Event restrictions upset officials

Suzi Dennett, Death Valley Chamber of Commerce President, spoke of the major loss of business revenue and  lack of consideration by DVNP staff in coming up with new rules for special events.

Suzi Dennett, Death Valley Chamber of Commerce President, spoke of the major loss of business revenue and lack of consideration by DVNP staff in coming up with new rules for special events.

Death Valley National Park Staff Tell Special Event Organizers to Take a Hike

By Charles James

Thanks to the actions of just a few National Park Service employees in Death Valley National Park, new Special Event Permit rules have been implemented as a result of a safety review ordered by Park Superintendent Kathy Billings last year. The Inyo County Board of Supervisors were dismayed to learn of the new changes at a recent board meeting when it was announced by Billings as “A done document.”

The result of the safety review, during which the park was closed to events, has seriously changed the way running and biking events can now be held inside the park.

According to a press release last December from AdventureCORPS, a major extreme athlete event provider in the park, which has hosted the world-famous Badwater Ultramarathon in the park for 37 years without incident, stated that the changes were made “despite there never having been a major illness or this ‘safety review’… being undertaken as a result of any serious incident or accident within the Park. It is not being undertaken as a result of any significant number of complaints.”

That’s right: there was no long list of complaints or record of injuries in the park during special events. AdventureCORPS, in its statement said “It was undertaken purely under the prerogative of a few DVNP employees, most notably the Park Superintendent, Kathleen Billings, who assumed leadership of the Park in March of 2013.”

The major stakeholders, which include Inyo County, the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce and AdventureCORPS, were deliberately excluded from the process according to Park Superintendent Billings at the direction of an unnamed supervisor from the National Park Service despite assurances given to the Supervisors while in Washington last February during a meeting with National Park Service Deputy Director Christina Goldfuss. She assured them that the new permitting process would be open and the county would have an opportunity to participate.

Furthermore, Billings admitted that the process chosen was also designed specifically to exclude public comment, at one point telling the Supervisors that, “Having events in the park is a privilege, not a right.” The new rules state that any summertime events in the park would be cancelled if temperatures rise to 110°F and that special events are to be held during a full moon to preserve the park’s famously dark skies.

The rules were made solely by park service staff under the hypothetical approach of “What if?” and not based on any empirical data or evidence from the park itself. The result was a “wish list” by park service staff being inflicted on unsuspecting stakeholders that use the park to stage events. It is estimated that the park closure while the “safety review” was being conducted, and the implementation of the new regulations, has already cost the County and local Death Valley business owners, who are struggling to stay afloat, hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential losses which they can ill-afford.

The Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce said that the Badwater Ultra Marathon alone was responsible for contributing $1.2 million to local communities each year. Suzi Dennet, the Executive Director of the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce, told the Inyo Supervisors that she and chamber members were very upset about how the safety review was conducted. It is especially disturbing to be ignored, especially as they have always tried to work closely with the park’s staff to provide the best services to park visitors.

The new rules may also result in a loss to Inyo County through lessened Transient Occupancy Tax income. It is the County that maintains many of the roads that lead into the park.

After creating the current fiasco by ignoring everyone but her own park staff, Park Superintendent Billings is leaving the park service and a new job announcement for her replacement has already been posted.

Eighth Congressional District Congressman Paul Cook’s office was contacted for comment two weeks ago about the situation, but as of this writing has not responded. Local county residents can contact the congressman by calling his Washington office at (202) 225-5861 or visiting his official website at http://cook.house.gov, to express their concerns.

34 Responses to Event restrictions upset officials

  1. Death Valley Chamber November 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    Both the National Park Service and AdventureCORPS are valued members of the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce. It should be clarified that the Chamber is NOT now, nor were we ever, upset with DVNP staff. Nor did we experience a “lack of consideration on the part of DVNP staff”. In fact, DVNP staff members Cheryl Chipman and Candace Lieber have been instrumental in helping the Chamber negotiate the “whitewater” of a raging stream of public outcry on this issue. We would have been lost without their assistance.

