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City of Rocks National Reserve is a Model of Interagency Cooperation


Morning Glory Spire (a.k.a. The Incisor) is a favorite of climbers at City of Rocks National Reserve. NPS photo.

"We encamped at the City of the Rocks, a noted place from the granite rocks rising abruptly out of the ground...a dismantled, rock-built city of the Stone Age." - Pioneer James Wilkins, 1849.

City of Rocks National Reserve in south-central Idaho is more than just a geologic wonder, a touchstone of our pioneer past, and a magnet for climbers. It’s also a model for interagency cooperation.

Though it gets little publicity, City of Rocks is certainly one of our more interesting and unique parks. Its unusual geologic formations alone make it a fascinating place. Some of its ancient (up to 2.5 billion years old) granite pinnacles and monoliths tower 60 feet high. This wondrous array of rock formations lends a dramatic and even ghostly atmosphere to the landscape. Small wonder that this place amazed our pioneer forebears headed west on the California Trail. Today the smooth granite monoliths also appeal to climbers. During a climbing season that extends from April into October, more than 500 established routes attract climbers from all over America and the world.

Creating and managing a national park in this special place was done in a special way. On November 18, 1988, Congress passed legislation that created the Reserve by essentially drawing a circle on a map and declaring those 14,407 acres a Reserve. The National Park Service then took over ownership of the lands, formerly managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR), and private parties still own some land within the boundaries, though. In 1996, management of the Reserve was essentially turned over to IDPR, which is responsible for day-to-day operations. The National Park Service contributes funds and provides technical assistance, expertise, and training to IDPR, which also provides staffing and funds for the Reserve. If you're curious to learn more, information about the most recent cooperative agreement is available at this site.

This unique approach to management is something that the park is continuing to emphasize. One of the Reserve's goals for the Centennial in 2016 is to "operate as an efficient and respected model of an interagency partnership." City of Rocks is also seeking to partner with local utility companies to place utility lines underground, thus restoring the historic viewscape.

Indeed, if there is one overriding theme to City of Rocks, it is that of partnerships. While the granite spires and pinnacles surely make for a mesmerizing place, so does the unseen cultural fabric of the region. City of Rocks lies along one of the main overland routes to the Oregon and California territories, and if it wasn't for the bond between settlers in their respective wagon trains, it is quite likely that many of them would have never made it so far into the West. Evidence of the park's pioneer past can be seen throughout the reserve. Old mines, homesteads, campsites, inscriptions on rocks, trail ruts and the like are all on display throughout the backcountry.

Visitors today can enjoy the Reserve's rugged terrain through a wide variety of recreational activities, including climbing, camping, horseback riding, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, cross-country skiingand snowshoeing. Developed campgrounds are available in both the Reserve and adjacent state parks. For the less adventurous, a road with wayside exhibits winds through the park.

Right now, the park is transitioning into the winter season. Road closures will be announced soon, and the visitor center is operating on winter hours. Visitors are still encouraged to take advantage of the Reserve through skiing and snowshoeing. A new general management plan is also on the near horizon.

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