AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho — A hearing on closing rock formations near Massacre Rocks State Park to climbing became shrouded in mystery Wednesday night.
Suzann Henrikson, an archaeologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said it can be frustrating when asked to tell the public how important the preservation of a particular site is without being able to elaborate on exactly what needs protection.
She understands that it must be equally frustrating for people who value the recreation a location offers, but are asked to give it up.
Unfortunately for Henrikson and frustrated rock climbing enthusiasts, federal law requires her to keep mum.
Henrikson was discussing the federal restraints on what she can say about archaeological sites at a meeting hosted by BLM at the Power County Annex in American Falls on Wednesday. The meeting was to provide the public with information about, and take feedback on a proposed plan to close access to parts of BLM land in Cedar Fields and Castle Rocks to preserve culturally important sites.
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act has a section that prohibits us from revealing the location and nature of sites,” she said. “Of course (people) are frustrated. They assume we are trying to hide something, but we are really just trying to protect it.”
The basis of the requirement, she said, is to keep those who might damage the site away. She said 95 percent of people would never bother an historic site, but the rules are needed for the 5 percent who would.
Heather Tiel-Nelson, a public affairs specialist at BLM’s district office in Twin Falls, said Wednesday’s meeting was the third and final public meeting about the proposed closures.
She said BLM officials have extended the public comment period, however, to Nov. 11. TielNelson said more than 200 people have chosen to comment in one form or another.
The reason for the proposed closures is concern over culturally important archaeological sites that are experiencing significant levels of degradation. An assessment and inventory of those sites was conducted by BLM’s Burley office in the early 1990s. Another BLM Jimmy Hancock/ Idaho State Journal Suzann Henrikson, an archaeologist for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, discusses a proposed plan Wednesday to close some BLM lands near Massacre Rocks State Park to recreational activity, at a meeting in American Falls. assessment in August examined outdoor activities, including rock climbing, staging, and camping.
Power County Prosecutor Randy Kline was at the meeting and shared some of his perspectives with Mike Courtney, field manager of BLM’s Burley office.
Kline, who’s not a technical climber but has a number of friends who are, says he doesn’t buy into the idea that rock climbers are contributing to site degradation.
“Climbers are typically good stewards of the land,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Those who want to see the proposed plan or submit comments can go to the website of BLM’s Twin Falls District at www.blm.gov/id/st/en/res/resource_advisory/twin_falls_district.