    With respect to the Safety Review, Cheryl Chipman has been an essential partner in dispelling rumors, providing information, and candidly presenting concerns raised by the “boots on the ground” who have actually worked a number of large sports events within the Park. Her honesty and commitment to public information is unquestionable. We have no objection to responsible stewardship of the Park nor do we wish Park staff safety to be compromised. Our disagreement was not with staff but rather the lack of public process.

    As a matter of course we advocate open dialogue, public comment forums, and adequate disclosure of the terms of any and all proposed operational policy changes with the potential to affect businesses in the Death Valley region. It is our contention that an internal Safety Review would best serve as one piece of a larger public process to determine equitable usage and guarantee public access now and in the future.

    The Death Valley Chamber monitors potential regulatory impacts upon businesses both within and without the boundaries of Death Valley National Park. We gather, collate, and distribute information to ALL of our membership with regard to Federal, State, and Local agencies, commissions, and any other governing bodies vested with the power to affect local commerce. It is to that end that we must remain committed to public process, no matter how “messy” it may be at times, in order to represent the needs of our diverse membership and attempt to balance both sides of any proposed regulatory equation.

    We are grateful to the Board of Supervisors for providing a forum for this important issue and to our members, including Chris Kostman of AdventureCORPS and Cheryl Chipman and Candace Lieber of the National Park Service for providing us perspective and contributing the benefit of your firsthand experiences to this discussion.

  2. Death Valley Chamber November 15, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    The caption beneath the photo is incorrect. Suzi Dennett is the Executive Director of the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce, not the President. The President is Nancy Good.

  3. SoCalliion November 14, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Geez people, the Badwater race is in the dead of summer when few people want to go to Death Valley. Plus it doesn’t even “shut down” the park to the few non-participants that care to venture out in the heat.

    I can see a need to put some checks in place with the explosion of “Xtreme” events being organized, but if *EVER* there was a perfect case for one event to be grand-fathered in it would be this awesome race that I’ve never run and no doubt will never be capable of running. (Just wanted to throw that out there in case anyone thinks I’m homering for a personal event.) I have friends who crew on this race so I read about it, and it is pretty insanely awesome what these athletes do, but it’s even more incredible how well run the event is. And no one has ever died during it, although someone dropping dead in 120+ degree temps while running once in a while doesn’t sound out of place.

    Keep the Badwater road race, and be very leery of sanctioning any new events.

  4. Steve November 14, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    So long as Bad Water stays at 282 feet below sea level and Mt Whitney stays at 14,497 feet above sea level. They will be the lowest and highest elevations in the 48 states. People will challenge them selves to make it from one to the other. There is nowhere in the world that you can run from the lowest to the highest point in only 135 miles.

    The whole point of the park system is to save the land in it’s natural state for all time. And to make it available for the public to experience the environment in that natural state. It was never the intent to close it off and tell people they can not use it.

    I have been a volunteer for the Bad Water 135. This is a first class event run by first class people with a spotless safety record for over 37 events run in the park. There is not and and has never been a corrective action for an safety violation. It seams only the park knows why it stopped all competitive events in the park. Their reason stating “safety” is pure BS.

  5. LocalT November 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm #


    You are completely uniformed and ignorant to the facts pertaining to the types of special events held in Death Valley in years past. These events are not typically open to the general public for participation. For example, The Badwater Ultramarathon is an invitational race featuring some of the greatest endurance runners in the world. Participants run an average of 100 miles per week.

    So in short, your logic regarding the technologically consumed portion of society is completely off base in this situation.

    • Desert Tortoise November 13, 2014 at 9:02 am #

      So we the taxpayer get to pay our hard earned and have our parks roads clogged with traffic to provide a venue for a private invitation only event? That alone is enough for me to say to them go find someplace else to run. The American taxpayer isn’t funding that park for your private event. It is a public space that should be available to everyone. If you wish to hold private invitation only events do so on privately owned land that someone is paying taxes on.

