Access to Cedar Creek Falls from the trailhead in San Diego Country Estates will open on April 5 under a Visitor Use Permit System, Cleveland National Forest has announced.
The San Diego River Gorge Trailhead that leads to the falls is at the end of Thornbush Road in San Diego Country Estates. Under the permit system, a permit will only be required for those recreating within the Cedar Creek Falls visitor use permit area, which is located in the immediate space around the falls.
Other trail users who are not recreating within the visitor use permit area surrounding the falls will not be required to obtain a visitor use permit. All users of the trailhead are allowed to use and park in the trailhead parking lot on Thornbush Road free-of-charge, but parking space is limited and is offered on a first-come, first served basis, said the forest service.
Initially 75 visitor use permits for individuals and/or groups of up to five people will be available each day by reservation. Permits to visit the falls will be reserved through the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) website. Reserving a visitor use permit will require a $6 administrative fee per permit for up to 5 people to NRRS.
Cedar Creek Falls has long been a popular recreation destination in the Cleveland National Forest. Although members of the public have been visiting the falls for many decades, dramatic growth in visitation in recent years has resulted in a variety of issues, including medical emergencies and natural resource degradation. In addition to impacts on natural resources, high levels of public use have resulted in social issues related to parking and traffic congestion on county streets in the Estates neighborhood adjacent to the trailhead.
The falls and trailhead have been closed since July 2011, following numerous rescues and the death of a teenager who fell at the falls.
A permanent closure of cliffs immediately surrounding the falls will prohibit jumping and diving from the cliffs. The plan also permanently prohibits the possession and consumption of alcohol in the visitor use permit area, at the San Diego River Gorge Trailhead and trail that leads to the falls, as well as the Saddleback Trailhead and Eagle Peak Road that leads to the falls on the Julian side.`
“Our plan for implementation is the most balanced approach available to us to restore public access to Cedar Creek Falls while addressing natural resources and public concerns,” said William Metz, Cleveland National Forest supervisor.
The forest service will monitor the performance of the visitor use permit system by an adaptive management that uses a series of three metrics to address natural and social issues. Those metrics are: litter left behind by area visitors, wetland and riparian health, and erosion resulting from the proliferation of user-created trails in the visitor use permit area. Based on the monitoring, the number of permits issued per day can be decreased or increased.
“The implementation of a visitor permit area is intended to reduce the number of daily visitors to a manageable level,” said Metz. “It is our intent to continue to provide for an outstanding outdoor recreational opportunity, while being proactive about caring for the natural resources on these public lands, and to assist the public in providing for their own health and safety.”
Visitor use permits can be reserved 24-hours per day, seven days a week, by contacting NRRS at www.recreation.gov. The $6 administrative fee allows NRRS to operate and maintain the reservation system and is not retained by the forest service, according to the agency.
The rules and regulations of the permit system will be enforced by forest service law enforcement officers and violators will be fined.
For more information, contact the Palomar Ranger District at 760-788-0250.