This is a summary of a public forum sponsored by the Tigua Indian Tribe. It was held on 2.19.99, at the El Paso Chamber of Commerce. It was a typical waste of our time.
Notes on Public Comment Forum held by the Tigua Indian Tribe on 2.19.99.
The meeting was from 1:00p to 8:00p at the El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
The meeting started with introductions by Dr. Dolph Greenberg of Cultural Consultants, Inc.
From http://curly.physics.utep.edu :
Tigua Indian Tribe Employs Cultural Consultants, Inc.
The Tigua Indians have employed Cultural Consultants, Inc. to perform a review of the cultural, recreational, and archaeological landscape of Hueco Tanks State Historical Park as part of an effort to transfer stewardship of the park from the TPWD to the Tribe. As part of this effort, Cultural Consultants, Inc. is soliciting input from climbers, and other user groups, in the form of comments, concerns, and personal accounts and experiences at the park. They will also provide forums for public testimony and input in a series of public meetings (in stark contrast to TWPD procedure) to be held sometime in the near future. They will incorporate this testimony in their final resource document. The El Paso Climbers' Club and the Access Fund support Cultural Consultants and the Tigua Indians in their effort to compile an extensive, accurate and complete view of the cultural, recreational, and archeological landscape of Hueco Tanks State Historical Park.
Before opening up the microphone to the public, the local politicians were given an opportunity to speak.
First up was Texas State Representative Manny Najera. He seemed to be in favor of more access for his constituents, but also supported closing certain areas, just not entire mountains.
Next was El Paso Danny Ortega from the city Parks and Recreation Department. He too was in favor of increasing the maximum number of visitors and opening up the closed areas in the park. He seemed like a pretty good guy - told of how he chose the Boy Scouts over membership in a gang, and how they once saw a mountain lion out at Hueco and scared it away by throwing a potato at it. He said he had visited the park about 50 times.
Barbara Perez, city rep who has just announced for Mayor was next, but I did not pay close attention to what she said because I was putting the finishing touches on my diatribe at the time.
At that point the floor was opened to the public. The first person to Speak was a Mr. Park, a hippie-looking middle aged fellow who said he was a member of the El Paso Historical Society. He spoke briefly, and was very pro - TPWD, stating that for years he was disgusted with the TPWD but as of September 1 he was in love with them and the plan.
Dave Head of the El Paso Climbers' Club, one of the original developers of the park in the 70s and 80s went next. He spoke as a member of the American Alpine Club. I apologize for not taking better notes, but the position of the AAC is correct, practical and what one would expect.
I was next. Because the microphone for the public speakers was setup on a table that faced the panel instead of the audience, I barged right up to the lecturn, joking that because of the controversial nature of what I was about to say it might not be safe to keep my back turned to the audience. Dr. Greenberg was not very pleased by this, but he kept his cool and did not object.
Before I started speaking I hung an 8"x11" print of a close-up shot of my baby girl's face from the front of the lectern. The shot was taken when Julie was about 9 months old, observing the bouldering from a stroller in front of Lucky Pierre. Back in the good old days before the park was closed, I used to take her out a couple of times a week - by the time the photo was taken she had already been out to the park about 25 times. Here is what I had to say:
"Ladies and Gentlemen; I estimate that I have visited Hueco Tanks between 1000 and 1500 times since 1974. Even though I have some minor concerns, I fully support the interests of the Tiguas regarding this matter before us. I am not completely certain why I am here today.
For many years now, I have attended meetings, written letters and tried to be a good little citizen and work within the system. At Hueco, I used to stop vandals from damaging the petroglyphs. I used to pick up trash. I used to stop tourists from building fires, hunting, and tearing up the vegetation. I used to yell at children chipping their names in the rock. The results of my efforts? I am now locked out. I am told that my mere presence at the park - the simple act of touching solid rock - is dangerous and undesirable.
I don't expect that my comments here today will have any influence on what happens at Hueco. For the most part, I am here to publicly express my disgust with those persons responsible for the current Draconian restrictions that grip the park. I also have some reservations about selling or giving Hueco to any private group - however of late I have been seriously considering that it would be better to transfer control of Hueco to the National Park Service or some other public entity with greater competence than the TPWD.
I am here today as an individual; not as a member of any group. For example, I will *NOT* accept being grouped together with climbers or descendants of Northern Europeans. I will accept being classified as an Earthman, and nothing else. In return I pledge that I will not condemn any group for the actions of a few members of that group.
All men are equal and unique and deserve individual justice and fair treatment. For example, I will not condemn all Native Americans as racist just because in 1997 I had a very unpleasant encounter at Hueco with a member of the Mescalero tribe. He made it painfully clear that my daughter and myself were not welcome at Hueco Tanks, because we were not Native American. He told me that I was trespassing on Indian Land, and that the mere presence of me and my daughter was an insult and a sacrilege. He told me that I could expect to fall or be bitten by a snake! It is time to stop condemning children just because they don't happen to be the right race.
