Fort Ord and the Sea Otter Classic: National Conservation Lands Are Good For Business

In what kind of utopian fantasy-world do business, conservation, mountain bike and equestrian interests not only coexist but prosper?

How about at Fort Ord, the former Army base-turned-National-Monument on California’s central coast?

On April 20, 2012, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation to designate Fort Ord National Monument. The proclamation stated, in part, that “The protection of the Fort Ord area will maintain its historical and cultural significance, attract tourists and recreationalists from near and far, and enhance its unique natural resources, for the enjoyment of all Americans.”

Part of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Conservation Lands, Fort Ord offers 83 miles of trails to horseback riders, hikers and cyclists, as well as a vast array of endangered and rare  plants and animals–44 known species–some of which are rarely found outside Fort Ord. Habitat preservation and conservation are primary missions of the Fort Ord Public Lands, but there are others, as the Presidential proclamation suggests. The site also plays host to the Sea Otter Classic, an event held each spring since 1991 that is widely considered to be the largest cycling festival in the world–drawing nearly 10,000 professional and amateur athletes and 65,000 fans. Once a handful of races held over a weekend, the now four-day event has activities ranging from road and mountain bike races to recreational rides, a kids’ carnival, special outreach activities for women and girls, and the largest consumer cycling expo in North America. At the expo, more than 450 vendors representing nearly 800 brands display new products at what has become the unofficial opener to the North American cycling season. The race staging and exposition are at the Laguna Seca Recreation Area, a county park that is adjacent to the Monument and also home to the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Combined, these create a venue that is uniquely suited to hosting such a large event.

According to an economic impact report released by the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2006, the Sea Otter Classic brings in an estimated $28.6 million in revenue to the region, with the Bureau’s spokesperson at the time noting that nearly 70% of Sea Otter Classic visitors were coming from outside the region. In the case of beautiful Fort Ord National Monument, the habitat preservation and conservation mission coexists with the tourism and recreation mission. The cyclists coexist with the horseback riders. And all the while, the positive economic impact to Monterey County continues to grow.  It is not a utopian fantasy, it is a reality that many people in the local community–including the Fort Ord Recreational Trails Friends (FORT Friends), the BLM, local bike groups and many others worked hard to create and now work to maintain. And it is a reality that can be replicated.

So, the next time you hear someone suggest that the President’s use of Executive Power and the Antiquities Act to declare a National Monument is an example of federal overreach, you might want to refer them to Fort Ord National Monument and the Sea Otter Classic–yet another example of protected public lands continuing to enhance and benefit a local gateway community, while preserving critical habitat, threatened species and open space for future generations. The National Conservation Lands are not only good for preserving our natural landscapes, they’re good for business.

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