos Pro Challenge, a professional bicycle race that would bring the top riders in the world to the Grand Valley and, for a few days in 2012, make western Colorado, and the monument in particular, the epicenter of bicycle racing. The exposure the monument would get is beyond calculation.

Enter Udall and Hickenlooper, both of whom know the benefits such a race would bring far outweigh the (mostly imagined) downside. Last week they threw their considerable political weight behind the race.

It would be easy to refute the potential problems the race would cause, at least the ones mentioned in the letter of denial. Suffice it to say the impacts would be minimal, certainly no more than what can be expected from some of the events the monument has planned itself this year to celebrate the 100th birthday of the park.

The monument has been the site of professional bicycling events before and the feature film starring none other than a young Kevin Costner as an up-and-coming bicycle racer was made in the monument. (Rent it if you’ve never seen “American Flyers.”)

What is not so easy to understand is the rationale behind the denial, particularly at this time. A bike race controversy is not something the monument needs to mar its birthday celebration.

More important, though, is the effort to change designation of the monument to a national park. Here’s where the logic of the denial breaks down completely. Monument officials claim, correctly, that making the monument a national park will bring thousands and thousands more visitors to the area. Most Americans have little or no idea what a national monument is. But they all know about national parks.

To get the park designation, though, requires congressional action. Members of Congress aren’t likely to do anything without broad support among their constituents. So the monument staff has been making the rounds of western Colorado movers and shakers, gathering support for the national park designation.

I can only assume the monument staff is politically tone deaf. On the one hand, they’re asking key people in the community to support them in their efforts to become a park. At the same time, they’re telling some key people (look at the roster of the bike race committee) they can’t use the park for what would be a boon to both the monument and the community. It’s not a smart way to play the game.

John Otto has saint-like status among those of us who love the Colorado National Monument. Otto was an eccentric vagabond who fell in love with the canyon country that is now the monument. He single-handedly built trails and spread the word of the spectacular landscape west of Grand Junction. His efforts led to the designation of the monument. He was one of those guys who wasn’t afraid to step out of the box, if he even knew there was a box. Unfortunately the monument staff these days appears fearful of getting anywhere near the boundaries of the box.

Over the years, the monument has enjoyed good relationships and been engaged with the community. And it has, at times, been disengaged, as it is now.

That’s unfortunate for all of us who love the monument. It could all be changed by simply reversing the denial. It could be changed by doing what John Otto would have done. He would see the bike race for what it is: One of those opportunities that don’t come along very often, one that would imprint the image of the spectacular red sandstone formations of the monument into the minds of thousands and thousands of people who have never before seen such a landscape.

John Otto would embrace the race.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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