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Saturday, December 14, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Idaho’s City of Rocks chief temporarily bans highlining

Jeremy Shive appears to be walking in space between two rock pillars at City of Rocks National Reserve in Almo in 2014. Shive said highlining has been practiced in national and state parks for decades (Jeremy Shive / Courtesy)
Jeremy Shive appears to be walking in space between two rock pillars at City of Rocks National Reserve in Almo in 2014. Shive said highlining has been practiced in national and state parks for decades (Jeremy Shive / Courtesy)
By Jerry Painter Idaho Falls Post Register

The park superintendent for two popular Idaho outdoor destinations near Almo issued a temporary ban Wednesday on highlining activity after seeing two different parties engaging in the sport.

Highlining, similar to slacklining, involves balancing along nylon webbing stretched high between two cliffs. Practitioners usually wear climbing harnesses with safety tethers to catch them should they fall.

City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park park superintendent Wallace Keck said he issued the temporary ban 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. The latest event occurred last weekend.

With two highlining events in 10 days, Keck said he “realized that the popularity was likely to increase. The prohibition is an effort to get ahead of the sport and analyze its potential impacts and involve the public in making a sound decision.”

Keck said he will pull together a team of interested stakeholders to formally study the potential impact and compatibility to the parks. The team will recommend one of three rulings: Ban the activity completely, allow the activity with no rules or allow it to proceed with specific rules and at specific locations. Keck said a ruling could be expected within the next six months.

Public input on the issue will be taken once the process is formally started.

Initial reaction to the ban has been mixed. “Sounds awful. Thanks for banning it,” posted Kelly Mahnsteur on Facebook at the announcement of the ban.

Jeremy Shive, a 10-year highline veteran of eastern Idaho, said the notion that highlining will become as popular as rock climbing is flawed.

“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.

“When I look at the laundry list of reasons why the ban is in place it just seems like nobody really understands,” he said. “My gut tells me they just don’t like it rather than actual concerns. There’s nothing going on with the activity of highlining that impacts resources any more than climbing. It’s probably less than climbing.”

There are precedents for highlining in national parks and state parks. Yosemite National Park (Calif.) and Smith Rock State Park (Ore.) 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.

City of Rocks and Castle Rocks State Park have long been regional rock climbing destinations with the majority of visitors on most summer weekends being climbers. Keck said the reserve was originally created to protect its historical values and to protect its viewshed. But he holds out hope for highliners.

“The reserve was not created for climbing, yet we found a place for climbing,” he said.

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