Park Service Rejects Bicycle Race in Colorado National Monument

Published September 27, 2012

The National Park Service (NPS) rejected a bicycle association’s request to stage part of a race in the Colorado National Monument. In rejecting the request, the Park Service ignored the pleas of state and local government officials who say the event would provide a needed boost to the regional economy, provide invaluable tourism advertising, and present few if any environmental consequences. 

Colorado Officials Support Race

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) is one of the most vocal supporters for staging the bicycle event in the National Monument. Hickenlooper refers to the event as a “virtual postcard” advertising the beauty of the Monument. 

In a letter to the Park Service seeking approval for the race, Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) wrote, “If the monument is able to responsibly host the event while protecting its natural and cultural resources, we believe that showcasing this majestic area as part of this world-class cycling event will bring beneficial commerce and attention to this important part of the state. In addition, by hosting this event Colorado can significantly add to the stature and profile of the effort to designate the Monument as a National Park—while illustrating that Coloradans can effectively balance the often competing interests of use and protection.”

Park Service’s Alternating Claims

National Park Service officials justified their decision with alternating claims. One NPS assertion is the bicycle event would “impair park resources or interfere with enjoyment of the park by future generations.” 

Proponents of the bicycle event point out, however, that the Park Service allows the running of the Rim Rock Marathon in the National Monument, which requires the closing of park roads and services during the race. 

The Park Service alternately claimed the bicycle event had no meaningful association with the Monument.

“Under NPS Management Policies … superintendents may only approve events that have a meaningful association with, and further visitor understanding, of the monument,” National Park Service Intermountain Region Director John Wessels and Colorado National Monument Superintendent Lisa Eckert wrote in a letter to local proponents of the event. “A professional bicycle race will draw spectators and competitors whose presence at the monument stems from a desire to view or participate in an athletic contest, not primarily to experience the monument or its values. Under these circumstances, there does not appear to be a meaningful association between this event and the monument, nor does the event promote visitor understanding of the special characteristics of Colorado National Monument.”

Proponents of the bicycle event pointed out that the same objections could be made against the marathon.

‘Neither Necessary Nor Appropriate’

Finally, the Park Service claimed a distinction between the marathon and the bicycle event because the marathon does not award prizes to its winners while the bicycle race does.

“Closing the park to accommodate the needs of a commercial bike race goes against our management policies, would adversely impact park resources, and would deny access to the park to other visitors,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a press statement. “Federal law and NPS policy restrict commercial activities in national parks to those that are ‘necessary and appropriate’ to park purposes. This bike race is neither necessary nor appropriate in the park.”

Bureaucrats’ Incentives Questioned

“This is what happens when bureaucrats in Washington, DC dictate to the states how they can and cannot use their natural resources,” said Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “Colorado’s Democratic governor and Democratic senator have demonstrated an exceptionally strong commitment to environmental protection, and even they say this is a wise and responsible use of the state’s natural resources.

“Federal bureaucrats do not have an incentive to weigh such issues as regional tourism and local economic benefits,” Lehr explained. “Their paychecks and budgets are secure through federal funding, so they ignore the will of the states and the people living in the vicinity of the federally controlled lands. The people who live in Colorado have the greatest stake in the management and preservation of their natural resources, yet federal bureaucrats refuse to trust the people with their own lands.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.