Climbing future at Cave Rock undecided |

Climbing future at Cave Rock undecided

The U.S. Forest Service extended its public comment period for Cave Rock, delaying until March a controversial decision that stands to ban rock climbing at the site considered sacred by the Washoe tribe.

The 90-day extension comes after Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said more time was needed to give agencies information to make a final decision.

Ensign’s office did not return phone calls from the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Cave Rock became eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as a Traditional Cultural Property. The Washoe tribe of Nevada and California considers the rock a sacred, spiritual place, and views the installation of fixed rock climbing hardware on the rock surface and ground as deleterious to its value.

“We had hoped that the voice of the Washoe would be heard and that Cave Rock would be returned to us,” said Wanda Batchelor, former vice chair for the Washoe tribe. “We hoped that climbing gear would be removed.”

The Access Fund, a nonprofit group based in Boulder, Colo., opposes the ban on climbing and views the public comment period as an opportunity to work with the Forest Service on preserving its interest in the property.

“Our problem is we’ve come to an agreement and the Forest Service has backed away from that,” said Access Fund Executive Director Steve Matous. “Why are climbers being picked on? Why are we being selected out?”

The comment period had been extended for an additional 30 days in November upon release of the final environmental impact statement. The statement indicated the preferred plan would be to ban rock climbing to protect the site.

The public comment period was originally extended because the plan had changed under Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson.

Under the previous forest supervisor, the preferred alternative allowed for rock climbing to continue on a limited basis.

The Forest Service also views fixed rock climbing equipment and the modifications to the cave as detrimental to the site’s condition as a historic and cultural property.

The Forest Service investigated the history of multi-use and used the era when Washoe shaman Henry Rupert practiced his religious rituals as the model during which multi-use was less confrontational. The Forest Service seeks to allow those uses again and ban those that were developed afterward.

The Access Fund officials say they are sympathetic to the Washoe and want to work toward a solution that can be mutually beneficial.

“Our position has consistently been that we would like to share Cave Rock with the Washoe tribe and we believe that’s possible,” said Paul Minault, an attorney and regional coordinator with the Access Fund. “We believe both parties need to approach each other with mutual respect and compromise.”

The EIS is available on the Web at, or call (530) 573-2600, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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