For the third time in less than two years, the National Park Service has rejected a request to hold a stage of a commercial bike race in Colorado National Monument.
National Park Service laws, regulations and policies have not changed since 2010, when members of the Grand Junction USA Pro Challenge Local Organizing Committee first asked the park service to allow a leg of the bike race to take place in the monument.
With a modified proposal, organizers had hoped to persuade the park service to approve a stage of the 500-mile USA Pro Cycling Challenge bike race through the monument in 2013.
In a letter sent to the Grand Junction Local Organizing Committee (LOC) earlier this week, NPS Intermountain Region Director John Wessels and CNM superintendent Lisa Eckert upheld former superintendent Joan Anzelmo's decision to not allow the sporting event in the national monument. They wrote that federal law and NPS policies prevent "activities that would impair park resources and interfere with the enjoyment of park resources by future generations."
Park service officials feared that allowing a major commercial sporting event would set precedent for other, similar sporting events at other national parks.
The National Park Service denied permits for a professional bike race through Yosemite National Park in 2009 and 2010.
LOC member John Hopkins said he understands the setting precedent argument, but he doesn't agree with it.
"There are unique things that happen in each park," Hopkins said.
In the case of Colorado National Monument, there is a history of cycling, races, tours and individual cycling, Hopkins said.
"I think that sets it apart from other parks."
Plus, "this most recent route requested is a pubic right of way."
The LOC asked for a route that would run along a four-mile stretch along the monument's east hill of Rim Rock Drive. Cyclists would have gone up Little Park Road and descended the east hill, which would have required both roads to be closed for approximately two hours.
The road closure "would have been an inconvenience to not only visitors, but to Glade Park residents," Eckert noted.
Eckert said she talked to people who would be affected by the road closure, including the Glade Park volunteer fire department.
"They were concerned they wouldn't have emergency access up or down," Eckert said.
Anzelmo, who denied permits for the race in 2010 and 2011, retired as superintendent last year. In April, Eckert became the chief, replacing interim superintendent Michelle Wheatley.
The original proposal asked for three laps across the monument, which would have disrupted a number of wildlife species due to dozens of race-team vehicles, helicopters and other aircraft filming the event, Anzelmo had said.
As a new member of the community, Eckert said she wanted to consider the new proposal very carefully before making a decision. After studying park service laws and policy, and after consultations with both regional and national park service officials, the conclusion was the same, she said.
The park service cited three principal reasons for denying a permit for the 2013 race: Park management policies state that superintendents may only allow events that have a "meaningful association" with a park or monument, and that events must foster greater visitor understanding of the area. Park policy also prohibited the permit on grounds that the race would conflict with other park visitors.
Additionally, NPS management policy prohibits approval of for-profit events that award participants with more than a nominal prize or appearance fees.
Park management policies do change and that happened twice at Colorado National Monument - in 2001, and again in 2006. That explains why the Coors Classic, another professional bike race, was allowed to take place in 1986, Eckert said.
While disappointed with the decision, the LOC is focused on winning a stage of the race in the Grand Junction area for 2013, Hopkins said.
"If the monument is not part of it, there are several other routes," including from Gateway through Unaweep Canyon, and riding up the Grand Mesa, Hopkins said. "The monument is just unique."