The picture of Julie that you see here was taken at Hueco tanks in 1995 when she was just a baby. If you look closely in the original photograph, you can see the reflection of the rocks of Hueco in her clear and innocent eyes. I challenge anyone who holds that her mere presence at Hueco is bad to look her in the eyes and tell it to her themselves.
I have been told that my attitude toward religion is disrespectful. I deny this - I respect the rights of all men to believe anything they want, but I am not obligated to respect the beliefs themselves if I find them to be unreasonable. It is immoral and wrong to restrict by regulation my right to travel freely over public land, just because a particular religion holds that my presence there is undesirable. *However* , this _does_ not_mean_ that I will refuse to voluntarily honor requests for privacy by Native Americans, providing such voluntary closures are reasonable.
I conclusion, I must emphasize two points: Any plan that punishes me, or restricts my freedom, for the crimes of others is immoral and wrong. Any regulation that keeps me out of the "backcountry" at Hueco because others are causing damage is unacceptable. Any plan that punishes me, or restricts my freedom, because of my race, age, ancestry, sex or any other characteristic that I cannot change is immoral and wrong. For example, any regulation that restricts my access to any portion of the 'Tanks just because I am not a descendant of the original inhabitants of Hueco is unacceptable.
Having said this, I want to finish by wishing the Tiguas success in their fight against our common enemy, the Texas parks and Wildlife Department. All that I ask is that a way be found for my daughter and myself to enjoy Hueco the way we used to. Thank you."
The audience was pretty much freaked out by my speech - the climbers doubtless were afraid that I had insulted the Tiguas, and the Tiguas were puzzling over whether I was friend or foe - but 100% of what I said was true and from the heart. I sat down ( there were no questions) after handing Dolph the photo of Julie and asking that it be entered into the record of the meeting.
James Robertson of the EPCC went next, and spoke on behalf of the Texas Mountaineering Committee, a coalition of various climbing clubs and interest groups in Texas. They had a bunch of great recommendations - the usual stuff that is reasonable and logical that the TPWD hates so much.
Next was Lorenzo Aguilar, past Chairman of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He reported that the HCC does not approve of the restrictions at Hueco, and that his people are being denied access because of the unrealistically low limits set on visitation. He said that tourism in El Paso had been measurably impacted, and that as a poor border community El Paso needs every drop of tourist dollars it can get. He wants us to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the problems at Hueco, and characterized the current plan as an example. He advocated a public/private partnership to bring in the money needed to run the park properly. He characterized Hueco as a "shining jewel in the desert southwest", and wants it to be open for not only our children and our grandchildren, but for us now. The panel was interested in what he said, and asked him for details on what kind of a public/private partnership he was thinking of.
Next up was Dr. Jeff Drucker, Physics professor at UTEP, EPCC member and host of the EPCC website at http://curly.physics.utep.edu. (Note: Jeff has taken down the site as of 8.30.00. Jeff is preparing to leave El Paso because without Hueco, there is no reason to endure this hell-hole.) Years of lecturing has obviously made Jeff a smooth, skilled public speaker and he was in typical great form today. He started off by thanking the members of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo (the Tiguas) for providing this opportunity for public comment. He mentioned that he had visited Hueco several hundred times in the last 8 years, frequently taking his children, and that as such many of his visits were primarily educational, not recreational. He emphasized that buy-in from all user groups is essential for any plan to succeed. He talked about how the current plan is widely perceived by the world climbing community as ridiculously restrictive, and the proof of this is the fact that Hueco is essentially deserted right now. The beautiful, 70 degree, dry spring weather would in past years have made Hueco the no-brainer choice as *the* best place on the planet to boulder in the month of February, but there are almost no climbers out there. He insisted that recreation and resource preservation are not mutually exclusive. He supports education, and rational_ access restrictions to select cultural sites that are in real, not imagined, danger of destruction. He urged the TPWD to let us implement the hardened trail program and the volunteer ranger program. He concluded by stating that the current plan fosters distrust, and that Hueco is special to different people for different reasons.
The next speaker was Scott Jerger, new local, attorney, and regional representative for the Access Fund. He started by describing the Access Fund, and mentioned that the total membership was 8000 climbers, with 700 in Texas. Apologizing for beating the point to death, he emphasized again that Hueco was a unique and precious resource, literally a jewel in the desert. He understands why some people think climbers can just climb somewhere else - they just don't understand the unique topography and characteristics of the rock at Hueco. Hueco is the best - it is in a class all its own, and is synonymous with other icons of excellence, such as Montana is for fly fishing , or France is for wine. He talked about moving here to El Paso 8 months ago specifically to be near Hueco, having grown tired of traveling here over and over from where he used to live. He stated that he had been at the park every weekend since the new plan went into effect 8 months ago. He talked about how deserted it now is - how sad it is that all that rock is going to waste. He told of how the American Alpine Club had canceled a major convention that it had been planning for over a year to hold in El Paso - the AAC canceled as soon as they heard the plan was final. Over 800 visitors were expected to be there. He said that the real problem was the local staffs animosity toward climbers and Tiguas, coupled with an incompetent and distant administration by the TPWD in Austin. He accused the local TPWD staff of being overbearing and always taking the most restrictive option in any case where they are given discretion. He reiterated that all the TPWD has to do is let the climbing community help as we have offered to over and over. He concluded by complaining about the joke that is the current reservation system, which is incapable of doing lookups for printing based on user and date! He challenged the TPWD to get some school kid to come in and fix the program.
