By KAREN BRAINARD
The U.S. Forest Service has temporarily closed the trails leading to Cedar Creek Falls following a fatality at the falls on July 6.
Joseph Meram, 16, of El Cajon was hiking with family members. He died after 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, according to reports.
The San Diego Sheriff’s Department aerial support unit (ASTREA) responded to the call and airlifted Meram to an ambulance, stated the San Diego medical examiner’s report. He was pronounced dead at 12:10 p.m. after failing to respond to CPR efforts, the report said.
Another juvenile male received a hip injury after being struck by Meram as he fell, said the sheriff’s department. ASTREA flew in to rescue that victim, who was transported to Palomar Medical Center.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young man who died,” said District 2 County Supervisor Dianne Jacob.
Jacob had scheduled a meeting that same day about concerns at the Cedar Creek Falls, which is in the Cleveland National Forest.
Since the U.S. Forest Service installed the trailhead at the end of Thornbush Road in San Diego Country Estates and made improvements to the approximately six-mile round trip trail to the falls earlier this year, Cedar Creek has become an even more popular site.
The trail has drawn hundreds of people every weekend, residents living near the trailhead have said. Those residents have complained of excessive traffic and speeding in the neighborhood, and of people partying, littering and urinating in yards. Drug use and fights have also been reported.
The number of helicopter rescues greatly increased (see related story) with hikers suffering injuries to the lower extremities and from dehydration and heat exhaustion. Many hikers have been unprepared for the strenuous hike.
Over the July 4th weekend, CalFire reported eight helicopter rescues at the falls or along the trail.
About 10 homeowners from the trailhead area were at Jacob’s meeting, along with representatives from CalFire and the county Traffic Advisory Committee. Also at the meeting were Lt. Cmdr. Todd Richardson from ASTREA, Lt. Julie Sutton from the county sheriff’s Ramona substation and William Metz, Cleveland National Forest supervisor.
At the meeting, the pressure mounted for closure of the falls and trail.
“We all said just close it until you can get your act together,” Eileen Castberg, San Diego Country Estates Homeowners Association president said they told the forest service.
“The situation that exists now is simply too dangerous,” Jacob told the Sentinel on July 7. “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.”
On Thursday, July 7, Brian Harris, U.S. Forest Service public affairs officer, said the forest service initated a “soft closure” of the trail while it went through a process of shutting the trail down. He said hikers were advised against taking the trail.
By midnight on Friday, July 8, the forest service was able to implement a “hard closure.”
“The closed area includes the trailead at Thornbush Road, the trail to and from Cedar Creek Falls from the Thornbush Road Trailhead, the trail from Saddleback (located on Eagle Peak Road) and the specific Cedar Creek Falls site,” Harris said in a news release. “The closure extends for 1/4 mile on both sides of the trails and falls.”
On Saturday and Sunday, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had units stationed at the trailhead, along with its mobile command bus to assist the forest service in enforcing the temporary closure.
“Basically it was kind of a PR (public relations) thing,” said Lt. Sutton “We were talking to people and letting them know the falls were closed.”
Sutton said about 95 vehicles showed up at the trailhead on Saturday, July 9, and 112 on Sunday, July 10. The majority of the people were from outside the Ramona area, she said. People were cooperative and no one got out of hand, she added.
Sutton said she will continue to have deputies posted there seven days a week for an “indefinite amount of time.”
Five deputies will be posted on weekends and three during the week, she said.
The whole area was patrolled over the weekend by ASTREA, which reported no incidents.
Harris said the trails and falls will remain closed until Nov. 8, if deemed appropriate, until the forest service can devise a better management plan for the site.