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The Bulletin, Wednesday, October 10, 2001

By Brooke H. Sandahl 

I was saddened and dismayed with the Forest Service’s decision to eliminate climbers as a user group in the Road 18 (China Hat Road) caves. We have been unjustly singled out as a group who has done nothing but abuse the caves and the surrounding natural environment. This could not be further from the truth! Climbers as a whole have had the biggest positive impact on the road 18 caves of any group. I know because I’ve spent many hundreds of days in these caves - more than the governmental policy makers and more than the caving group that have moved to abolish us from our own public lands! 

The fact of the matter is these caves are heavily traveled and seriously abused. Largely, it is due to people partying in the caves - lighting fires, drinking and then smashing the bottles all over the cave walls. Also, many people seem to think that backing up to the cave and dumping their garbage is permissible. Shooting and spray painting are other common occurrences. Out of the hundreds of caves in Oregon, the climbers are asking for permission to climb in two - Skeleton and Hidden Forest. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to climb in less than 1 percent of all the caves in Oregon! When climbers were climbing regularly in these caves they were never cleaner! We constantly hauled out trash, erased graffiti, tore apart fire rings and generally gave a positive caring presence to the caves (a presence that the governmental agencies (FS & BLM) have never even remotely offered)! 

Over the last eight years, the climbers of Central Oregon have done nothing but cooperate with the Forest Service through their bloated and tedious process of developing a cave management policy. We have compromised our stance every inch of the way to come to a reasonable solution for all user groups, climbers included! We have been involved with all of the Forest Service meetings. When they asked us to stop using chalk in the caves, we did so voluntarily; when they asked us to stop developing new routes, we did so voluntarily; when they asked us to remove some of the routes, we again complied. 

Climbers at Road 18 caves have also been falsely accused of destroying Native American rock art - this again is totally speculative! We did climb above one smudge of red pigment (Hidden Forest Cave) the size of your little finger nail. During a Forest Service meeting on location, it took five minutes for anyone to even locate the rock art - again the climbers voluntarily agreed not to climb on that wall! 

As far as rock art in other caves - it is nowhere near where we have climbed and we have always held it in deep respect! In regard to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs who have come out and stated that Hidden Forest Cave is a spiritual site, I would expect a hearty thank you from them, for all the hard work we have done to help keep the cave a cleaner more natural experience for all to enjoy.

When I moved to Central Oregon 17 years ago, I experienced a local economy in very poor health. Now, as Vice President of Metolius Mountain Products, I see a much healthier Central Oregon economy. 

As a small business owner and provider of over 60 jobs locally, I’ve seen the positive impact that climbing has had on our local and regional economy. I invite you to call the Bend Chamber of Commerce and see how large a part tourism now plays in our economy. Smith Rock has become a worldwide destination. Believe it or not, it is one of the most popular places on our planet to visit for rock climbing. Ask the business owners of Terrebonne, Madras, Redmond, Sisters, and Bend if they appreciate the millions of dollars the traveling climbers bring to this amazing area annually. 

Now ask yourselves: do we really want to ban climbing at the Road 18 caves? Personally, I can’t think of a healthier, more exciting and environmentally friendly sport than climbing. I can’t understand the bad rap climbers are receiving for exploring the natural highlights that Central Oregon has to offer. We need to expand the region’s facilities, not limit them!

Sadly, through our continued cooperation and willingness to compromise with the Forest Service, we have been banned from climbing in this unique and challenging area of Road 18. As it now stands, Skylight and Charcoal Cave can’t be accessed by anyone. The Forest Service is proposing to gate off Wind, Bat, and Skeleton Caves. Now there is a final stroke of destruction - placing gates over the entrances to these amazing subterranean windows into nature. It will be a sad day for everyone involved and is a typically myopic reaction and no real solution. 

The Forest Service’s proposed rules on public use of the caves will become permanent in mid-October if no one appeals the case! Brooke H. Sandahl 

Brooke H. Sandahl is a sport climber and owner of Metolius Mountain Products