June climbing up despite voluntary ban at Devils Tower

DEVILS TOWER, Wyo. (AP) — The number of people who climb an unusual rock formation in northeast Wyoming during June is on the rise despite the concerns of American Indian tribes who hold the place sacred.

Devils Tower is nearly 900 feet tall from base to summit. Devils Tower National Monument was the first U.S. national monument and many know the volcanic feature for its role in the 1977 film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Devils Tower is a popular target for climbers but also culturally significant to at least 25 tribes in the region. In the mid-1990s, climbers, the tribes and National Park Service officials agreed to a compromise that put the tower voluntarily off-limits to climbing during June.

The number of people climbing Devils Tower in June fell from 1,200 to just 167 in June 1995. Lately the number is back up, reaching 373 in June 2016, Wyoming Public Radio reported (http://bit.ly/2sbn6Xi).

A steady increase in June climbing over the past five years isn’t tied to the growing number of people visiting Devils Tower, monument superintendent Tim Reid said.

“It’s safe to say that largely, the bulk of June climbing is done by relatively local or regional climbers who for whatever reasons find it personally acceptable to climb in June,” Reid said.

It’s painful when climbers ignore the closure, said Waylon Black Crow Senior as he chaperoned Lakota youth from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

“We see them climbing up there,” said Black Crow. “And all we can do is watch.”

Recent June climbers included commercial guide and lodge owner Frank Sanders, who said he knew not everyone agreed with his decision to climb then.

“The tower’s not for one person, or one group of people, or one month, or one day, or one week,” said Sanders. “It’s for all of us.”

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