By Karen Brainard
The U.S. Forest Service will implement a “hard closure” of the Cedar Creek Falls trail and trailhead,
effective at midnight on Friday, said Brian Harris, public affairs officer for the forest service.
“No one will be allowed at the site,” he said. “Citations can be written.”
During Thursday and Friday, Harris said, the forest service could only initiate a soft closure of the trail because of the process involved in shutting it down. The gate to the parking lot at the end of Thornbush Road in San Diego Country Estates is locked today, he said on Friday, and forest service personnel are stationed there, advising hikers against taking the trail.
Legally, Harris said, the forest service cannot stop the hikers until the hard closure goes in effect. When that happens, law enforcement from the forest service and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department will be posted at the trailhead on Thornbush and at the Julian side of the Cedar Creek trail, accessed off Eagle Peak Road.
District 2 County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, along with law enforcement and fire officials were among those requesting the trail be temporarily shut down during a meeting at Jacob’s El Cajon office on Wednesday afternoon, July 6. The meeting had been arranged to address concerns about the trail and included homeowners living near the trailhead on Thornbush and U.S. Forest Supervisor William Metz.
About three hours before the meeting, 16-year-old Joe Meram of El Cajon died after reportedly slipping from rocks near the top of the waterfalls and plummeting about 80 feet, hitting some rocks on the way down, before reaching the water.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young man who died,” said Jacob.
Since the forest service completed improvements to the trail and installed the trailhead at the end of Thornbush Road, homeowners living near the trailhead have been seeking relief from a situation they say has gotten out of control. Social media sites have been blamed for bringing out hundreds of visitors on the weekends, many unprepared for the approximately six-mile hike. Some hikers have been seen wearing flip-flops to walk the trail and many have suffered from dehydration, according to sheriff and CalFire authorities.
Residents say the forest service’s 29-spot parking lot at the end of Thornbush Road has not been able to accommodate all the visitors, and they complain of hikers lining the neighborhood streets with parked vehicles, sometimes blocking driveways. Destroyed landscaping, littering, excessive noise, and teens partying with alcohol and recreational drugs have been reported.
“Like neighbors in this area, I have been and remain deeply concerned about the crowds that trash the area, disturb the neighborhood and disrespect our forest,” said Jacob. “I’ve visited the scene and held multiple meetings with residents, stakeholders and the officials from the U.S. Forest Service. Each time, we have implored the U.S. Forest Service to better manage the crowds.”
At the top of the list of suggestions, Jacob added, is a permitting system that will limit the number of people allowed on the trail.
“The situation that exists now is simply too dangerous,” she said. “Careless visitors have ruined the experience for careful visitors and it’s time for the U.S. Forest Service to regroup and devise a safer way to steward the area,” she said. "For the county’s part, we have already implemented a number of traffic calming measures in the Ramona Country Estates area and will consider banning parking in some areas on July 22.”
Harris said the trail will be closed indefinitely until the forest service can work out a plan for the trail that is more manageable. On Thursday, Harris said, there were three distress calls from the trail but they were canceled.