      • LocalT November 13, 2014 at 12:27 pm #

        Desert Tortoise,

        If you’ve ever been in the park during these events you would know that roads aren’t “clogged”. These types of races don’t call for road closures and they only create minor encroachments on the roadways. Furthermore, soon after the race events begin, participants quickly become spaced out. It’s not like there’s a pack of 100 racers blocking a road.

        And your comments that the events are “private invitation only” events if false. The events are not private. They are invitational meaning participants have to qualify in some manner. Any member of the general public is welcome to attempt to qualify for these events. Aside from the invitational aspect for participants, the spectator aspect is extremely open for to the public. Spectators to these events have the opportunity to witness world class athletes in action. Merely finishing these race events is an extraordinary accomplishment.

        I encourage everyone to become informed before they make incorrect assumptions or other negative conclusions.

        I strongly believe the minor roadway encroachment caused by these events is well worth the commerce generated from them. As mentioned above, the Badwatwer Ultramarathon generates an estimated $1.2M alone….

      • Wayne Deja November 13, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

        Desert Tortoise….Be careful what you say there…. If LocalT happens to disagree with you he’s bound to get on his rude high-horse and say your uninformed and ignorant….That said,I agree with you….Some think the one and only thing that should matter when it comes to our land and environment is the all-mighty dollar….Remember a few months back that mining company called “Cougar Gold” wanting to go up and into the Bodie Hills and start thrashing the land in hopes of striking it rich,and saying how it would bring hundreds of high-paying jobs to the Bridgeport locals ?….And then saying Mono County has nothing to worry about,stating if they were to dump on the land it would flow into Nevada and not into the Bodie area…..

        • LocalT November 13, 2014 at 10:57 pm #


          I don’t believe my comments have been rude nor did I intend for them to be. Uninformed and ignorant are plain adjectives in the context I used them in. You and DT seem to be uninformed and ignorant on this issue. The points you use to support your argument are not correct. Facts to the contrary discredit your arguments.

          To recap your original argument, you essentially argued there is too much risk/liability for technologically consumed people to be “running long marathons in 110+ temperatures”. I state this was uninformed and ignorant simply because of the invitational nature of the events in question (i.e. not open to general public including the technologically consumed).

          I don’t see how I am on a “rude high-horse”.

      • sugarmagnolia November 13, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

        I’m not sure you understand the issues DT, no-one is stopped from using the park during these events….nor does the Park service have any major responsibilities during the event. They do spend time ensuring that the group understands the terms of their permit and can meet those terms. And I’m sure Park staff does monitor the activity to ensure the permit is being followed.

        Typically the permit holder PAYS fees for that work effort on the part of the Park. Other visitors may be slightly inconvenienced for a short period of time during the events or they may not be inconvenienced at all.

        One could argue that people can legally run on the highway going through the park and that the Park has no right to stop them at all. It is after all public land and a state highway. Your comments seem to be majoring off base.

  6. Karma November 12, 2014 at 9:18 pm #

    Well Inyo, how does a little taste of your own arrogance feel. You have been spouting “done Deals” and such for the public good for to long now. How about stepping back a bit and reevaluating how your interacting with the public and other agency’s. BEFORE you are “dismayed” at another agency’s actions. i think it’s time to take off the self appointed crown and come to terms with the fact we are all here to work together, not just as you wish. I’m sad the business owners have to pay the price for your elitism, but such is karma.

  7. Wayne Deja November 12, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    The more I read and think about this event being cancelled,the more I think it might be a good idea….reason being,maybe no injuries,deaths or major problems over the years…BUT….things all seem a lot different than they used to be,with a LOT of things nowdays…A good example is those 15 or 16 lost hikers this past week in the L.A. area….some people,especially younger people,this day and age,where they belong is on a cell phone 24/7,or in front of an X-BOX or an I-PHONE tweeting and twitting on their I-PAD ,not hiking in the wilderness,hunting, or running long marathons in 110+ tempatures,among other things…if they happen to venture outside to do much of anything,many seem to get in trouble and need someone else to get them out of it…family…friends….SAR….LE….not something they can actually figure out on their own.

