Rock climbers and golden eagles will share the cliffs at Trout Creek near Madras next year if there are no appeals to a federal plan.
The plan, released in November, includes a seasonal closure that will restrict hiking, climbing and other recreation on 412 acres close to the Deschutes River from Jan. 15 to May 15, and possibly to Aug. 31 if a pair of golden eagles rear their young on the cliffs, said Bill Dean, assistant field manager for the Bureau of Land Management in Prineville.
The BLM oversees the cliffs at Trout Creek, which have become increasingly popular among the climbing crowd over the past decade. The basalt column cliffs are about 10 miles north of Madras and are accessed by a roughly 45-minute hike from the Trout Creek Campground.
Last winter the BLM issued a mandatory closure for the cliffs on Feb. 1, but just over two weeks later changed it to a voluntary closure after talking with climbers and environmental attorneys.
The new plan for managing the cliffs, which is open for appeal until Dec. 9, was crafted in consultation with climbers, Dean said.
“We don't anticipate anyone complaining about that,” he said. If there are no appeals, the plan will go into effect in January, with work on some new trails starting right away.
Golden eagles may abandon their nests if disturbed by people, BLM officials have said. From 1992 to 2001, a pair of golden eagles nesting at Trout Creek raised at least one or two eaglets each year. Since then, the eagles have raised only one eaglet in 11 years, possibly because of climbers passing near the nests.
Despite the voluntary closure this year, the eagles failed to raise an eaglet, Dean said. The eagles appeared to be incubating eggs but left the nest in April.
“Something must have happened,” he said.
He said it's unclear exactly what caused the eagles to leave their nest, but there were reports of a couple and their dog walking below the nest and someone throwing rocks from the top of the cliff above during the closure.
Trout Creek features two cliffs where a pair of golden eagles have traditionally nested. The eagles maintain several nests and choose where to lay eggs between January and May. Once they make their choice, the BLM plan will close that cliff, as well as land above and below, while opening the other cliff open for climbing in late spring and early summer.
“It protects the eagles while maximizing climbing days,” said Eric Sorenson, regional coordinator for the Access Fund, a national climbing advocacy group.
The closure is a sacrifice for climbers, but Sorenson, who lives in Bend, said it's the right thing to do for the eagles.
Climbers have been scaling the cliffs at Trout Creek, also known as Dry Island, since the 1970s, but interest in climbing there increased over the last decade. Jeff Wenger, of Bend, put out a guidebook for the cliffs, called Trout Creek Climbing, in 2010.
“It's one of the best crack climbing areas out there,” he said. Crack climbing focuses on following cracks in the rock.
On busy days, Wenger said, there will be 20 to 40 climbers on the cliffs.
While climbers will have to adjust to the seasonal closure, Wenger said he's glad the cliff the eagles aren't occupying will be open in late spring. He said climbers worked with the BLM for a couple of years on the plan.
“We were just worried about a blanket closure,” said Wenger. “That wouldn't have been fair.”
Under the plan, a new trail will be built and existing trails will be improved, with Wenger working with the BLM on the trail design.
“We really want to get these trails in before the closure in January,” he said.