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Reservations and Fees in the Calico Basin? Not if Access Fund Can Help it

When the BLM proposed a fee and reservation system for Calico Basin, the local climbing community and Access Fund fought to make sure their voice was heard.

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In June 2022, the Bureau of Land Management proposed a management plan for Calico Basin, home to some of the best and most accessible climbing in Red Rock, NV. The plan would involve implementing a fee and reservation system, forcing recreators to book entry times online prior to entering the area, with a limited number of available reservations per day. Thankfully, the Southern Nevada Climbing Coalition (SNCC), with help from Access Fund, stepped in to ensure that the climbing community had a voice in these management decisions.

According to Chris Winter, executive director of Access Fund, the reservation systems are a good way to limit the number of visitors in a given area on a given day, but they do not reduce the overall number of people wanting to use the outdoors—and therefore often fail to consider the impact on the total conservation area.

“It’s like squeezing a balloon,” Winter said. “You’re not going to get rid of the total number of people, you’re just going to force them to go somewhere else. The balloon is going to expand in other places.”

This is what happened to Calico Basin when, during the pandemic, the BLM—without public input—imposed a reservation system for the Loop Road, which is adjacent to Calico Basin and provides access to much of the Red Rock recreation area. 

Calico Basin and other nearby areas saw an immediate rise in visitor traffic and, consequently,  larger impacts on the land. The reservation system also had a negative impact on climbers, particularly local ones. “[It] took away a degree of spontaneity from the experience for locals out here,” said Jorge Jordan, executive director of the SNCC. “How it was implemented brought a lot of shock to the climbing community, and the blanket coverage was alarming. Our biggest fear here is that land managers make overwhelming, far-reaching decisions instead of nuanced ones.” 

When the BLM proposed a new fee and reservation system in the Calico Basin, climbers immediately wondered how it would affect adjacent areas like Oak Creek and First Creek. The Blue Diamond Cave and the Cliff Shadows and Lone Mountain limestone climbing areas will likely continue to see dramatically increased utilization,” Jordan said. “Not to mention the continued funneling of people further down 159. The trash at the Oak Creek and First Creek parking areas is testament to that.”

Of all user groups, the locals would be hit the hardest. “Limiting access to these spots would change the nature of afternoon sessions after work, the easiest access for those with families, time constraints, handicaps, or those daunted by the big approaches of the canyons,” said Jordan.

So the SNCC and Access Fund pushed for solutions that take into account the broader scope of the issue—and have recently reached a settlement with the BLM. 

“This settlement ensures that climbers will have a strong voice, and that there will be full, robust public participation at that next decision point before the fees and the reservation system ever get put into effect,” Winter said.

He continues: “This settlement is the first time that the BLM has said, ‘OK, we are going to look at all of the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of what a reservation system would mean for the conservation area as a whole.’”

For now, access to climbing and other recreational activities will remain open to all. And while it is likely that the BLM will continue to look for ways to address over-use in the Calico Basin, at least climbers will now have a say about the process.

“We have so many feet on the ground in the climbing community to be able to give feedback on how these things really are shaking out, what’s actually getting impacted and what’s reaching too far, and we’ve found the managers of our public lands really do appreciate solid, constructive feedback,” Jordan said about the relationship between the SNCC and the BLM.

Should the BLM decide to move forward with a fee and reservation system, it will start with an 18-month trial period. The first six months will only include a fee, and the following 12 months will include a fee and reservation, but reservations will only be required on weekends and holidays. After the trial period, the BLM will reassess the issue with a more informed perspective on what works and what doesn’t. The settlement will also guarantee after hours access, meaning that the area won’t be closed entirely to public access in the early morning and night, as is the case on the Loop Road.

One of the things that we don’t always appreciate in the climbing community is that we all travel to Vegas to go to Red Rock,” Winter said, “yet there are only a handful of climbers in the local climbing organization who are working actively to take care of that place, working with the land managers to protect access so that climbers from all over the world can enjoy it. We owe the locals a deep debt of gratitude, and it’s imperative that we do whatever we need to to protect their experience.”

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