  8. Sensible November 11, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    Why should Inyo County be involved? They admit to not following safety measures for their employees, so who are they to judge? They got their money from taxes with the event being held in Lone Pine, PLUS the park’s hotels filled up all summer with people paying the full room rates, not discounted ones for block rooms.

  9. Steve November 11, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    With the new rule that you can’t run events if the temp gets to 110deg. Then the park should be shut down to everyone at 110deg. The park employees should all go home. Then the park would only be open to people at their own risk.

    That is how it was done back before it became a park and was only a monument. I have had some of my best trips in Death Valley back then. With out all the rude crowds and heavy hand of park enforcement.

    • sugarmagnolia November 11, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      Also, that would mean the participants would have traveled for the event too and possibly even started the event and then have to stop. Not so fun to spend money and take the time to travel for an event just to have it canceled.

      THis really makes no sense. DVNP has no liability for these events, UNLESS some provision they required caused the death or injury. Seems to me, by having these parameters, they create more liability for themselves…ie. an attorney could argue how they chose the parameters and say if someone died at temp 109, that DVNP was negligent in picking 110 as the threshold.

      The current administration at DVNP acts like the park belongs to them. And I deal with them directly and have met all of the management team. I’ve worked with JT Reynolds and Sarah Craighead, both protected DVNP’s interests without pissing on the people’s interests, which is what the current administration is doing.

      Good riddance to Billings…and I hope she takes her narrow minded cronies with her!!!

      • Desert Tortoise November 13, 2014 at 9:06 am #

        You should walk a mile in a Park Rangers boots. They love the parks they care for, love them deeply and know them intimately in ways most people never will. But they see the public come up on the weekend to party, to abandon junk cars, leave bottles and cans everywhere, litter, get into fights, get drunk, play loud music late into the night, be forced to mediate disputes with other park users who are offended by the drunks, loud music and fights, etc. They see their beautiful park ruined each weekend by hoards of urban dwellers who bring their rotten urban ways into the park, leave a mess and go away, while the rangers get to pick up their mess and try to make the park look nice for the next weekend hoard. Then we have internet heros carping about them being arrogant or over paid, while the park budget gets leaner in real terms every year. Walk a mile in their boots before spouting off.

        • Charles O. Jones November 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

          Couldn’t agree more DT

          Now try to remember that advice the next time you make wholesale accusations about law enforcement officers. Perahps you should walk a mile in their shoes.

          • Desert Tortoise November 15, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

            I have. I wanted very much to be a Chippie once. Now I am deeply glad I didn’t pursue it and became a Navy pilot instead. Chippies used to be a premier law enforcement agency. Now? They are rapidly becoming as bad as LAPD in the bad old days of Daryl Gates. I have seen them with my own eyes lie in court, and have had friends abused by them (they successfully challenged them in court btw and the judge was angry at the officer afterwards for pushing my friend aside and searching her car without her permission after a simple traffic stop). It is that kind of crap when it happens often enough to you and people you know that you learn to distrust them. I didn’t start out that way, it was learned over time from encounters I had with them. I could go on. Their scale officers, some are good and some are the dumbest of the dumb, because now instead of hiring trucking professionals to work the scales as inspectors they take the drop outs from the CHP Academy and put them in the scales. I wanted to work the scales as an inspector, I know the games the trucking industry plays from direct experience, but when I went to apply I was told sorry, they recruit from CHP Academy drop outs now. Great.

          • Charles O. Jones November 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

            Sounds like sour grapes. And “wanting to be a chippie once” is not the same thing as walking a mile in their shoes – not even close.

            That aside, I’ve had a couple of negative experiences with park rangers over the years. Using your logic I could just berate ALL rangers. But the truth is, most rangers, cops, sheriffs, chips, etc. etc. are decent folks. So your use of character assassination on literally thousands and thousands of people is unfair, to say the least. Should you be attacked for the irresponsible actions of a few Navy pilots? I don’t think you should.

          • Mark November 17, 2014 at 10:01 am #

            I might have considered being a fireman in the early 80’s but they weren’t hiring white guys at that time.

