Proposal for new Via Ferrata location presented at December meeting; could be months before next steps

(Lander, WY) – Wyoming State Parks held the third small-group stakeholder meeting, led by Deputy Director for Outdoor Recreation Office & Division of State Parks Dave Glenn, on December 14th to discuss the proposed Via Ferrata project at Sinks Canyon State Park.

While no official location has been chosen for the Via Ferrata, a potential compromise was discussed at the last stakeholder meeting, where proponents were tasked with providing a proposal.

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“We agree to come to the table here to work together to find an alternate location for the Via Ferrata, something we can all support,” Glenn commented before the proposal presentation began.

“We have seen some compromise from the proponents who are suggesting a location also proposed by some of the opponents. We need to make this the best Via Ferrata possible in the best location possible.”

“I just want it to be clear, that the decision for an alternate location for the Via Ferrata and how it’s managed is a State Parks decision. We’re here to gather input, we’re here to listen, we’re here to find compromise, but the ultimate decision lies with us.”

Below is the initial proposal presented by Kyle Bernis, CPRE and Shoshone District Manager for State Parks:


Via Ferrata Construction and Operational Considerations


Cultural and Natural Resource Evaluations:

SHPO Recommendations: State Parks will confer with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) regarding the proposed site of installation.

THPO Recommendations: The Inter-Tribal Council advised State Parks to continue working with the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPO) on this and other applicable projects. State Parks will confer with the THPO regarding the proposed site of installation and any concerns they may have. State Parks has contacted the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho THPO regarding next steps.

Environmental concerns:

  • State Parks will follow all Wyoming Game and Fish guidelines and recommendations
  • State Parks will install foot/shoe brushes at the Via Ferrata entrance to mitigate invasive species
  • State Parks will analyze the current trail to evaluate if it’s sufficient for use and to assess needs

    Infrastructure:

Installation: A volunteer agreement with the installer to perform work has been drafted and is being evaluated by the Attorney Generals office. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for State Parks to take ownership of equipment installed will be implemented. Installed equipment will be to specifications by the UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation). Equipment will be purchased with private funding raised locally by proponents of the project. Installation will be evaluated by a suitable third-party for quality and specifications.

Parking: Parking for groups will be designated at the parking lot across from Sawmill Campground

  • Concessionaires will be required to shuttle groups to the Via Ferrata entry point
  • Two existing parking spaces will be designated for Via Ferrata users

Pedestrian Crossing Concerns: Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) will be consulted to evaluate road crossing and speed concerns.

Restrooms: Existing restrooms in Sawmill Campground will be used utilized by Ferrata users.

ADA Fishing Site: Investigate if this is possible to restore the Americans with Disabilities Act fishing site near Sawmill area.

Daily Operations:

Request For Proposal (RFP): Potential vendors will provide proposals to State Parks that will include but not limited to the below items:

Concessionaire terms:

  • Three-year or five-year with optional renewals

Operational Scenario:

  • Reservation made by visitor, liability waiver signed by visitor
  • Visitor arrives at Via Ferrata
  • Visitor receives safety presentation
  • Visitor traverses Via Ferrata guided or unguided
  • Visitor exits using designated trail system

Reservations: Reservations for specific time slots will be made through a concessionaire or a third-party service provided by the concessionaire. Reservation times will be spaced for the purpose of separating participants and allowing ample time to complete the established routes with overlap. An equitable system will be in place to allow for the best possible user experience.

  • State Parks reserves the right to hold back some of the times slots and days for agency approved use. Example: Free day use for middle school high school students, or annual passholder days
  • Time blocks will be appropriate to allow for safe user flow and minimize resource impact (Example 20-60 minute time slots)
  • State Parks will evaluate maximum user days per year in conjunction with the concessionaire
  • An annual report will be required to be produced by the concessionaire based on data input in the reservation system and data gathered on the ground

Maintenance and Upkeep: Will be provided by the concessionaire with the assistance from the local climbing community and according to UIAA standards. The installation and related equipment will be inspected visually during each use. A monthly, annual or seasonal checklist will be utilized incorporating UIAA standards.

Staging Area: Staging for Via Ferrata entry will be adjacent to the parking area.

Fees: Reasonable fees will be charged to individual climbers with the possibility of reduced rates for children and families.

  • Annual/season passes allow specified number of claims per season
  • Price point capped at $25 per person, whether guided or not, for the reservation
  • Concessionaire charges their own guide fees; these will be capped as well
  • School-aged public educational school discounts

Climbing Equipment: Climbing equipment will be available for rental from the established concession operator. The concessionaire will also be responsible for inspecting equipment brought in by Via Ferrata users and verifying the equipment is proper and up to UIAA standards.

