Climbing ban upheld at Devils Tower

  • STAY OFF THE ROCK, PLEASE: Devils Tower - Richard Alan Hannon/Casper Sta

  The National Park Service can continue to ask rock climbers to stay off Wyoming's Devils Tower during June, the month when Native Americans hold religious ceremonies at the foot of the volcanic monolith.

On April 2, U.S. District Court Judge William Downes dismissed the case brought by climbing guide Andy Petefish and the Bear Lodge Multiple Use Association. They charged that the voluntary ban was an unconstitutional endorsement of Native American religion (HCN 6/24/96). In his 19-page ruling, Downes wrote that the ban was "in the nature of accommodation, not promotion, and consequently is a legitimate secular purpose."

"Once again, we can worship in our traditional way and practice our traditional culture without interference at this sacred site," said Arvol Looking Horse, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.

"Climbing on Devils Tower is a spiritual experience for me," said Petefish, after hearing Downes' latest ruling. "But when the rock gets crowded, I don't ask for my peace and quiet to be regulated. I just want equal treatment on public land."

Since 1995, when Devils Tower Superintendent Deborah Liggett first posted signs asking climbers to stay away from the tower, climbing in June has decreased by more than 80 percent. That's when members of 23 Northern Plains tribes assemble at the tower to perform their sun dance and sweat lodge rites.

Petefish says his clients tell him they still want to climb in June, "and word is out that it is still legal to do so," said Petefish. Mountain States Legal Foundation, the Denver-based law firm representing Petefish, is appealing the decision.

* JT Thomas

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