UPDATED 6/28: This post has been updated to clarify the wildlife impact information from Game & Fish, Fossil Hill peregrine nesting information, and information about the four pairs that are located in the area.
(Lander, WY) – The Wyoming Game & Fish Department Lander Region revived their “Coffee and Questions with Game and Fish” on June 23rd. These informal meetings provide an opportunity for folks to ask questions, learn about what has been going on, and get to know the local employees in the field.
A handful of community members, along with Lander Region Game & Fish employees and Wyoming State Parks Shoshone District Manager Kyle Bernis, joined the conversation held at the Lander Bake Shop Wednesday morning.
The Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata, an effort to spur the economic growth of local outdoor recreation, was a topic of discussion at the meeting.
Installing the Via Ferrata in Sinks Canyon has been in discussion for nearly two years, according to WGFD Regional Wildlife Supervisor Jason Hunter.
At this juncture, only the idea of having a Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata is approved; the design, location and install have not been given the go-ahead.
The proposed location of this permanent cabled cliff-side trail is almost directly across from The Rise as pictured below in the final Wyoming State Parks Sinks Canyon Master Plan. This is within the Sinks Canyon Wildlife Habitat Management Area (WHMA).
The WGFD owns and has approved the use of the land where the proposed Via Ferrata could be located.
Concerns were raised during the meeting about the overall appearance of this climbing route taking away from the natural feel of the area.
The proposed design is “up and down” and consists of rungs and cables, according to Game & Fish. Overall is quite small and less intrusive compared to others found around the U.S. and in Europe.
They also noted that this particular WHMA is unique compared to others across the state based on its popularity and infrastructure already in place – such as yurts and paved areas among others.
Part of the WGFD approval included a wildlife impact discussion which did confirm one of the six or seven preferred peregrine falcon nesting sites in Sinks Canyon is in the vicinity. There are four pairs that nest in the area, according to Game & Fish.
To mitigate any impacts to the birds, the Via Ferrata would not operate if they nest there, according to Hunter. Much like other climbing areas are closed when the birds have nested there.
WGFD Nongame Supervisor Zack Walker shared during the meeting that peregrines typically begin nesting in April which is about a month before the estimated seasonal opening of the Via Ferrata.
Concerns were raised during the meeting about the activity on the wall pushing the peregrines out or discouraging them from nesting there.
According to Game & Fish, that isn’t necessarily the case since this is a seasonal operation, and climbing in that area has been happening for a while.
“We have several nests in our local area where we are monitoring peregrines and climbing activity and have closures in place to protect the peregrines,” according to Game & Fish. “On Fossil Hill, in particular, these birds were not successful raising young last year, but we are unsure of the cause at this time, so we will continue to monitor this area to see if we can determine what is happening and adapt our management and closure recommendations accordingly.”
The Via Ferrata operation will be managed by Wyoming State Parks, according to Bernis. They would select a concessionaire who would handle the day-to-day and collect the user fees – a percentage of which will go to State Parks.
In addition to their management and oversight, Game & Fish will also monitor the site a few times a week.
As part of the approval process, the proposed site is currently undergoing a cultural clearance through the state archeology department, Hunter shared. They check the route for things like artifacts and if something is found, it cannot be built there and will need to be re-routed.
The final approval to install a Via Ferrata will come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and their evaluation of the wildlife impact study and cultural clearance. This is The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
Since the Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata has raised concerns from community members in the last few months, a public forum could be planned in the coming months. In addition, Game & Fish encourages anyone with questions or concerns to call their office not just for this, but anything in their department.
Click here to view all of County 10’s Sinks Canyon Via Ferrata coverage.
Also discussed at the meeting was the grizzly family on Togwotee Pass.