melissa i strong

rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily

Hueco Tanks Public Use Plan Under Review


On January 27, 2015 about 40 people joined together for the first meeting in a series of six to review the Public Use Plan, PUP, implemented in 2000 by Texas Park and Wildlife Department, TPWD, in Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site, HTSP&HS.  The “working group” has been put together by TPWD in partnership with El Paso Senator José Rodríguez and Representative Mary González.  The group consists of selected members of the Native American, historic, archeological, educational, the local El Paso community and recreational community to come together in a “planning effort to create a recommendation document for future use of HTSP&HS,” Chris Beckcom, PRG Manager & Park Planner at TPWD.  Members of this working group are “charged with exploring the diverse community perspectives, community concerns, opportunities, operation and facility development at Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site,” Brent Leisure, director of TPWD.  Representing the climbing/recreation community are the Access Fund, The American Alpine Club, The Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition, Wagon Wheel Co-opt--a guiding concession in Hueco Tanks & Fort Bliss recreation guiding concession in Hueco.


The first meeting on January 27th was basically getting started and acquainted.  The first business established that all members are working together with mutual respect to provided recommendations for the future use of HTSP&HS.  Also some basic information was given about Hueco Tanks history, resources, cultural significance and operations.  Times were established for future meetings that will take place once a month until June 2015.  The topics of the future meetings will include: site resources, Native American interests and cultural resources, visitor programs, interpretation, education, outreach, recreational management and facility development.  There will be three public response meetings to “elicit response and comment from local and other interested parties regarding the park.”  Chris Beckcom.  The first of these three public meetings will be held in March, the exact date is still unknown.


These meetings were sparked for many reasons including the discussion of local access being limited due to the PUP and according to some because of climbers.  It is true many climbers frequent The Park but the limited access of the PUP gives everyone the same equal rights of accessing Hueco Tanks.  The restrictions can be a challenge but planning ahead will get anyone into Hueco.   Frequently the 70 self-guided spots on North Mountain fill quickly but as people leave new visitors can rotate into the area.  The 160 guided spots rarely are filled leaving people with the option of a guided volunteer tour or a guided commercial tour.  Senator Rodríguez noted this is a specific interest to him, “The rock-climbing community has done much to raise awareness of the park, and as an avid hiker and camper, I appreciate others who spend their time outdoors. However, after listening to community input, it appears access to the park has been limited for family outing and educational activities, while climbing activities have increased.”


The diverse members of the “working group” are coming together with similar yet varying agendas.  All parties agree that even though the PUP has been effective in eliminating vandalism, social trails and overuse it was written in 2000 and is in need for updating. Senator Rodríguez “believe[s] that this plan should be revised to integrate more robust educational programs, “learning tourism,” and “eco-tourism” experiences for current and new stakeholders. The current plan does not effectively capitalize on the cultural significance of the Site and its potential to attract visitors from around the world who appreciate the sacredness, archeological, biological and recreational value of the site.” Another shared goal is protect cultural and archeological resources, which is the main goal of the Native American tribes.


The general tone from the climbing community is “Conserving park resources while providing access” Samantha Dominguez, American Alpine Club Representative.  The climbing community wants to demonstrate that: climbers are stewards of Hueco Tanks, the PUP does protect cultural resources, climbers help preserve the resources, climbers volunteer, organize clean ups, restore trails, work with educational programs, all while providing educational and recreational access.  Climbers also hope the Senator sees that Hueco does attract climbers from around the world who do appreciate the sacredness of Hueco.  Climbers want equal access for all groups to continue to use the park while respecting Hueco Tanks for it’s cultural resources as well as it’s desert environment.  The climbers representing the community intend to diffuse the misconception that climbers harm the natural resources and monopolize Hueco Tanks.  The Access Fund’s “strategy is pragmatic and focused on problem solving. We intend to constructively address the stated concern that local El Paso citizens and indigenous people are being unreasonably denied access to HTSP. At the same time, we will point out that climbers are not the source of this problem and that some restrictions on access to the park are desirable—and are in fact working well now to preserve the park.” Curt Shannon, Policy Analyst, Access Fund.