            I should be able to sue someone for being discriminated against during those times

        • sugar magnolia November 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

          I’ve spent many a night in various places in DVNP, never have I seen someone behave in the way you describe. (although that’s probably because I don’t spend too many nights in the large developed campgrounds).

          But that behavior you describe, which would rightfully be detested by park personnel, is not the type of behavior likely to occur from extreme sport participants.

          So again DT, you’re barking down the wrong path.

          • Desert Tortoise November 15, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

            It is the big developed camp grounds I refer to. I used to eat breakfast while out on weekend motorcycle rides at a little joint that rangers also frequently ate. You hear their war stories about the mayhem in the big campgrounds and how angry it makes them to have to baby sit a bunch of rowdies from the big city and pick up after them when what they really want to do is show people who appreciate it the park they love. Out beyond the weekend crowds you don’t see this so much. The rowdies don’t have what it takes to pack their stuff on their backs and haul it in and out of rough terrain. They go as far as their car permits. They won’t go far from a source of ice for their booze.

  10. Eastside Bum November 10, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    While I sympathize with the event organizers and the LP Chamber of commerce, the real reasons for the cancellations “could” be for the following reasons:

    *The Park Service is tired of putting additional responsibilities on their staff every year.
    *The budget for the staff covering the event has decreased.
    *The safety factor for employees discussed above is real.
    *The event “likely” did interfere with visitors enjoyment of the park, but was not emphasized.

    Lastly, but importantly, Death Valley National Park does not “owe” a living to Inyo county business owners. This may sound harsh and condescending, but if you look up the mission statement for all National Parks, a conclusion can be reached.

  11. chris November 10, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

    Inyo County should have been involved!

  12. Tinner November 10, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    Our liability laws are killing this country, they drive the prices of so much up.
    How much of a lift ticket goes toward liability insurance? It seems the only individuals who benefit from those laws are lawyers and others in the legal system.
    I think Kathy Billings must have attended The Barack Obama School of Transparency.

    • Ken Warner November 10, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

      Tinner: Very good! Right in the middle of the Right Wing Nut Echo Machine.

      • Tinner November 12, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

        That’s interesting some people I meet assume I’m a dem liberal.

    • Trouble November 10, 2014 at 8:29 pm #

      Tinner you are so far off it’s scary. You can’t get a attorney to handle any liability case in this state any more. Why, because the insurance industry and doctors teamed up with the lobbyist to make sure the little guy would never win enough to cover thier attroney fees if they sue them.

      • Tinner November 12, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

        “You can’t get a attorney”?
        I think you have forgotten what country you are in.

        • Trouble November 14, 2014 at 8:24 am #

          Tinner-There is a Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollar cap on all medical malpractice suits. That’s total for doctor bills, attorneys and the victim. My five day stay in the hospital broke two hundred thou. That cap was put in place in the 70″s. Don’t believe all that crap you hear from the fox people.

      • Desert Tortoise November 13, 2014 at 8:58 am #

        That much is true. Lawyers will not take a case on a contingency unless in their estimation the amount of the settlement will pay them for their effort, pay for expert witnesses, court costs, depositions, etc. For complex medical malpractice cases in particular the liability cap in California has effectively shut down malpractice suits entirely. The cost of a few expert witnesses and depositions is such that there is not enough money left over to pay an attorney for the amount of work involved. In my own life I have been in a situation where I was injured in a traffic collision that was the other parties fault, but the nature of the injuries, lost wages and damage to my vehicle was not enough (very low five figures) to make it worth any attorneys time to take. I ended up having to threaten the other parties insurance company with small claims and we settled for ten grand, which didn’t cover my costs completely. Lawyers are a lot less suit happy than the media and certain political entities want people to believe.

  13. sierra slugger November 10, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

    It’s amazing how much power officials really have. Kathy Billings signed the document on 08/11/2014 Under Discretionary Authority then leaves. Nice job— (NOT)

    Below is a link to the Nation Park Service Superintendents Compendium of designations, Closures. Permit requirements, and other restrictions imposed

    The only things you don’t need a permit for in the Death Valley National Park are ROCK CLIMBING & CANYONEERING.




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