California

San Bernardino National Forest closes waterfall access, citing too many rescues

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The lower portion of Big Falls.
(Zach Behrens / U.S. Forest Service)

Search-and-rescue teams are called so frequently to the area surrounding one of Southern California’s tallest waterfalls that one particular rock has become known to locals as “Blood Rock.”

A slip on the rock has sent several people tumbling down the middle fall of Big Falls, often causing injury and rescue by helicopter.

That’s why, starting on the Fourth of July, visitors on the Big Falls Trail in San Bernardino National Forest will be allowed to hike only to a waterfall overlook. Off-trail areas beyond the railing will be closed because of safety concerns.

“There have been too many search and rescues in this area in the past,” Joe Rechsteiner, district ranger for the Front Country Ranger District, said in a statement. “We want to make sure the public enjoys this beautiful spot while staying safe. Some of the rocks in Falls Creek are deceivingly slippery.”

The closure will last through May 24, 2020, unless it’s rescinded earlier.

Anyone sneaking into the prohibited area can be fined as much as $5,000 for violating the forest’s order. Violators also face a maximum of six months in jail.

Similar increases in rescues have emerged across Southern California as more people flock to natural spaces, often after learning about those places on Instagram and other social media platforms.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s search-and-rescue teams conducted 681 missions in 2017, the largest number in five years. It’s a 38% increase from their 491 rescues in 2013.

The teams’ leaders have said the largest factor for that increase is people posting videos of extreme activities online. Rescue teams in Santa Barbara and San Bernardino counties have seen similar increases.

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Visitors can still hike the Big Falls Trail to a waterfall overlook, but areas beyond the railing will be closed.
(San Bernardino National Forest)