CLEVELAND NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. -- A scenic but rugged East County wilderness area closed to the public last summer after a teenage boy fell to his death from a rocky cliff will remain off-limits to hikers and mountain-bikers until next spring to allow for completion of a management plan for the site, officials announced Monday.
The Cedar Creek Falls closure, originally due to end Tuesday, is now scheduled to last through April 1.
"The purpose of the (extension) is to give the forest service time to design and implement a management plan to address issues of public safety, overcrowding and resource impacts,'' said Brian Harris of the U.S. Forest Service.
Visitors have been kept out of the remote spot since July 9, three days after 16-year-old Joseph Meram of El Cajon slipped off a trail alongside an 80- foot-high rocky precipice over a pool known as the Devil's Punchbowl.
The teen struck his head on boulders before landing in the pool and was pronounced dead while being airlifted out of the area.
The secluded spot east of Ramona, popular with sightseers and thrill- seekers who enjoy leaping from sheer bluffs into a shallow swimming hole, had been a worsening problem for public-safety personnel. Increasing numbers of visitors were getting hurt there or becoming stranded without enough water or proper footwear for the challenging terrain, authorities said.
Last Fourth of July weekend, emergency crews had to transport 10 or more injured, dehydrated or heat-exhausted people out of the area, Cal Fire Capt. Mike Mohler said.
The closed area includes a trailhead at Thornbush Road, the trail from there to Cedar Creek Falls, a trailhead area at Saddleback on Eagle Peak Road, the trail from Saddleback and the Cedar Creek Falls site itself. The off-limits area extends for a quarter-mile on both sides of the trails and the falls.
After drafting the management plan, the forest service will conduct an analysis of it under the National Environmental Policy Act prior to finalizing and implementing it, according to Harris.
"A decision on whether or not a permit would be required to hike the (area) in the future will not be made until the conclusion of the NEPA process,'' Harris said. "The permitting-system course of action is one that will be studied, while other alternatives will be studied as well.''