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Park Service eyes new plan for Colorado National Monument

Bike race controversy sets stage for possible rule changes

Colorado National Monument. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Officials at Colorado’s namesake national monument say that, after two years of controversy over holding a stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, they will develop a plan for managing visitor activities along Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument.

The plan will outline a transparent process for National Park Service review of special events such as sporting events, bicycle tours, organized picnics and weddings. The plan will also address requests by private businesses to offer services in the monument.

“Colorado National Monument is a world class scenic wonder, so it is no surprise that it is also a highly sought-after venue for special events,” said John Wessels, NPS Intermountain Regional Director. “The Visitor Activity and Commercial Services Plan will bring greater transparency to our decision-making process, and will draw upon the community’s knowledge and connections to the monument to inform our decisions on future activities.”

For the past two years, a local organizing committee sought to hold part of a USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage in the monument. Even facing political pressure from elected lawmakers, park service denied the bids, citing conflicts with existing park service regulations that limit commercial activities and emphasize public access to the area.

In a press release, the park service said the planning process will engage the community in a formal dialogue about requests for special use permits for events, such as those requesting partial or full road closures along Rim Rock Drive, as well as requests from businesses seeking to provide commercial services in the park, such as guided rock climbing or bus tours.

These requests can impact the monument, its visitors, as well as have important economic benefits for nearby communities. In 2010, a Michigan State University’s report on Economic Benefits to Local Communities from National Park Visitation shows that 433,561 visitors spent over 21 million ($21,766,000) in the community visiting Colorado National Monument and supported 300 jobs.

“This red canyon backdrop to our daily lives holds many meanings to many people” said Lisa Eckert, monument superintendent. “We want to learn what aspects of the monument experience are important and meaningful to park visitors and the community as we develop a holistic plan that addresses the numbers, the diversity and complexity of the events being requested. This plan will be key for the future of this unit of the National Park System, as well as potentially be a model for other park units.”

Public input will be sought in areas where the NPS has discretion to determine under what conditions an event might be allowed. For example, an event, activity or commercial use that is consistent with federal law, regulation or NPS policy, might be appropriate for some parts of the monument, but not others, or at certain times of day, or with conditions, such as limits on the number of participants.

As part of the planning process, the National Park Service will prepare an Environmental Assessment to evaluate the impacts of a range of potential management alternatives, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

A schedule for the planning process, including opportunities for community and public involvement in the development of the plan, will be announced in coming weeks.

The National Park Service will also consult with the State Historic Preservation Officer in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and will coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal, tribal, state and local agencies to ensure the plan complies with all relevant laws, regulations and policies.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet said he welcomes the planning effort.

“Colorado National Monument is a treasure in our state, especially for those who live on the Western Slope,” Bennet said. “The Park Service’s decision to bring the public and local communities together to develop a plan for how the Monument is managed is a significant step. An open and transparent discussion will help preserve the natural beauty of this area, while also helping to develop new ways to enjoy the Monument and bring in tourism dollars to the region.”

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