Improvements at Hueco Tanks

Perception is a strange thing. Depending on how you look at it, the current state of bouldering access in Hueco Tanks varies considerably. Before you hit the road for Hueco, you should probably ask yourself: Is the glass half empty or half full? Depending on your mindset, the park has either been closed since 1998 or it has been open to climbing all along.Prior to 1998, Hueco Tanks was the place to be for any climber roadtripping in winter.Climbers enjoyed relatively unrestricted freedom throughout the park and were, for the most part, allowed to go about their business of climbing on hundreds of boulders. But since 1998, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) implemented its new management plan, Hueco has been the victim of much misconception. The new plan brought about sweeping changes to the park. Certain bouldering areas were closed, access was restricted in varying degrees throughout the park, and camping availability was significantly reduced.The majority of the problems between climbers and the park stem from the fact that the park was operating under the generic TPWD mission statement, which had little bearing on Hueco’s unique needs. Climbers, who make up the majority of recreational visitors to the park each year, had no significant right to recognition under that generalized statement. But in 2003, the park drafted its own mission statement, which includes climbing. The drafting process was a collaborative effort involving many user groups, including the local climbing community, led by local guide and Hueco Rock Ranch operator Rob Rice, and John Moses, the superintendent of the park.“Our new mission statement goes a long way towards recognizing user groups,” says Moses. “But it also encourages stewardship from those user groups.”“It had to happen eventually,” says Rice. “Climbers represent the largest user group in the park. This fact couldn’t be dismissed anymore. Climbers put in well over half the volunteer hours at the park these days. As a result, the park is recognizing our community involvement as an asset.”The new statement lists seven points of site significance for Hueco, addressing not only the park’s Native American cultural heritage and unique geology, but its importance to climbers as well. “The site is significant for recognition as one of the premier bouldering locales in the world,” reads the statement.Since 2000, when they both arrived on the Hueco scene, Moses and Rice have developed a positive and effective working relationship, which in part has led to the new mission statement. And while Rice and the climbing community provided significant input, Rice is quick to credit Moses and the Hueco Tanks park staff’s willingness to work with the local climbing community. “John is a good manager,” says Rice. “He’s working hard to create positive relationships between the park and its user groups and to bring a balance to the situation.”Like any good relationship, the one in Hueco requires work and effort. The local climbing community has actively pursued all avenues to foster a better understanding among all Hueco Tanks user groups. With generous support from sponsors like the Access Fund (which sponsored last year’s Rock Rodeo) and Red Bull (main sponsor of the more recent Rock Jam), local climbers have been able to put on events that promote climbing to the local community.“These are not exclusively climber-oriented events, but rather opportunities for the local climbing community to invite everyone to come out and see what’s going on with climbing at the park,” says Rice. “We’re trying to open up the lines of communication and help develop a mutual respect among all the parties involved.”Rice also recently secured a $15,000 grant through the Friends of Hueco that will go toward graffiti removal, rock-art restoration, and revegetation projects, most significantly around the Five Bimbos area in the ever-popular Dragon’s Den.It’s unlikely that we will ever see a return to the days of unrestricted access. But with the new mission statement and management plan, the future of climber access in the park is looking brighter.