LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - An advocacy group with a lawsuit challenging a U.S.
Forest Service ban on recreational climbing at a sacred Washoe site has
asked its members to refrain from scaling Cave Rock this summer.
The Access Fund, a Colorado-based group representing more than 1 million
climbers nationwide, agreed to the voluntary closure, which was first
suggested by the Forest Service, "out of respect to the religious practices
of the Washoe." The group put out the memo this spring urging its members
not to climb the popular volcanic formation on the lake's southeast shore
during July and August of this year.
Last fall, the Forest Service updated its Cave Rock management plan
announcing its intention to permanently ban climbing at the site in an
effort to protect Cave Rock's cultural, historic and archeological
resources, which make the site eligible for listing in the National
Register of Historic Places.
The Access Fund responded last December filing a lawsuit in U.S. District
Court in Reno arguing that the proposed climbing ban is unconstitutional
because it promotes the closing of public lands for religious purposes.
Rock climbing is the only activity Forest Service officials are looking to
put a stop to at the site. Hikers, picnickers and other recreational
activities are still allowed.
The Forest Service agreed to postpone the intended ban pending resolution
of the lawsuit filed by the Access Fund. A court ruling could come as early
John Maher, a Forest Service heritage resource manager, said that climbing
has had an "adverse effect" on the area and is in conflict with the
agency's management plan. "Climbing has been identified as one of the most
intrusive activities occurring at Cave Rock," Maher explained. "That's why
the Forest Service is looking to put an end to it."
Maher pointed to the damage climbers have left at Cave Rock as the reason
for the closure. According to the agency's environmental impact statement,
climbers have installed approximately 46 bolted climbing routes including
many inside a sensitive cave, and even constructed a concrete floor without
the agency's permission. If the ban is upheld by the court all the bolts,
anchors and platforms installed in the rock will be removed.
Jason Keith, the Access Fund's policy director, said the voluntary summer
closure is an interim measure. He said the group still hopes to work out a
deal with the Forest Service that would keep Cave Rock open for climbing on
a limited basis, while at the same time accommodating the religious beliefs
of the Washoe Tribe.
Similar plans have worked at Devils Tower in Wyoming, and at the Red River
Gorge in Kentucky. At both those sites land managers have found a way to
balance the interests of recreational and cultural user groups, by
instituting voluntary closures out of respect for American Indian religious
"We would like to accommodate the tribe as much as possible," Keith said.
"Our quarrel is with the Forest Service, not the tribe. This is public land
and we are a legitimate user. We would support a compromise similar to the
one at Devil's Tower."
Keith said the Access Fund is trying to cooperate. The group's guidebook
asks members using Cave Rock to "climb and behave in a respectful manner"
explaining the area's importance to the Washoe and telling climber's to
"either treat it with respect and reverence or leave."