City of Rocks lifts total ban against highlining

The total ban against highlining at the City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park has been lifted.

Park superintendent Wallace Keck said Tuesday that after an assessment of the activity, certain areas away from the historic California Trail viewshed, roads and trails will be allowed to accommodate highlines.

Highlining is similar to slacklining where practitioners walk along nylon webbing stretched between two cliffs or trees. Slacklines are usually only a few feet above the ground. Highlines can be several hundred feet above the ground. Highliners wear climbing harnesses with safety tethers to catch them should they fall.

Keck issued a temporary ban on highlining late last summer after seeing photos of a group highlining between two pinnacles at the state park and personally observing another party highlining at the City of Rocks. Both areas are popular with rock climbers, who make up the majority of visitors during the summer months.

“When there is a new visitor use, there is a requirement of the superintendent to see if it potentially impacts not only the resource but other recreation opportunities or the original opportunities for which the park was set aside,” Keck said.

He said the park was not set aside for highlining, but for its historical significance. A segment of the California Trail, used extensively during the gold rush of 1849, passed through the area on its way to the Sacramento, Calif., area.

“(City of Rocks) was set aside for the California Trail and the cultural history and landscape,” he said. “Any new form of recreation can’t encroach upon the value of the original purpose for which the park was set.”

Keck said after the assessment marked off all the places where highlining was not going to be allowed, “there are still places where highlining would be acceptable.”

Jeremy Shive, a 10-year highline veteran of East Idaho, said people should not expect highlining to become as popular as rock climbing.

“It’s never going to be like climbing,” Shive said. “It takes a lot of skill and knowledge of gear and rigging. And it’s challenging. It’s easy to get on (an easy) 5.7 climb and have fun, but highlining is always going to be hard, even if it’s short. It’s scary being up there. If it was going to take off in popularity, it would have taken off by now.”

Shive said he and friends have highlined at the City of Rocks occasionally in past years, but have rarely seen others doing the same.

There are precedents for highlining in national parks and state parks. Yosemite National Park in California and Smith Rock State Park in Oregon allow highlining with specific restrictions, such as seasonal closures to protect nesting raptors, no highlines over lakes or watercourses or roads or trails, no leaving highlines unattended and protecting trees with padding to prevent damage. An annual highline festival is held at Smith Rock State Park.

Keck said in his assessment that highlining will be managed similar to rock climbing with no application or written permit needed to construct a highline in approved areas with temporary anchors. Areas involving fixed anchors will require park permission.

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