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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow Section 106 in Action arrow Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases arrow Nevada: Plan to Protect Cave Rock

Nevada: Land and Resource Management Plan Amendment to Protect Cave Rock

Agency: U.S. Forest Service

Criteria for ACHP Involvement:
  • Cave Rock is significant, in part, for its association with the traditional cultural practices and beliefs of the Washoe Indian Tribe. The tribe has objected to the Forest Service's preferred management alternative and specifically requested that ACHP participate in consultation (Criterion 4).
  • Consultation is complicated by the question of whether a Forest Service management plan that prohibits rock climbing on Cave Rock would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution (Criterion 2).

Recent Developments

In July, 2000, a new Forest Supervisor was appointed at the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), thus bringing a new perspective to the question of how to manage rock climbing at Cave Rock, while respecting its traditional religious and cultural significance to the Washoe Tribe.

Cave Rock, Nevada



Cave Rock, Nevada
(photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service)




In taking a fresh look at the situation, the Forest Supervisor developed a new analysis of the effects of each alternative under consideration and submitted this analysis to ACHP. ACHP staff responded on March 21, 2001, supporting the analysis and encouraging the Forest Supervisor to select an alternative that offers the greatest possible protection to historic values associated with Cave Rock.


The Forest Service’s LTBMU proposes to amend its Land and Resource Management Plan to better protect Cave Rock, the eroded neck of an extinct volcano located on the eastern shoreline of Lake Tahoe. Cave Rock is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a site of important traditional cultural value to the Washoe Indian Tribe. The Cave Rock planning effort grew out of a 1997 visit by President Clinton to Lake Tahoe, and was one of four commitments the Forest Service made to improve its interactions with the Washoe Tribe in the management of Lake Tahoe.

Traditional Washoe believe that Cave Rock should be avoided by all people, except for a few sanctioned Washoe religious practitioners. Cave Rock is so powerful and important that many Washoe continue to believe that the health and integrity of their society may be jeopardized if traditional practices are not observed there. The site is also eligible for the National Register both for its potential to yield important archeological information and its significance as a historic transportation district.

The need to reconsider management of the rock springs from its popularity among recreational rock climbers, who value the rock for its scenic location, year-round access, and highly rated technical difficulty. However, the Forest Service determined in 1996 that rock climbing activities at Cave Rock pose a threat to its integrity, as well as impede tribal access to the rock for ceremonial purposes. The installation of permanent climbing hardware by sport climbers directly affects the property’s physical integrity, and the presence of climbers and their paraphernalia adversely affects the property’s ability to convey its significance, thus also affecting its integrity.

The Washoe Tribe’s official position is that physical alterations of the rock associated with sport climbing, the placement and presence of climbing equipment, and the visible and audible presence of people on the rock are incompatible with the tribe’s traditional spiritual activities. In contrast, climbers, represented by the Access Fund, Inc., assert that Cave Rock is a unique climbing location. They have urged the Forest Service to consider voluntary closures at Cave Rock in lieu of a mandatory prohibition of climbing.

The Forest Service’s proposed action, as presented in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), will allow rock climbing to continue on Cave Rock, but with limitations. No installation of new bolts or creation of new climbing routes would be allowed, existing bolts would be removed from routes no longer in use, and the Forest Service would work with the climbing community to camouflage existing brightly colored slings and shiny carabiners to blend with the natural colors of the rock.

The Forest Service has consulted with the rock climbing community, the Access Fund, the Washoe Tribe, and other interested parties since January 1998 to try to reach consensus on how to protect the traditional cultural values associated with Cave Rock. ACHP entered consultation in October 1999, and met with the Forest Service, a Department of Justice mediator, and the other consulting parties on May 8, 2000. When consultation failed to result in anything approximating agreement on a management direction, ACHP staff wrote to the Forest Supervisor in July 2000 recommending phasing out sport climbing over a six-year period and prohibiting sport climbing at Cave Rock at the end of six years.

Policy Highlights

Consultation on this undertaking has been challenging, due to the incompatibility of rock climbing with the traditional cultural values associated with Cave Rock. The Forest Service has been reluctant to prohibit rock climbing on Cave Rock due to concern that such protection of the site’s spiritual values could be construed as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits Government establishment of religion.

ACHP staff has argued that protecting the qualities that give Cave Rock its historic significance would not be a violation of the First Amendment, as it would neither advance religion, create a religious place where it did not already exist, or promote the Washoe religion. Rather the primary purpose of prohibiting climbing would be to protect the integrity of a historic property.

Staff contact: Carol Gleichman

Updated June 6, 2002

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