August 22, 2012
I’m not a cyclist nor a county resident, but I visit regularly. Aspen might want to scrutinize what constitutes a full reversal of the Forest Service’s 2011 position about camping for this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge. The prohibition and closure challenge reason. They deter tourism and might reduce spectator numbers. Bicycling enthusiasts are a sizable portion of Pitkin County’s demographic, and race revenues are not insignificant.
Apparently, officials think denying access during the summer’s premier cycling event is a good idea. Common sense favors open spectator access. What harms warrant discriminating against cyclists over the flatlanders who daily trample “the tundra” on top of the pass? What delicate terrain suffered adverse impacts?
The Forest Service’s camping ban covers mile markers 56 and 66, roughly from the Lost Man campground to the long hairpin on the east side. Ranger Scott Snelson and “race organizers” say this closure is necessary to minimize or mitigate the impacts of this year’s Pro Cycling Challenge attendees on the pass. The “race organizers” weren’t identified.
In 2011, about 2,000 people attended the Pro Cycling Challenge. Some folks camped near or at the top of the pass. “Race organizers” expect about 8,000 people this year. The basis for this attendance-surge forecast is unknown. The Forest Service thinks all the campers and cyclists will overwhelm the delicate “tundra” on top of Independence Pass.
Travelers routinely wander around off trail, take pictures, point and marvel at the views on Independence Pass. Nothing warns them to “watch your step” in due regard for the delicate grasses adjacent to the pullouts. No informational signs warn folks to avoid the tender tundra. Independence Pass looks pretty thoroughly impacted – not exactly choice camping.
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What damage and adverse impacts overwintered from last year’s race to support or warrant the Forest Service’s reversal and concerns? Figures for
damages, injuries and losses suffered by the Forest Service or Pitkin County during last year’s event were not shared. I understand the interest we all share in preserving natural areas and minimizing impacts; however, a good dose of common sense seems wanting.
What happens to all the attendees who are looking for campsites before and during the race? Should all those cyclists and supporters pitch tents at Lost Man race week? Will 8,000 people ride their bikes up from town to watch? Should Twin Lakes prepare for Woodstock? Will the meadows below the hairpin fill with tents and parked cars? Where does the Forest Service anticipate the displaced will camp? How will spectators line the racecourse in support?
If attendees follow the Forest Service’s advice, they will seek campsites away from roadways, and water sources. Oddly, campers will now seek more pristine sites to pitch their tents, presumably impacting a wider area. Perhaps this impact displacement is the Forest Service’s intent. If so, why not say it?
The Aspen leg begins Wednesday. Hopefully common sense prevails and Aspen welcomes all!