Despite personal differences and misconceptions most groups seem to want the park to stay open to all user groups including Senator Rodríguez, “The ideal future access situation in Hueco Tanks is one that balances the protection of natural resources while providing access to outdoor recreation and educational programs for an ever-evolving constituency. Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site should be accessible, respected, and continue being a popular destination for learning about our region's amazing evolution through millions of years.”  The climbers involved pledge to represent the community in a dignified respectable manner striving to keep Hueco Tanks responsibly open to all.


A little background on Hueco Tanks and the PUP:

For over 10,000 years Hueco Tanks has provided shelter, food and water to Native Americans, American pioneers and stage coach travelers, local ranchers, military trainees and recreational goers.  The Park eventually became property of TPWD in 1969.  Due to overuse and abuse of Hueco from the 70s-90s the Public Use Plan was created by TPWD in 1998 and revised in 2000.  This Plan allows limited use of Hueco Tanks included 160 people allowed in guided access only areas which include East Mountain, West Mountain and East Spur Maze and 70 self-guided people allowed on North Mountain per day.


The PUP has been unequivocally helpful to Hueco Tanks.  Social trails have been eliminated, resources have been protected and vandalism is no longer.   Climbers are stewards of the park volunteering countless hours, organizing clean ups and fundraisers, working on trails, donating money to the Hueco Tanks and working with the local community to help them experience Hueco.

Climbers’ relations with the Park have grown over the years with the efforts of the Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition and many dedicated climbers local and from abroad that treat the right to climb in Hueco as a privilege.


The restrictions of Hueco Tanks not only protect the resources of Hueco but also promote a pleasant climbing experience outdoors.  With the thriving sport of bouldering the masses are flocking to gyms and trying their hand outdoors.  Many areas are experiencing over crowding issues especially on weekends and holidays.  As the sport of climbing continues to grow Hueco will be an oasis--a guaranteed escape of the crowds.


If you are dedicated to help the members of this working group see how climbers love and respect Hueco Tanks please direct your letters to Chris Beckcom who is “assigned as project lead and is authorized and responsible for managing project efforts and results.”  TPWD



Melissa Strong

Owner and Operator of Wagon Wheel Co-opt



Working Group Membership:


Core Team:


Chris Beckcom – Project Lead, Manager-Planning & Geospatial Resources

Mark Lockwood –Director (Interim), State Parks Region 1

Wanda Olszewski – Park Superintendent, Hueco Tanks SP & HS

Oscar Silva – Community Affairs/Media Relations – Senate District 29, Senator José Rodríguez

Arlina Palacios – District Director – House District 75, Representative Mary González


Organizational Representation:


Native American Tribes with Cultural Affiliation

El Paso Community

Ysleta del Sur Pueblo (Tigua)

Pueblo of Isleta del Norte

Mescalero Apache Tribe

Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma

Comanche Nation

Congressional District 16, Congressman Beto O'Rourke

Texas Senate District 29, Senator José Rodríguez

Texas House District 75, Representative Mary González

El Paso County – Public Works

Horizon City


Special Interest Groups




Texas Historical Commission

El Paso County Historical Commission

El Paso Archeological Society

Texas Archeological Society – Region 11

Native American Rights Fund

El Paso Trans – Pecos Audubon Society

Franklin Mts. Wilderness Coalition

Fort Bliss Environmental Division (U.S. Army)

Kalpulli Tlalteca




Wagon Wheel Co-Opt – Guide Service Providers

Access Fund – Rock Climber group

Climbers of Hueco Tanks Coalition – Rock Climber group

American Alpine Club – Rock Climber group

Ft. Bliss Outdoor Recreation (U.S. Army)

Serna Ranch Youth Leadership Program