Deer Creek Canyon cycling event wins approval

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County OKs controversial ride after rejecting the event in 2009 over safety concerns

By Emile Hallez

  A long-disputed bicycling event that could bring up to 3,000 riders to Deer Creek Canyon Road won county approval last week, reigniting a hotbed of animosity between cycling enthusiasts and canyon residents.

About 60 people attended the March 16 county commissioners’ public hearing, and the majority of public comment came from area residents, who almost exclusively voiced opposition to the event.

The Deer Creek Challenge, which will offer three different routes ranging from 35 to 106 miles, is scheduled for Aug. 29 from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will benefit charities that have yet to be announced. A section of the road will be closed during the ride, though it will remain open in both directions to residents.

The ride routes begin and end at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield and use a variety of county roads, including Deer Creek Canyon Road. Bicyclists will have staggered start times during the ride, which is not timed and is not considered a race. The event is routed in loops, with the intention that bicyclists will not be traveling in both directions on any roads at the same time.

Patrick Downing, whose company, Downing Events, is organizing the event, applied for a permit last year, though two commissioners — Faye Griffin and Kathy Hartman — voted against it, citing safety concerns. Unlike most county roads, special events on Deer Creek Canyon Road require the commissioners’ approval.

Hartman and Commissioner Kevin McCasky voted to approve the 2010 ride; Griffin again voted against it. Hartman said her vote changed this year because her concerns about safety and liability were adequately addressed.

“In the 17 years since we started the company, we’ve raised more than $33 million for charities in and around the Denver area,” said Downing, whose company owns the Cherry Creek Sneak and Tri for the Cure events. “Deer Creek Canyon is easily recognized and familiar to the cycling community. … We wanted to appeal to qualified cyclists, not the everyday cyclists, but individuals who are well trained and have spent a summer becoming fitter.”

The area was a good choice for the charity ride, he said, as the steep elevation gain could lure elite cyclists and help ensure the event’s success.

Some canyon residents cited safety concerns in opposing the event, such as poor cell-phone reception and potentially long response times for emergency vehicles traveling the narrow and winding roads.

The narrow roads and lack of shoulders in some areas also make passing bicyclists difficult for drivers, some residents said. Under Colorado law, drivers have to maintain a minimum distance of 3 feet from bicyclists when passing them on the road, which is not possible in some areas, residents argued.

Residents’ biggest fear, however, seemed to be the possibility of the event serving as a gateway to increased use of the road by bicyclists before and after the ride. Bicyclists would begin training for the ride months ahead of time, opponents argued, noting that getting a taste of the terrain would whet riders’ appetites for return rides to the scenic area.

And some voiced worries about micturition near their front doors.

“Unless you live in the area, I suppose you wouldn’t know how many people decide to water our properties,” said Morrison resident Fran Kirks. “They don’t even bother to go in the trees.”

Others said they often deal with rude behavior from cyclists riding two or three abreast on the narrow road. And the cycling community has often said it’s the other way around.

“They have become 100 percent more courteous,” said Wendy Liljekrans, whose Pleasant Park group has raised funds by pouring Gatorade and water for cyclists. “Colorado is known as being a very outdoor state. … It’s one of the things that makes us such a beautiful state.”

Downing said safety concerns will be addressed. Among challenges will be ensuring adequate cell-phone signals for emergency personnel, who will be contracted from a fire department, the Colorado State Patrol and the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office. Cell-phone reception is weak or absent in much of the canyon.

“Chief among our concerns is the safety of the event, for both participants and non-participants,” Downing said. “We would strategically place medical, mechanical, food and restroom locations at a minimum of every 10 miles on the course.”

Though the event was approved, safety issues will have to earn OKs from the Sheriff’s Office and fire department before the planning and zoning department will allow it to proceed.

The Jeffco Planning and Zoning Department evaluated the event and suggested the board approve the permit. The department also supported the event in 2009.

“I support the event. I supported it last year,” McCasky said, noting that the anticipated 16 deputies, 20 event staff members and 100 volunteers would help ensure it runs smoothly and that participants follow the law. “This would be the best day to live in Deer Creek Canyon, because the atmosphere would be one of instruction for cyclists.”


Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.

      Deer Creek Challenge Aug. 29 35- to 106-mile courses 12,751 feet of elevation gain