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Probable Closure of Cave Rock at Lake Tahoe


by Editor

July 22, 2002

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

Cave Rock, a well-known crag on the south shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada, will likely be closed to climbing sometime this year. A strong and rapid response from climbers is required to stop this closure.

The Access Fund has been working to keep Cave Rock open for climbing since 1995. Cave Rock is a basalt plug which provides high-end sport climbing opportunities even in winter, when most other local cliffs are unclimbable.

Cave Rock straddles US Highway 50 (four lanes tunnel directly through the formation) so local climbers never imagined there would be a problem with climbing there, other than possible safety issues. It was a surprise when the Washoe tribe complained about climbers to the US Forest Service, which owns the portion of the rock where the climbing routes are.

Since that time the Access Fund, working with local climbers, has tried to negotiate a compromise which would keep Cave Rock open for climbing on a limited basis. We have repeatedly suggested solutions similar to that in effect at Devils Tower - voluntary closures for limited time periods. We agreed to remove some routes and that no new routes should be established.

But our suggestions were never acceptable to the Washoe, and the Forest Service threatened to close Cave Rock several years ago. At that time the Access Fund was successful in convincing the agency that Cave Rock should remain open to climbing, but that a joint education effort would be undertaken to encourage climbers to climb elsewhere out of respect for Washoe religious beliefs.

However, in May Access Fund Regional Coordinator Paul Minault (former recipient of the Mark Bebie Award, the Access Fund's highest honor for climber activism) met with a high-level Forest Service official with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. This official informed Minault that Cave Rock will likely be closed to climbing because of the religious concerns of the Washoe.

The US Forest Service will likely change its preferred alternative for the upcoming Cave Rock Management Plan to phase out climbing at Cave Rock over 6 years, ultimately leading to a complete ban.

The Access Fund supports Native American freedom of religion and works to educate climbers about Native American beliefs and ceremonies, where these affect climbing resources or access. This is consistent with the Access Fund's policy of developing cooperative, non-regulatory solutions to competing uses of public lands. The Access Fund believes that the vast majority of climbers in the United States are sympathetic to Native American concerns and will sacrifice climbing opportunities to respect Native American religious practices without the burden of exclusionary regulations. This belief is substantiated by the results of the "voluntary closure" at Devil's Tower, which has led to a remarkable 85% (or more) decline in climber visitation during the month of June. The Access Fund believes that climbers will and should support a similar policy at Cave Rock, and that the Forest Service should make a voluntary closure their preferred planning alternative. However, the final plan, to be issued in 3-4 months, will completely prohibit climbing.

A mandatory closure to climbing at Cave Rock raises significant Constitutional concerns. The Access Fund will continue to work to convince the Forest Service to issue a voluntary closure at Cave Rock, but we need your help. Please write the Forest Service and tell them that a voluntary closure at Cave Rock is the best way to balance recreational and Native American interests. Write to:

Maribeth Gustafson, Forest Supervisor
United States Forest Service
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
870 Emerald Bay Road, Suite 1
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Visit the Access Fund website for a sample letter to the Forest Service on the Cave Rock issue. For more information, call Jason Keith, AF Policy Analyst, at 303-545-6772 x102.

News courtesy of the Access Fund.

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