Judges uphold Cave Rock climbing ban

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - A federal district judge's rejection of a
lawsuit challenging a U.S. Forest Service management plan to ban climbing
at Cave Rock appears to have settled a long-simmering dispute at the sacred
Washoe Tribe site.

Reno Judge Howard McKibben's Jan. 28 ruling will allow the Forest Service
to implement its management plan to protect the historic and cultural
resources at the popular volcanic formation on Lake Tahoe's southeast
shore. Although the plan allows for other public uses, hiking and
picnicking included, it will close the site to rock climbing in order to
maintain the area's archeological and historic integrity. Under the plan,
all bolts, anchors and other climbing hardware must be removed from the
rock.

"I am gratified with the decision, and for the opportunity to finally put
an effective management strategy into effect for this important historic
resource and Tahoe landmark," Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Supervisor Maribeth
Gustafson said in a released statement.

But Rex Norman, a forest service public affairs officer, said it will
likely take until summer before the management plan, more than a decade in
the making, can finally be implemented. He said the Access Fund, the
Colorado-based rock climbing association which filed the lawsuit in 2003,
has until late February to appeal the latest ruling.

"We're waiting for some direction on how and when to proceed," Norman said.
"We're very excited, but still in a little of a holding pattern."

Jason Keith, policy director for the Access Fund, said the organization has
yet to decide whether or not they will appeal the decision. The Access
Fund's lawsuit argued the ban was found unconstitutional because it
promoted a public lands closure based on the religious beliefs of the
Washoe Tribe.

The issue was largely portrayed as a "climbers v. the Washoe Tribe"
controversy, although the Forest Service adamantly disagreed. It has said
the central issue was the adverse impact climbing had on Cave Rock, a site
eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places because of
its cultural, historic and archeological resources as well as the role it
played as a historic transportation corridor.

Critics say the rock formation was already drastically altered when highway
tunnels were blasted through it in 1931 and 1957, and that the marks left
by climbers do not necessitate a recreational closure.