Owens River Gorge Public Statement

Several rock climbing access points to the east side of Owens River Gorge are temporarily limited due to liability concerns by the landowner, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). The Bishop Area Climbers Coalition (BACC), a local climbing organization in the Eastern Sierra, is working with DWP to resolve the situation with support from the Access Fund. BACC recognizes DWP’s commitment to climbing access in the Gorge and the positive working relationship that has been established. Patience and respect is encouraged while we work through this sensitive situation to return full access to the east side of the Owens River Gorge.

BACC will host a town hall meeting on February 13 in Bishop to bring together the climbing community on the issue. Please keep an eye out for more information on the meeting on the BACC Facebook page and website at bishopclimbers.org/owens-river-gorge/ . In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to communications@bishopclimbers.org.

Overview

In November 2018, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) reached out to the Bishop Area Climbers Coalition (BACC) with liability concerns over unapproved bridges in the Gorge. The DWP asked for the bridges to be removed and invited a meeting to discuss the matter in person. DWP stated that if the bridges were not removed by the climbing community, they would be removed by DWP employees. As a gesture of good faith, BACC began the process of removing bridges on December 2. This process has continued through late January.

On December 6, BACC met with DWP for the first formal meeting between the long-time Eastern Sierra land owner and the climbing community. The meeting was supported with attendees from the Access Fund and local experts familiar with DWP and the history of climbing in the Gorge. The tone was positive; DWP expressed openness and willingness to work with BACC and the climbing community more in the future. The primary issue and the focus of the meeting was the presence of unapproved bridges and the concern of liability over their use.

The Access Fund (AF), which works nationally supporting local climbing communities, was introduced to DWP. DWP representatives were very receptive to the Access Fund’s knowledge and experience in working through liability issues with various types of situations with land managers. AF agreed to prepare a policy memo on liability as it pertains to recreational/user maintained infrastructure for DWP’s legal team.

As the presence of unapproved bridges was brought to the attention of DWP’s legal department, DWP expects all man-made bridges to be removed until proper legal review can be completed. BACC supports working with DWP’s requests as a means to bring long-term legitimacy to the decades of efforts put in by the climbing community to develop a beloved hub for climbing in the Eastern Sierra. Once legal review is complete, BACC intends to work closely with DWP on crafting a plan that will keep all parties satisfied well into the future.

While there may be some temporary discomfort, we at the BACC request your respect, support, and patience as we navigate this matter for the greater good of the Gorge and all climbers.

Owens River Gorge History

The area known today as the Owens Valley is home to the Paiute/ Shoshone peoples who call their home Payahuunadu. In the early twentieth century, with the vision of economic boom in Los Angeles, DWP began buying water rights in the Eastern Sierra. To connect the Owens River with Los Angeles, a 233-mile aqueduct was constructed through the Owens Valley and the Mojave Desert. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the Owens River Gorge saw tremendous changes. Power plants were installed, followed by a pipeline on the rim. Between 1952 and 1991, no water flowed through the Gorge. A 1991 agreement between DWP, Mono County, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife restored water to the Gorge on a schedule that mimics a natural cycle and that requires a constant flow. In 1997, a settlement was reached to further develop and implement an ecosystem management plan. This plan has seen numerous revisions and periods of litigation in the past twenty years.

Climbing in the Gorge started relatively slowly in the 1970s and was in full-blown development by 1989. Climbers and the DWP joined forces in a large community effort to install vault toilets in the Gorge, a result of the large increase in popularity during the 1990s. Today, the Gorge sees some thirty-thousand climbers per year, mostly in the months of October through April.

BACC History

The Bishop Area Climbers Coalition was formed in the summer of 2018. After multiple attempts to start a similar organization in years past, a core team developed out of a series of working group meetings. Out of this team, ten board member positions were designed, and in September 2018, the BACC was approved as a 501c3 non-profit.

The organization’s current mission statement is as follows:

The Bishop Area Climbers' Coalition is a volunteer-run non-profit organization that serves as a unified voice for climbers to support the Bishop, California area through stewardship, education, and community engagement.