Private property is the bedrock of our state and finding ways for the public to recreate on private lands is a worthwhile challenge. Continental Ranch is a family-owned ranch in west Texas that contains about 200 established routes and miles of undeveloped cliffline along the Pecos River that could provide a lifetime of climbing. A small group of climbers, including a former board president of the Access Fund, were instrumental in working with the owners to open the ranch to climbing, and establishing the routes which helped the ranch grow in popularity.
Unfortunately, the ranch closed to climbing in 2011 mostly due to concerns over liability. Since then, there have been several efforts to reopen the ranch, including an effort in 2012 between Access Fund and Texas Climbers Coalition to jointly lease the ranch for climbing. In early 2017, the owners were willing to reopen the ranch for climbing provided that the following restrictions and requirements be met:
- The ranch is closed to climbing from the first week of November through the first full weekend in January for hunting season;
- Minimum group size of 6 climbers with a two-night minimum stay and $25 per person per night;
- Minimum of two vehicles and must stay inside the designated climbing and camping zones for safety reasons;
- Pack out all waste; and
- Provide liability insurance coverage.
In addition to the above, certain restrictions apply concerning use of roads, pets, and other recreational activities.
It has been a challenge to get enough climbers out to the ranch to make it financially worthwhile for the owners but there are several organizations working to make climbing at Continental Ranch a success. Several guiding services have been able to organize trips to the ranch including a bi-annual weekend climbing festival. The advantage of allowing guided access is that the owners can be assured that climbing will be monitored and the risk of accidents will be reduced. The drawback is that many climbers prefer to climb on their own and in smaller groups. Having both guided and un-guided access to Continental Ranch – provided that all of the owners requirements are met – would be a win for both the ranch owners and the climbing community.
Access Fund (AF) in partnership with TCC have offered the owners of Continental Ranch a variety of options that would allow for increased access for climbers while also providing liability protection for the owners and a way to charge for access. This last part is actually a fairly challenging hurdle. Landowner liability is largely governed by a state’s recreational use statute. In Texas, landowners are immunized of liability when they allow the public onto their land for recreational purposes; however, there are limits on how much can be collected in fees and still maintain the statute’s protection.
The owners of Continental Ranch have provided the public a great opportunity for rock climbing. Certainly there are other ways to get climbers out to the ranch while also keeping with the owners requirements. Hiring a camp ranger might be an excellent way to manage climbing at the ranch. In addition, AF’s grant program would be a natural avenue to fund infrastructure projects at the ranch. TCC will support climbing at the ranch by continuing to promote guided opportunities and educating the public about climbing at the ranch. The options above were formulated by AF in partnership with TCC.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained on TCC’s website is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always seek qualified legal counsel for legal advice.