Bureaucrats hijack Yosemite bike race

October 24, 2009 

Movie director Ken Burns and PBS teamed up recently to peddle the six-episode idea that America's national parks belong to all of us.

While this populist sentiment is appealing, it is a bald-faced lie. The national parks -- and Yosemite, in particular -- primarily are the insular reserves of government bureaucrats and environmentalists.

They are the ones who make the rules, many of which aim to ensure that fewer and fewer of us enjoy the parks we allegedly own.

Case in point: The Interior Department's behind-closed-doors decision not to allow the Tour of California bicycle race to begin a stage in Yosemite.

Yosemite is less park than political island. Think of it as America's version of the Vatican -- the difference being that they actually start bike races at St. Peter's Square.

Reasons for the denial cited by a park spokeswoman were so laughable they might've been poached from a Jay Leno monologue. My bad. Leno isn't nearly as funny as the gang at the parks service.

Unfortunately for businesses on the recession-ravaged Valley floor, the park service's refusal to allow a Yosemite start is no laughing matter. The decision killed the possibility of Clovis hosting a stage finish for a second straight year -- a hit estimated at $1 million.

The cyclists, we were told, might inconvenience Yosemite visitors.

Right, sort of like when Americans visit Europe in July, and they're forced to suffer the spectacle of the Tour de France. To swallow the park's take on things, you'd also have to believe that the Americans waving the Stars and Stripes and running after cyclists through the French countryside are having a terrible time -- their vacations ruined by a serpentine parade of skinny guys in tight clothing.

A goodly number of Yosemite visitors are from Europe, where cycling is a passion. Think they'd want to see Lance Armstrong before they take snapshots of Half Dome?

We also were told that Tour of California organizers wanted a date the week before Memorial Day.

The nerve of these people. Holding a race just a week before Yosemite fills up. What do these bike nuts expect -- miracles?

Another reason for rejecting the Tour of California was that the park service didn't want to play favorites by granting its precious seal of approval to the sponsor (Amgen) or to cycling.

Not that the national parks would ever do anything like that. I must've imagined that whole "National Parks: America's Best Idea" thing in which the parks service was in bed with Burns -- always a master of self-promotion -- and the Public Broadcasting System.

Finally, my favorite excuse -- the one the park often trots out when it wants to restrict access to anyone but backpackers with access to good lawyers: potential harm to the park caused by too many people standing on the side of the road.

No sir. We can't have that. People standing around. People engaged in potential damage to soft shoulders. Next thing you know, they'll be clear-cutting forests, putting up dams and diverting pristine glacial runoff to San Francisco.

There's always next year. Until then, I'm of a mind to ask Congress to slash the parks budget.

It doesn't cost much to nail up a few more "Keep Out" signs.

The columnist can be reached at bmcewen@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6632. His blog is at fresnobeehive.com.

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