By Claire Withycombe • The Bulletin

TERREBONNE — Shawn Snyder might be the only person to have hiked around Smith Rock State Park wearing an ankle monitor.

Snyder, a rock climber, slackliner and longtime visitor to the state park, says he’s tired of seeing gear stashed in its jagged, iconic features. And his mission to stop the phenomenon by removing gear from hiding places has gotten him into legal trouble.

The state of Oregon alleges he took about $1,000 worth of gear from three visitors to the park in late 2013.

Snyder, 46, who now lives in Bishop, California, faces a misdemeanor charge of second-degree theft in connection with the incident, court records show. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 14.

There is a spectrum of beliefs within the outdoor community when it comes to the practice of stashing technical gear — some say it should be allowed to an extent; others are bothered by its potential impacts on the environment and by what some describe as the sense of entitlement it conveys.

State administrative rules say people can’t leave gear in a day-use area overnight without written permission from a park manager. Smith Rock’s had an exemption to that rule for about three years: Equipment can be left overnight, if it’s done discreetly .

The incident in question

When the 2013 theft was reported, Snyder had a warrant out for his arrest on suspicion of a parole violation out of California.

It wasn’t the first time Snyder has had a run-in with the law. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to a theft by receiving charge in Deschutes County, according to court records. He was arrested in 2008 for alleged theft and 2012 for making terrorist threats, according to archives of the Mammoth (California) Times. He says he served time in prison in California for both offenses.

After the alleged Smith Rock thefts were reported Nov. 25, 2013, sheriff’s deputies and park employees conducted an “extensive area search,” according to a Deschutes County sheriff’s deputy’s report.

One of the alleged victims, Kyle Rosenborough, had already identified Snyder as a possible suspect.

“(Rosenborough) told me he observed a person he knew in the climbing community as a ‘Shawn’ carrying a large pile of climbing items in a suspicious manner,” Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Cima wrote in a report. “Rosenborough told me that when he confronted ‘Shawn’ he ‘exploded’ in anger and threw some items to the ground.”

Rosenborough took a photo of the suspect, who fled the area, Cima wrote. The photo, attached to the report, shows a man resembling Snyder standing solidly with a mess of ropes.

In a follow-up report in February 2014, Cima wrote: “Snyder has been seen by various members of the Central Oregon climbing community since the … (November) event.”

Charges were filed in Deschutes County Circuit Court in early 2015, as was a bench warrant for his arrest.

Snyder contends that by removing ropes and other equipment hidden in the features of the park, he’s caring for the environment and trying to prevent accidents caused by ropes and other equipment that can deteriorate when stored outside.

While walking around the park last month — wearing the monitor, he said, because the allegations against him in Deschutes County are a violation of his parole — he pointed out a set of ropes stashed under a rock about 10 feet up from the trail.

“It concerns me that there are stash places where someone doesn’t have to have any skill at all to get to these places,” Snyder said later.

Snyder’s attorney, Ricky Nelson, said in an interview that when considering the criminal allegations, it is important to consider his client’s intent.

“The key to a theft is that there is an intent on the part of the person taking the property to deprive the owner of the property and appropriate it to himself,” Nelson said.

While Snyder’s message of environmental sustainability and safety may be widely shared by others , judging by his notoriety on Internet climbing forums, his methods are generally not.

“When I took those ropes in 2013, it started a big debate on the Internet,” Snyder said. The photo taken by the person who reported the theft showed up on a climbing forum. But he said he’s bothered by the attitude that human gear doesn’t have an effect on the landscape. “That’s where I’ve decided to take action and take the law into my own hands and regulate,” he said.

Stashing gear

In September 2013, Smith Rock State Park formalized a long-standing exemption to a state administrative rule prohibiting stashing gear at state park day-use areas overnight.

Equipment “used for technical rock climbing or slacklining and related activities” can be left in day-use areas in a “discreet” manner, according to a copy of the exemption, provided to The Bulletin by Smith Rock State Park Manager Scott Brown.

Park visitors still need permission from the park manager to leave slacklines or rope swings set up overnight.

Brown said in an interview that climbers had been stashing gear at the park for some time, but that the exemption was solidified formally in 2013.

At the time, park officials were talking about how to regulate swings and equipment used for slacklining — the practice of putting up polyester webbing between natural features and walking on the webbing like a sort of flexible balance beam.

Brown said he did not know of any significant effect on the park posed by stashing.

“That there would be any impact to the natural resource when somebody stashes their climbing-related gear under a rock or something, there’s really no impact that I can see,” Brown said. “When there’s impact is when people go off trail, if they dug out an area or something, but we haven’t seen that at all.”

Jason Grubb, outreach manager for Leave No Trace, an organization that promotes outdoor ethics and education, said there have been similar discussions about stashing elsewhere.

“Stashing is definitely a concern for land managers and climbers alike,” Grubb said. Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, has become a well-known destination for bouldering, climbing without ropes or harnesses.

In recent years, storing crash pads — foam pads used to protect boulderers from suffering a bad fall — has provoked a kind of rivalry between some climbers and park rangers about whether those pads can stay in the park when they aren’t being actively used.

Grubb said land managers at the national park were concerned about the health and safety of wildlife, which can burrow into the foam. Furthermore, the foam pads and other gear have an “aesthetic impact.”

“There are a couple of different schools of thought behind it,” Grubb said. “From an organizational standpoint, our default is always to the land managers’ rules and regulations.”

He said the situation at Smith Rock sounded “unique,” and he mentioned that Leave No Trace had been working with a ranger at the park to put together a sign and education campaign on “leave no trace” ethics.

“In the climbing world, the stashing gear thing is interesting,” Grubb said, saying that sometimes climbers stash gear while they are working on a particular route. “… If something’s been there for a long time, UV light and exposure to the elements deteriorates webbing and nylon. The integrity of the gear would be in question.”

Jim Ablao, a rock climbing guide and instructor at Central Oregon-based Chockstone Climbing Guides, said there’s a distinction between storing gear while you’re climbing and storing it overnight. While both are technically allowed in the park, Ablao said he doesn’t do the latter.

“On a daily basis, you know, there’s packs hidden at the base of the climbs all the time,” Ablao said. “That’s accepted practice. Otherwise we’d have to carry everything we bring in (while climbing), which would be a little much.”

In recent years, there’s been a growing number of visitors to the state park. The park is one of the state’s “Seven Wonders” — a publicity campaign to promote state parks.

Previous media reports have stated that between 2012 and now, the number of annual visitors has leapt from an average of 400,000 to nearly 700,000. Snyder maintains that amount of growth has to be approached responsibly — and he believes he’s playing his part.

“People are getting outside — that’s awesome,” Snyder said. “But if we’re going to get outside, and we’re going to encourage more, and we’re going to be excited that there’s more people out here, then let’s get just as excited and encourage just as much how to be out here. If you’re going out to use your land and your resources, which I’m glad you are, please learn how to use your resources properly.”

­— Reporter: 541-383-0376,

cwithycombe@bendbulletin.com

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