By Karen Brainard
Palomar Ranger District is taking public comments until May 17 on its proposed permit system to hike the Cedar Creek Falls trail.
The proposal would allow a maximum of 75 permits per day with each permit allowing up to five people, Bjorn Fredrickson, district recreation and lands officer, told the Ramona Community Planning Group at its May 3 meeting.
Planners questioned the possibility of 375 people hiking the trail per day and whether the forest service would have rangers on site to monitor the area. Fredrickson said each of the permits would be issued per vehicle and on average each vehicle contains three hikers. That would drop the number of hikers per day to 225, he noted.
The permit system would pertain to both access points to the Cedar Creek Falls trail — at the end of Thornbush Road in San Diego Country Estates in Ramona and off Eagle Peak Road in Julian.
Fredrickson said the maximum number of permits allowed per day could decrease or increase, depending on usage and comments.
“Nothing’s set in stone,” planning group Chair Jim Piva said.
“It’s a proposal,” Brian Harris, public affairs officer for the Cleveland National Forest, told the Sentinel. “We’re asking the public to comment and give us their thoughts.”
The forest service closed the falls and access to the falls on July 9, 2011, after a teenage boy fell to his death from a rocky cliff. Numerous rescues had also been performed for users who were not prepared for the strenuous hike, and neighbors of the Thornbush Road Trailhead complained of throngs of hikers coming to the trail, parking on their residential streets, littering and partying.
The parking lot at the Thornbush trailhead can accommodate 29 vehicles. With the numbers proposed for the permit system, planners questioned the location of overflow parking.
Although parking had been suggested for the end of Ramona Oaks Road, Fredrickson said that is not included in the plan due to costs and because the condition of the trail at that spot is worse than the trailhead on Thornbush.
Piva noted that if parking becomes an issue again in that neighborhood, the county is prepared to put in parking restrictions.
The permits, Fredrickson said, would be reserved by phone or online and would cost $7 in administrative fees. The permits will contain health and safety advice to educate the hikers about the trail.
Other proposed changes to the trail or trailhead include no jumping from the rocks at the falls, closure of the cliffs at the falls to public entry, and a prohibition on alcohol.
Planners asked about law enforcement or ranger patrols on the trail. Fredrickson said that on most weekends and holidays there will be a ranger, forest service staff, or volunteer patrols on site.
After the permit system is in place, the rangers will be monitoring any infrastructure damage on the trails, rescue operations, littering, and parking, he said.
Harris said the trail may be open in mid to late summer, but that is dependent on public comments and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
The ranger district’s draft environmental assessment on the proposal is at www.fs.usda.gov/goto/cleveland/projects.