Monday, June 22, 2009

Zero to Sixty in One Week Flat!

A lot of you may be wondering why I will be living at Colorado National Monument ("COLM" or the "Monument") for six months. I will try to briefly explain my project and goals, then get into my first week at the Monument. If you already have a good idea of what my project entails then you can skip the next paragraph.

My project revolves around the historic Rimrock Drive, which is a 23 mile stretch of road connecting two points which are only 8 miles apart as the crow flies. Rapid population growth in the Grand Valley (Grand Junction, Fruita, and other towns) and Glade Park has led to numerous challenges with commuter and commercial traffic. This is due to the fact that the main thoroughfare for access to Glade Park is a 4 mile section of Rimrock Drive which exits the East gate of the Monument. This 4 mile section of road has numerous switchbacks, a tunnel with low clearance heights, and steep grades. All in all, not the greatest for commercial traffic, especially when cyclists are also part of the landscape. In the past, the Monument has attempted numerous methodologies to reduce road conflicts between visitors, cyclists, commuters, and commercial traffic, such as restricting access, issuing resident permits, and others. Ultimately, a lawsuit was filed by Glade Park residents and they were granted public right-of-way on the 4 mile section of Rimrock Drive in 1986. Now, not only is visitation increasing, but commuting and commercial traffic to and from Glade Park is also. I have been tasked with studying and quantifying the traffic volumes on Rimrock Drive to assist in future planning efforts for the Monument. In addition, I will be interfacing with Mesa County and the gateway communities to determine the transportation needs of the communities. Ultimately, I will use all of this information to make short-term and long-term politically and economically feasible design and management recommendations to preserve the public access, visitor experience, and safety of all who travel on Rimrock Drive.

I arrived at COLM on Monday June 15th. Over the first week I have been trying to acclimate myself with the elevation, approximately 6000ft, the organizational structure, and all the gateway communities and Monument have to offer. As I imagined, one week is definitely not enough time. Joan Anzelmo, Superintendent, and Michelle Wheatley, Chief of Interpretation, have done an amazing job at keeping me busy and assisting me in building a well-rounded understanding of the Monument. Below is a view from the Visitor's Center.

My work began by reviewing the General Management Plan completed in March 2005. It helped me understand the overall goals and mission of the Monument with respect to the visitor experience and preservation of resources. It also gave glimpses into the Monument's history. Another extremely valuable resource was the book "A Classic Western Quarrel: A History of the Road Controversy at Colorado National Monument." This book is of specific importance because it delves into the issues surrounding the main aspects of my transportation work. Moreover, the book gave a succinct overview of the 1986 lawsuit decision which, in short, granted the local community of Glade Park public access to Rimrock Drive. In the near future I will be reviewing the actual court decision for more details about the arguments presented and litigation process.

On top of all the informative reading I have been doing, I have been lucky enough to get driving tours from Joan, and Hank Schoch, a former Chief Ranger and a person all consider the man with the most institutional knowledge of COLM. Joan drove me in and around the adjacent communities of Fruita and Grand Junction to give me a brief lay of the land and show me where all the important municipal buildings were, along with some leisure opportunities along the way. Moreover, she was able to drive me to most of the trail heads that can be accessed from outside of the Monument, which eventually join up with trails inside the Monument. Hank's tour was more focused on Rimrock Drive and the history behind the road itself. He was able to point out the last portion of the road that was completed, along with the location of one of the more severe accidents that happened while constructing the road, where nine local resident workers were killed. In addition, he took me through the community of Glade Park and also down the only alternate route to Glade Park, Little Park Road. Both of these experiences were extremely valuable in understand the history of the Monument and the current climate for visitors and local residents.

Since the visitor experience is paramount, it was also suggested that I take part in many of the programs that COLM offers. Over the past week, I have watched two short films that are shown in the visitor center, one about the geology of the area (jeez, I know very little about rock formations), and the other, a slide show of the park with narration. I have also been able to listen in on Porch Talks which cover a variety of topics, such as All about the Rocks, Desert Wildlife, and Monumental People. It is also interesting to see how the visitors respond to these films and Porch Talks as well.

As I began to get more comfortable with the Monument, its history, and purpose, I have been trying to accumulate any data about visitation patterns that is readily available. Luckily the NPS keeps track of these types of statistics on its intranet which makes accessing them quite easy. In addition, I was able to observe the East gate operations during one morning rush hour period, where they collect cyclist and commercial traffic data as well. All of which will assist me in developing a better understanding of the traffic patterns on Rimrock Drive. I am sure there will be more observation time in my future.

Lastly, I have begun to get in touch with contacts at the NPS and Federal Highway Administration. There is a safety audit that may be taking place while I am here, which will be important for me to understand and coordinate with. Moreover, there was a recent transportation study done for Saguaro National Park which may prove helpful in my analysis. Michelle has also supplied me with a contact in Mesa County to try and get exposed to the Mesa County transportation plan.

Even with all that has been going on, I have been able to enjoy myself and meet some really awesome and interesting people. The Monument employs approximately 15 full time employees, but that increases to approximately 65 when all the summer seasonal workers are included. I live in an apartment in a building with four units. All of my neighbors are fantastic and close to my age, which definitely helps with the rural lifestyle. It's new to me now, but I am sure I will get used to it. BBQing at night is common, as is playing with my neighbors' dogs. Did I mention I love dogs?

Ok, so this isn't one of my neighbors' pups, but my friend from Steamboat was dog sitting and I got to hang out with this adorable guy, Paxton, for a couple days before I got to the Monument.

Outside of meeting so many people, I have been trying to get settled in my apartment. Unpacking, buying all the necessities, and the most important (ha), setting up my Netflix account. It has and will continue to be my savior since I don't have TV reception in my apartment. Yeah, I know, I am surprising myself. I have also started doing some trailrunning, and I thought I was in shape. Boy was I wrong, the air is a bit thinner up here, but after a couple days of running I regained my momentum and am now back to my pre-elevation speeds and distances. The picture below, is from one of the runs I did earlier in the week...going down?

Once my camera gets here I will be sure to take some more detailed pictures, but for now the pictures I have included from my phone will have to do. Also please leave me some comments if there are certain things you may want to hear more/less about. It will help me tailor these posts to be most helpful for those of you trying to keep up with my project and life while I am here. Take care until next time...