Next to speak his mind was Bill Silver, Hueco volunteer and President of the Friends of Hueco Tanks. A he approached the microphone he mentioned *sotto voce* that he "had not planned to speak but it's getting pretty deep in here". He said that in the last year, 23 volunteer guides had been trained, and of those, 4 were climbers. He reported that this year's Interpretive Fair had been a success and representatives from four Native American tribes had done demonstrations. He said that one of the positive results of the new plan was a reduction in graffiti, with only one incident since September 1. , with the miscreant being caught fined, and possibly jailed for the crime. Volunteer hours were up by 5% and accidents were down by 80%. He apologized to Scott, saying that he was the computer guy at Hueco and did not know why he can't print, but is working on it. ( Aside - as a computer nerd by profession, I could easily fix their silly reservation program, regardless of what application it is written in. Of course I will not lend aid and comfort to the enemy - in fact I hope it crashes and they have no backup.) He stated repeatedly his frustration with the perception that the park is closed - he insisted that the proper term was restricted, not closed. He said that this year there had been twice as many rock-art tours, and he mentioned that rock art tours are different from climbing tours, in that on climbing tours, only 10 people where permitted, but 25 were allowed on rock art tours. (Why he mentioned this as a good thing was puzzling to me). He thinks that the new plan is good and that everyone is doing a good job. He says that most of the climbers he speaks to about the guided tours to the restricted areas are enthusiastic about the guided tours, although he did qualify by saying that most such climbers were newbies. He thinks the climbers like the reservation system, because then they can come to park and know they will be able to get in. He says that it is very difficult to find all the rock art sites without a guide. He concluded by emphasizing that the park is not closed.
The panel asked if there were any suggestions that he had for changes. After a bit of hesitation he said that he would like the park opened up again for RV camping, that most RVers got up early and started looking for a place each day by about 4, and that on the "north" side of El Paso ( he meant the east side) there was no where else for the RVers to go.
Next was a local climber named Marene Sweeny. She represented herself only, and warned that she might get emotional (she did a fine job!) while at the microphone. She said that she was working on a graduate degree at NMSU. She has been through numerous volunteer guide training programs at Yosemite and many other places, including Hueco. She stated that the training program at Hueco was the worst she had experienced, and did not cover any aspects of climbing at all! She said that she *has* seen new graffiti since September, contrary to the stated position of the TPWD. She says that kids now know they can't go out - there are usually no openings in the "fabulous reservation system" and from their point of view it _is_ closed ( turning to Bill Silver to refute ) because when a gate is shut and you cant go in, it is by definition closed.
The last speaker before the break was Jesus Aquair Padilla, Tribal Sheriff of the Tiguas. He announced that he would be speaking from the heart, and on behalf of a long list of Tribal members he recited, and on behalf of the elders of the tribe. They feel that the park IS closed. They feel that they are wasting their time in the meetings with the TPWD, that the concerns of the tribe are being brushed aside. They view it as another broken treaty. He stated that contrary to what some people believe, the Tiguas are not the enemy of the climbers, and that they in fact have good relations with climbers, that they appreciate the comments of the climbers and they respect the climbers love for Hueco, and that they understand the need for public access. He joked that the way he is treated at Hueco, it should be part of the Texas Corrections systems, since the TPWD assigns a "guard" to tail him everywhere he goes in the park. The park is his sacred place, his church, and he does not want to ask for permission to go there to pray, does not want to be forced to give 24 hours notice, as he recently had to when his mother died and he took his kids to the park to mourn her passing. He prayed there before he left for Vietnam and when he came back safe and sound. The said again that the Tiguas are "tight" with the rock climbers and the Tiguas feel the climbers respect them, as the TPWD does not. He said that now when you go to Hueco you cry and cry and are sad - it's not a happy place like it was when he was a kid. He talked about gathering medicinal herbs such as sage, that is not permitted under TPWD rules. He said that the place would have less graffiti if the rangers would get out of their trucks and do real patrols. He feels that the Friends of Hueco Tanks don't respect the Tiguas, as evidenced by the Tiguas not being invited to the Interpretive Fair. He concluded by saying that is was wrong to charge him a user fee to go to his church to pray, and that the required BIA identity card should permit free access.
At that point the meeting broke for about 10 minutes. I had to leave, but the meeting continued until 8:00p. Hopefully someone else who was there will post the details of the rest of the meeting.