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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Winter 2003 arrow Nevada: Preservation of Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe
Nevada: Preservation of Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe

Agency: U.S. Forest Service
In a case where modern recreation activities clash with traditional cultural values, the neck of an extinct volcano at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, is eligible for the National Register in part due to its cultural significance to the Washoe Indian Tribe. The large rock is also popular among climbers, who value it for its scenic location and highly rated technical difficulty.

The Forest Service has proposed to prohibit climbing at Cave Rock and remove bolts and slings, graffiti, and the masonry flooring in the cave. A Nevada Senator has requested that the agency extend the public comment period on its proposal to allow interested parties adequate time to express their views on the management of Cave Rock.

Situated along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Cave Rock is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as a site of traditional cultural value to the Washoe Indian Tribe. The site is also eligible for the National Register for its potential to yield important archeological information and its significance as a historic transportation district.

Cave Rock at Lake Tahoe, Nevada



Cave Rock at Lake Tahoe, NV (photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit)



The U.S. Forest Service’s need to reconsider management of the rock is due to its popularity among rock climbers, who value the rock for its scenic location, year-round access, and highly rated technical difficulty. The Washoe Tribe says that physical alterations of the rock from 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 1996, the Forest Service determined that rock climbing activities at Cave Rock posed a threat to its integrity and impeded tribal access to the rock for ceremonial purposes. It was reluctant, however, to prohibit rock climbing at the site due to concern that such protection of the site’s spiritual values could be construed as a violation of the First Amendment prohibiting Government establishment of religion.

The Forest Service proposed to allow rock climbing to continue at the site, with limitations that would ban installation of new bolts or creation of new climbing routes; remove existing bolts from routes no longer in use; and camouflage brightly colored slings and shiny carabiners to blend in with the rock.

In 1998, the Forest Service began consultation with the Washoe Tribe, the rock climbing community, and other interested parties to try to reach consensus on how to protect the traditional cultural values associated with Cave Rock. The ACHP entered consultation in 1999, and met with the Forest Service, a Department of Justice mediator, and the other consulting parties. When consultation failed to result in an agreement on a management direction, the ACHP recommended that the Forest Service phase out rock climbing at Cave Rock over a six-year period.

The Forest Service conducted a new analysis of the effects of each alternative under consideration, and the ACHP encouraged the agency to select an alternative that offers the greatest possible protection to historic values associated with the rock. The ACHP argued that protecting the qualities that give Cave Rock its historic significance would not violate the First Amendment, as it would not advance religion, nor create a religious place where it did not already exist. Rather, ACHP held that the primary purpose of prohibiting climbing would be to protect the integrity of a historic property.

In October 2002, the Forest Service proposed a new preferred alternative that would “prohibit rock climbing at Cave Rock immediately, remove bolts and slings that are currently defacing Cave Rock, remove the masonry flooring within the cave, and remove graffiti that is defacing Cave Rock.” As proposed, the new alternative will result in a finding of “no adverse effect” on the historic property. Both the ACHP and the Nevada State Historic Preservation Officer expressed their support of this alternative.

Not surprisingly, a climbing advocacy group that is a consulting party in the Section 106 review process expressed disappointment in this new direction. At the request of Nevada Senator John Ensign, the Forest Service has extended the public comment period on its proposal to give interested parties adequate time to express their views on the management of Cave Rock.

Staff contact: Carol Gleichman

Posted May 6, 2003

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