Members of the Rifle Climbers Coalition may want to expand the rock climbing area from Rifle Mountain Mark into the area around Rifle Falls State Park, but the odds of it happening seem pretty steep.
An issue with the distribution of federal funds used for wildlife and recreation has prevented the creation of new climbing routes south of the city-owned Rifle Mountain Park, according to Chris Castilian, a member of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. But members of the climbers group feel they can compromise enough to get around some of those issues.
"We don't want to be meddling," said Patrick Pharo, a member of the coalition. "I'm really pleased that a new commission has been appointed, and we'll respect all of their input."
Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the new commission members on July 9. The previous commission dismissed the Climbers Coalition's request to allow climbing routes in the state-owned Rifle Falls State Park in May.
The determining factor, Castilian said, was a matter of how tax dollars were spent and distributed according to state and federal law.
The commission's attorney felt that adding routes for rock climbing could inadvertently trigger a requirement to return state and federal funds that were used to purchase, and now maintain, the Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery, just north of Rifle Falls. Funds to purchase the hatchery came from the purchases of fishing licenses and sales tax revenue from sales of fishing poles, equipment, parks passes and other sporting goods.
"When we use these funds that come from federal land and conservation funds, they have to be used for wildlife purposes," Castilian said. "If we used that money to put a picnic table in, most of [the commission] felt that was close enough to serving a wildlife purpose. But if we allowed climbing in a state park with a city park right up the road, we felt it tripped over" the wildlife purposes use.
The commission also had other issues, including a golden eagle nest near one of the proposed climbing routes, and the long-term potential harm to vegetation. Castilian said he and other commission members were sympathetic to the request and "wished we could have figured out a way to resolve the issue."
Castilian also praised the research the coalition did in connection with the request. Coalition member Mike Brumbaugh was with Pharo when the request was heard in May and said the coalition raised thousands of dollars to research the area, including $6,000 for a raptor study concerning the nesting eagles.
Brumbaugh, along with coalition president David Pegg, said they were disappointed with the lack of dialogue between their group and the commission prior to the May meeting. Brumbaugh said when it was the coalition's time to speak, it was given six minutes following a 20-minute session from agency staff on its disapproval of the climbing routes in the state park.
"In our minds, the dialogue we were hoping for never took place," Brumbaugh said.
Pegg said the coalition also commissioned wildlife impact studies in preparation for the meeting. The commission suggested that help would have to be hired to survey the climbers about the potential equipment they would leave behind in the state park, but Pegg maintains the area's frequent climbers are a self-policing group.
"This is essential safety equipment," Pegg said. "In the 20 years I've been climbing in the park, there has never been a fatality. And saying all of that stuff hanging there is garbage? It allows us to climb the rocks. No one says a ski tower is litter because it's left by the skiers. It enables the skiers to go skiing. And our equipment? Is it there forever? No. It can be removed."
Both sides agree the issue didn't die with the decision made in May. Castilian said he and other commissioners would be happy to work with the coalition, but added there would be some "significant issues they would have to overcome." Pharo agreed that he, along with the coalition, would like to continue talking about expanding the climbing area.
"That would be phenomenal," Pharo said. "With the other people Hickenlooper appointed to the commission, maybe that will make a difference. New blood might be a great thing."