  • Standard is UIAA equipment
  • Waivers will include equipment language

Risk Management:

  • A safety video presentation will be provided and users required to complete prior to entering Via Ferrata. Video and presentation will be shown on the reservation website or in person pre-trip
  • Specific climbing anchors will be installed for search and rescue purposes
  • Vendor will provide a tag including emergency contact phone numbers and to signify sanctioned use of the route
  • A removable ladder and cable will be placed at the Via Ferrata entrance point which would be removed and secured when the Via Ferrata is closed
  • Annual SAR evaluation and mock trainings will be implemented to familiarize SAR professionals park staff and vendor with the Via Ferrata.
  • A written essay or emergency plan will be drafted and implemented specifically for the Via Ferrata

Unguided Climbing: Unguided climbers must demonstrate with a guide they can climb the Via Ferrata route safely and within a specified amount of time before being allowed to use alone. Qualification will last a certain number of years. Unguided climbers would be required to wear a tag to identify who should be there and who is not.

Guided Only: Must use guide service. Concessionaire can be guide service and also allow outside services with equitable system and capped number of claims per guide service with certified and accredited guides.

Name of Via Ferrata: Initial suggestion in Eastern Shoshone name has been suggested and discussed: “Naika Dindoi or “Cliff Ladder”

  • Need to verify with Eastern Shoshone, THPO’s, Business Council
  • Other names suggestions are welcome

RFP: A draft will be written based on considerations in this document.

Liability:

  • Can be a guided or unguarded experience
  • Liability waivers will be developed using existing state templates
  • Concessionaire will be required to carry general liability insurance ($1 million minimum with state of Wyoming named as insured)
  • Wyoming Statutes concerning recreation: “Wyoming Recreational Safety Act states that people engaging in recreation assume the risk” (rock climbing is specifically mentioned), “Wyoming Government Claims Act limits liability of state agencies to $250,000 per person $500,000 per occurrence”

Interpretation/Education:

  • State Parks is currently developing an inclusive interpretive plan along with Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribal representatives to highlight cultural resources and their importance in the area. The Inter-tribal Council advised State Parks to work with the Eastern Shoshone Cultural Center and the Northern Arapaho Cultural Language Office. Park staff has reached out and began collaboration on this project
  • State Parks will work with raptor experts and the Game and Fish Department to interpret Peregrin activity and history in the canyon
  • State Parks will include geological interpretation regarding rock formations in geological history in the canyon
  • Signage and interpretive paneling designs will be included in the plan
  • Investigate grant and donation opportunities
  • $2000 will be donated from climbing group
  • Sinks Canyon Natural Resource Council may be interested in assisting with funding

    Public Engagement: State parks will present the new proposal to the public using a virtual online engagement process and or an in person informational meeting.

Immediate concerns about the initial proposal were then discussed, including current climber displacement on the new proposed location, State Park’s role in the operation of the Concessionaire, the possible need to survey the land, and potentially building concessionaire location before a concessionaire is officially chosen.

There were also concerns raised about the need to add an addendum to the Sinks Canyon Master Plan noting the new location and process, but Glenn stated no addendum will be made, adding, “A Master Plan is just that, it’s a plan. It’s a road map for every single project that moves forward within the park.”

Glenn commented that changes can and will be made along the way, and that the public will be reached out to during that process, and when a location for the Via Ferrata is tentatively agreed upon, Wyoming State Parks will again reach out to the public for input and will solicit comments from individuals and other interest groups.

“We’ve got a lot of homework to do, and we’ve got our checklist,” Glenn stated before adding that it will take months to complete the due diligence necessary to properly address the proposal.

While no dates for meetings have been set, County 10 reached out to Bernis who stated that the next step will be having cultural surveys done at the site by the State Historic Preservation Office.

“I will be reaching out to them soon regarding this. The actual survey will likely need to wait until after winter as snowfall can hinder a thorough survey. Their schedules can be quite full as well,” Bernis commented.

Following this step, State Parks will meet/work with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Historic Preservation Offices to find out how they would like to be involved moving forward.

“We have had initial meetings to discuss this. Similar to SHPO, if any surveys are to be done, they will likely need to wait until spring. Similar scheduling issues as well,” Bernis added.

The “proponents for for the integrity of the park” opposing the Via Ferrata also stated they will address the proposal in forthcoming meetings.

Wyoming State Parks further states that they have been “committed to public engagement and transparency throughout the Sinks Canyon Master Plan process and will continue to do so moving forward with the projects proposed during that process.”

Materials from the Sinks Canyon State Park Master Planning process are also posted on the website.

When a final route is determined, Wyoming State Parks will consult tribal governments and any other necessary federal or state agencies.

To learn more about the Sinks Canyon Master Plan and the Via Ferrata, click here.

Click here to view all of County 10’s Via Ferrata coverage.

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