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March 26, 2013 (San Diego's East County)--Starting April 5th, hiking to Cedar Creek Falls will require a visitor permit. Access from the San Diego River Gorge Trailhead in Ramona is also set to reopen.  The trailhead has been closed since the death of an El Cajon teen who fell over the top of the falls in July 2011.  A second trailhead reopened last year.

With the opening, the U.S. Forest Service is implementing a Visitor Use Permit System that will limit the number of visitors to Cedar Creek Falls, while providing for protection of natural resources and enhancing public health and safety.

Under the visitor use permit system, a permit will only be required while recreating within the Cedar Creek Falls visitor use permit area, which is located in the immediate area around the falls. Visitors will need to make a reservation online and pay a $6.00 permit fee.  Other trail users who are not recreating within the visitor use permit area surround 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 San Diego River Gorge Trailhead parking lot free-of-charge.  It is important to note that the visitor use permit is a not a parking permit – limited parking space is available at the San Diego River Gorge Trailhead and is offered on a first-come, first served basis.

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, 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 San Diego Country Estates (SDCE) neighborhood adjacent to the trailhead.

“Our plan for implementation is the most balanced approach available to us to restore public access to Cedar Creek Falls while addressing natural resource and public concerns,” said William Metz, Cleveland National Forest Supervisor.  The plan also permanently prohibits the possession and consumption of alcohol in the visitor use permit area, at the San Diego River Gorge and Saddleback Trailheads, and along the San Diego River Gorge Trail and Eagle Peak Road that lead to the falls.  Additionally, a permanent closure of cliffs immediately surrounding the falls will prohibit jumping and diving from the cliffs. 

Managing the appropriate level of public visitation in the Cedar Creek Falls visitor use permit area requires the Forest Service to monitor the performance of the visitor use permit system. “I recognize the importance of providing a level of certainty and transparency as to how the Forest Service will operate this visitor use permit system,” said Metz.  “Therefore, I’ve decided that the permit system will be governed by an adaptive management that uses a series of three metrics to address natural and social resource issues.”

The metrics under this adaptive management system are specifically related impacts to the public lands of the Cleveland National Forest.  The metrics are: 1) litter left behind by area visitors, 2) wetland and riparian health, and 3) erosion resulting from the proliferation of user-created trails in the visitor use permit area.  The Forest Service is not able to establish or use a metric that is not directly under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service, such as impacts to the surrounding privately owned lands.  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,” added 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.”

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 visitors to pay a $6 administrative fee per permit for up to five people to NRRS. This administrative fee allows NRRS to operate and maintain the reservation system – these fees are not retained by the Forest Service.  The on-line system provides flexibility to the public in that visitor use permits can be reserved 24-hours per day, 7-days a week. 

The rules and regulations of the permit system will be enforced by Forest Service law enforcement officers and violators will be fined.

The NRRS website for permits is located at http://www.recreation.gov.   For additional information, please contact the Palomar Ranger District at 760-788-0250.