Camping restrictions serve to spoil a good bike race
Aspen, CO, Colorado
The decision by the U.S. Forest Service to enforce camping and parking restrictions atop Independence Pass during the two local stages of the upcoming USA Pro Cycling Challenge, made in concert with other state and local officials, strikes us as more than a bit uneven.
The primary reason, we are told, is that the Forest Service is concerned about the effect of thousands of campers upon the environment. Humans produce waste, and it’s understandable that officials wouldn’t want to see sensitive areas marred by trash and items that aren’t biodegradable. They also don’t want to see the beautiful tundra trampled and damaged.
Another reason, according to other officials, is that the safety of the 100-plus riders as well as the spectators is at stake.
That all sounds good on the surface, but we question whether bike-race spectators lack the ability to police themselves, remain faithful to their surroundings and respect the riders as they make their way over the pass on two consecutive days, Aug. 22 and 23, while also passing a good time.
We also don’t see how refusing to let people car-camp on the sides of the road on the night before the race is going to affect the safety of the riders on the following day, when many day campers will be stationed along the road anyway.
Officials have yet to show any solid evidence that the thousands of spectators who partied on the pass last year harmed the environment, risked their own safety or posed a danger to the riders. We’ve talked with more than a dozen people who were car-camping on both sides of the Continental Divide, and they all say the same thing: It was the best way to view the race, and everybody minded their P’s and Q’s.
Even the guy dressed up as a chicken, squawking and flapping his wings as he chased the riders, lacked the ability to bother the riders and was careful to place his trash into plastic bags, which he promptly discarded upon returning to town.
Contrary to what’s been mentioned in recently published reports, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo said his deputies won’t be actively enforcing camping and parking restrictions along the pass during the overnight hours. He said his officers will serve in a backup role to the Forest Service, should they need some type of assistance, but otherwise will let people enjoy themselves as long as things don’t get out of hand.
“We are not going to be part of the enforcement of people camping,” DiSalvo said. “That’s a Forest Service responsibility. Frankly, I don’t agree with it, but it’s something they feel strongly about and we’re just going to act as a support agency up there. We won’t be enforcing any camping or tundra violations. The Forest Service will, but I’m saying the Sheriff’s Office won’t.”
DiSalvo said he understands that car-camping will be allowed on the sides of the road during every stage of the seven-day Colorado race except the two Aspen stages. Car-camping and spectators waving flags, cheering riders and sometimes acting a little silly is something that’s a common sight at European pro-cycling races.
“I think it’s a fun component to the race, people camping out there and doing their thing,” the sheriff said. “I guess I’m disappointed that people aren’t going to camp up there. If every other stage has it, why is it that this is the only one that doesn’t?” He added that his office doesn’t have jurisdiction over people hanging out on the grassy areas near the sides of the road, which are federal lands.
We asked the city of Aspen’s special events director about the Independence pass restrictions and were told that a lot of agencies weighed in on the matter: state and local law enforcement, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Independence pass Foundation, city and Pitkin County governments and local race-event organizers.
“Ultimately, it’s Forest Service land,” said the director, Nancy Lesley. “But everybody came to the table, working toward the priority of safety for racers and spectators both, and also doing what’s best for the environment. With those three key things in mind, this was the decision rendered.”
Lesley’s been doing an outstanding job of organizing in-town events and ensuring that Aspen is a better host for the race than it was last year, the bike-race’s inaugural event.
Still, we would like to call into question whether the city of Aspen should have a role in the decision about enforcement of camping restrictions along the pass during the bike race. From an economic standpoint, it’s in the city’s best interests to keep people inside the city limits during the two stages of the race, so that they can spend money at local establishments and participate in all of the pre- and post-race activities that a host city has to offer.
The decision about the car-camping restrictions doesn’t exactly smell like a conspiracy, but it has a foul odor nonetheless. We hope that those who want to camp overnight along the pass will be allowed to do so, that they will keep their waste to themselves, and that everyone – both in the city and atop the divide – has a safe and enjoyable time.
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