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Hueco Tanks Public Use Plan Under Review

The Texas Park and Wildlife Department organized a series of meetings to review the Public Use Plan for Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site, in hopes to improve access while balancing the protection of this historic, cultural and recreational natural resource.

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View of Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site. Photo courtesy of Melissa Strong. On January 27, the Texas Park and Wildlife Department (TPWD), in partnership with El Paso Senator José Rodríguez and Representative Mary González, held its first meeting to review the Public Use Plan (PUP) for Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site (HTSP&HS).

Present at the meeting were members from local Native American Tribes and Cultural Affiliations, the El Paso Community, the Texas Historical Commission, Texas and El Paso Archeological Societies, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Texas Senator José Rodríguez, Texas House Representative Mary González, and many others.

Representing the climbing community were the Access Fund, The American Alpine Club, The Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition, and Wagon Wheel Co-opt and Fort Bliss Climbing—two guiding concessions in Hueco Tanks.

The meeting, which involved around 40 community members of different backgrounds, was the first in a series of six “charged with exploring the diverse community perspectives, community concerns, opportunities, operation and facility development at Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site,” according to Brent Leisure, director of TPWD.

Despite the varying agendas of the members present at the meeting, all agreed that even though the PUP has been effective in eliminating vandalism, social trails and overuse, it is outdated.

Under the current PUP, implemented in 2000 by the TPWD in response to overuse and abuse during 70s-90s, the number of daily visitors to Hueco Tanks is limited to 160 people in “guided-access only” areas—East Mountain, West Mountain and East Spur Maze—and 70 “self-guided” spots on North Mountain, all in an effort to protect this historic, cultural, and environmental landmark.

 Climbers are often accused of monopolizing Hueco. Photo of Maria Sandbu sending Shroom (V9) during the Hueco Rock Rodeo, courtesy of Alex Manelis.Often, the 70 available “self-guided” spots for North Mountain are filled; one of the reasons that sparked a desire to review the PUP. Many locals feel that they are being shut out of the park by climbers, despite the PUP, which gives everyone equal access rights.

Climbers’ relations with the Park have grown over the years with the efforts of the Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition and many dedicated climbers local and from abroad that treat the right to climb in Hueco as a privilege. Climbers are also often stewards of the park volunteering countless hours, organizing clean ups and fundraisers, working on trails, donating money to the Hueco Tanks and working with the local community to help them experience Hueco.

Senator Rodríguez notes: “The rock-climbing community has done much to raise awareness of the park. However, after listening to community input, it appears access to the park has been limited for family outing and educational activities, while climbing activities have increased.”

Climbers attending the meetings, representing the climbing community, intend to diffuse the misconception that climbers harm the natural resources and monopolize Hueco Tanks.

The general tone from the climbing community is “Conserving park resources while providing access” says Samantha Dominguez, American Alpine Club Representative. The climbing community wants to demonstrate that: Climbers are stewards of Hueco Tanks; the PUP does protect cultural resources; climbers help preserve the resources; and climbers volunteer, organize clean ups, restore trails and work with educational programs, all while providing educational and recreational access.

The Access Fund’s “strategy is pragmatic and focused on problem solving. We intend to constructively address the stated concern that local El Paso citizens and indigenous people are being unreasonably denied access to HTSP. At the same time, we will point out that climbers are not the source of this problem and that some restrictions on access to the park are desirable—and are in fact working well now to preserve the park,” says Curt Shannon, Policy Analyst for The Access Fund.

“The ideal future access situation in Hueco Tanks is one that balances the protection of natural resources while providing access to outdoor recreation and educational programs for an ever-evolving constituency,” says Rodríguez. “Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site should be accessible, respected, and continue being a popular destination for learning about our region’s amazing evolution through millions of years,”

If you are dedicated preserving climbing access in Hueco Tanks, you can help by showing the members of the “working group” how climbers love and respect Hueco Tanks. Please direct your letters to Chris Beckcom who is “assigned as project lead and is authorized and responsible for managing project efforts and results,” by TPWD.

Melissa Strong

Owner and Operator of Wagon Wheel Co-opt