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What are National Park “Viewsheds?”

Proponents of national park status find themselves in a conundrum for a number of reasons, and this is one of them.

Viewsheds: Views and vistas outside of national parks which can be seen from within the boundaries are designated “viewsheds.”

However, viewshed criteria are specific and restrictive when it comes to what is suitable for national park status. The existing Colorado National Monument is literally surrounded by semi-rural developments, construction sites, heavy equipment operators, and other forms of human activity that are usually not found directly adjacent to other national parks in Western states. The proponents’ conundrum is this: If viewshed criteria cannot be met because of existing development in the area of the CNM, will they drop the push for national park status, or will they seek to assert control over some human activities that cause things such as haze, light pollution, dust, traffic, and other things targeted by the NPS and NPCA? Read on…

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), National Park Service (NPS), and others, are using the concept of viewsheds to assert that certain human activities have a negative “visual impact” because they can be viewed from within a national park. Things most targeted by the EPA, NPS, and NPCA,  according to an 2013 report by the NPCA  are:

  • Energy development-related heavy equipment and traffic
  • Road and residential construction that can be seen from within the park
  • Nighttime lighting from cell towers, buildings and traffic
  • Rigs, roads, pipelines, and well heads
  • Haze produced by smoke, dust, seasonal inversions

Read the entire NPCA report here:

  • The NPCA protested a 2012 proposal for drilling near Dinosaur National Park asserting that “it will come at the peril of the night skies in the area, create air pollution concerns and be contrary to the visitor experience at the park…”
  • Viewshed visual impacts could be defined to include seasonal burning by agricultural operations, wood smoke from home fireplaces, charcoal grills, residential leaf and weed burning, livestock pens, commercial and residential lighting, lights from nighttime sports venues, commercial signage, commercial traffic, residential traffic, industrial parks, construction sites, excavations, landfills, rock quarries, and countless other scenes that might be considered “unsightly.”
  • In a document titled “Visual Resource Analysis” the NPS lists what factors it will consider when formulating viewsheds. These factors include, but are not limited to:
  • determining which characteristics of an external viewshed, such as its scenic quality and the nature of any developments visible within the viewshed, most affect the NPS visitor experience;
  • determining which factors (e.g., land ownership) are most relevant to scenic conservation for a viewshed; and
  • identifying pressures that will be associated with likely future development. (emphasis added) Read the full document here:



Will Private Cars and Bicycles be Banned?

Zion National Park has banned most private cars and bicycles within its boundaries. Would a “Rim Rock Canyons National Park” be hostile to cars and bikes?

  • National Park status for the CNM is touted by proponents as a future economic boon that will result from greatly increased tourist visitation. Some claim that the “prestige” of a national park vs. a national monument,  will to attract “high-tech” industry to the area. There is no hard data supporting such assertions, and conditions within the existing monument are not suitable for the kind of growth proponents claim will occur. According to minutes from the Colorado National Monument Advisory Group meeting of January 18, 2012:
  • “the current road system is beyond maxed out”
  • “there is an increasing demand for law enforcement on the property”
  • “A growing proportion of the law enforcement needs occur at night”
  • “Suicide attempts also require law enforcement attention” 
  • The CNM is relatively small in comparison to other destinations and recreation areas, and can be traversed by car in less than an hour. A significant increase in foot and motorized traffic would negatively impact its unique environment, very narrow roadways, plant life and wildlife.
  • The roads are narrow and subject to erosion and damage due to seasonal temperature fluctuations and rockslides.
  • Many stretches of road in the CNM do not have guard rails, and increased traffic greatly heightens the potential for accidents.
  • The current National Park Service (NPS) administrator has banned  bike races inside the CNM, and increased motor traffic in the form of large tour busses could lead to a complete ban on bicycle traffic on its paved roads.
  • A significant increase in traffic could lead to a ban on personal cars inside the park, limiting motorized traffic to shuttle busses, as currently exists in Zion National Park—which is much larger than the CNM.
  • A drive through and around the CNM will tell locals and visitors alike all they need to know about the viability of national park status. Roads in and around the CNM are narrow. South Broadway is a narrow paved lane which runs along the NE boundary of the monument, abutting BLM land on one side, and private property on the other. Immediately next to the roadway are canals used for irrigation. There are no passing lanes, few turnouts large enough for more than one car at a time, and bicyclists and runners can be regularly found on South Broadway.
  • The 18 mile Rim Rock Drive cutting through the Monument is narrow, steep, and many stretches, including those along sheer cliff faces, lack guard rails. Turnouts on the Monument itself accommodate only a few cars at a time and there is little room for visitors to stand. The only turnouts large enough to accommodate tour busses are within the south end camping area and in front of the visitor center.  Large tour groups would have a difficult time accessing the vistas and trails along Rim Rock Drive.
  • The reality is that most long-distance travelers who visit the CNM access it by car. Lacking the capacity to park large vehicles and guide large groups of people practically and safely to its scenic viewpoints, most groups experience the Colorado National Monument as an 18 mile drive-through, complete with one restroom and retail stop at the small visitor center.
  • Increased foot traffic leads to erosion, the destruction of naturally-occurring cryptobiotic soil, wildlife habitat destruction, littering, vandalism, theft of minerals and plant life, personal and property crimes, and necessitates increased maintenance, sanitation, and law enforcement.

Below is a recent photograph is of the CNM Upper Ribbon Trail and shows the rutted and packed soil completely absent of protective cryptobiotic crust.



 Narrow roadways on 18 mile Rim Rock Drive