Cave Rock climbing ban upheld
August 27, 2007
RENO, Nev. ” A federal appeals court upheld a ban on rock climbing at Lake Tahoe’s Cave Rock on Monday, rejecting arguments by a climbing advocacy group that the ban enacted by the U.S. Forest Service was unconstitutional.
The ruling by a three-judge panel dismissed claims by The Access Fund, a Colorado-based climbers group, challenging the policy adopted by the Forest Service in 2003 as part of an updated management plan.
“We’re pleased the judges agree with our management decision to preserve the cultural, historical and archaeological significance of Cave Rock,” said Cheva Heck, spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
“We look forward to working with the climbing community to continue to provide numerous opportunities to practice the sport in the Lake Tahoe area,” Heck said.
Jason Keith, Access Fund policy director, told The Associated Press in an e-mail that the group would not comment until it had time to review and discuss the ruling.
Cave Rock, a volcanic outcropping along U.S. 50 between Glenbrook and Zephyr Cove on Lake Tahoe’s east shore, is considered sacred ground to the Washoe Tribe.
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In it’s lawsuit, Access Fund argued the ban was unconstitutional because it promotes the closing of public lands for religious purposes.
U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben in Reno rejected that claim in 2005. His ruling was upheld Monday by Judges J. Clifford Wallace and M. Margaret McKeown of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, and Senior Judge Richard D. Cudahy of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court, who was designated to the case.
“We discern no support for the claim that the Forest Service’s decision was taken for the predominant purpose of advancing the Washoe religion,” McKeown wrote.
Critics also have argued that the rock formation was already drastically altered when highway tunnels were blasted through it in 1931 and 1957.
In updating its management plan, the Forest Service determined a climbing ban was necessary to restore the area’s cultural and historical resources to how they were before 1965.
Rock climbing at Cave Rock did not become popular until 1980s, and is renown among expert climbers for the technical skills needed to ascend its sheer rock walls.
The agency’s updated plan continues to allow other recreational activities, such as hiking and picnicking, and requires the removal of climbing bolts drilled into the rock.