Money and Politics and Hueco Tanks

by Mick Ryan Sometimes in the Land of the Free, the free have difficulties actually going climbing. There are so many land agencies and special interest groups in the USA all vying for control and influence over the outdoors that sometimes it resembles a shoot out in a drug war in downtown LA. Yosemite has evolved into a mix of an outdoor amusement park and police state. At the Gunks in New York state, parking is limited, you have to buy a permit to climb and at some areas numbers are restricted on a daily basis. On top of this the number of cliffs and bouldering areas owned by private land owners who now run climbing parks is increasing. Imagine an entry fee and turnstile at the base of Stanage or Shepherds Crag. Now Hueco Tanks in Texas, one of the world´s internationally important climbing areas is at risk, again. So much so that at the website of the Friends of Hueco Tanks they have a colour coded access threat level. It currently stands at YELLOW – Closure Threatened, action required. Climbers have been active at Hueco since the 1950´s when Royal Robbins climbed the first recorded routes there. In the 70´s and 80´s climbers started bouldering in earnest at Hueco when Mike Head made the first ascent of the Mushroom Roof V8 in 1980. The V bouldering scale was originated here by bouldering guru John Sherman. Fred Nakovic invented the first bouldering pad at Hueco in 1990. Images of Hueco grace the world´s climbing magazines and websites. Fred Nicole and other world class climbers have made quantum leaps in bouldering difficulty here. Bouldering at Hueco is on the world climbing map and is visited each year by thousands of climbers from around the world. But access at Hueco Tanks State Historical Site (official website) has always been frought with difficulties, the bolt wars of the 1980´s started it all, vandalism of ancient native art by local gangs have been an on-going problem and often it has been a victim of its own climbing popularity. From 1992 troubles began at Hueco and in 1998 access was severely restricted by a Public Use Restriction Plan (PURP) implemented with very little public consulation by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Where you can climb, number restrictions and areas only accessible by guides were implemented. Climbers are however living with these restrictions and the TPWD now work positively with climbers. But now it gets worse, another body called the Texas Historic Commission (THC) wants to take over control of Hueco from the TPWD. Fears that climbing will be banned and Hueco will become an outdoor museum where you can look but not touch or roam are well founded. The THC are well connected within the Texas legislature and Tom Craddick, the speaker of the legislature is funded by those sympathetic to closing Hueco down. Craddick wields much power and when this transfer goes before the legislature for a vote the winds don´t blow favourably for climbers. Again, no public consultation on this change. Sound like a police state? Well it is Texas where George Bush learnt his dirty tricks of mass distraction. What can you do to help? Email or write to Senator Eliot Shapleigh (website – with contact details)who is sympathetic to recreation in Texas. What to say? TPWD is is doing a splendid job managing Hueco ( we know – just grit your teeth and write it …)Vegetation returning, no recent damage to rock art or archaeological sites Climber trash pickup days Climbers, birders, wildlife lovers and picknickers, not history buffs, represent the majority of visitors More details at Hueco (website)