A portion of one of Southern California's tallest waterfalls will be closed to the public for a year as officials look for ways to reduce the number of injuries and rescues, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Visitors trying to scramble up the slippery face of Upper Big Falls in the San Bernardino National Forest can wind up falling, leading to injuries and costly air rescues. In 2011, one visitor died, Forest Service spokesman John Miller told KPCC.
"A lot of folks, they want to play in the water, they want to gain closer access to the falls, and there's one particular spot toward the upper section that people are getting hurt, so we decided that to try to prevent more folks from getting hurt we're going to close that small portion of the upper falls," Miller said.
San Bernardino County firefighters and sheriff's deputies have rescued nearly 60 people who were hurt climbing around the falls in 2015 alone, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
A rock formation known to locals as Blood Rock "has become increasingly uncovered as the drought wears on, shrinking the flow of the falls and leaving a 25-foot-high chunk of exposed granite with water flowing on either side," the Press-Enterprise reports.
That has led to an increase in the number of falls and injuries. Because the area is difficult to access, rescues have sometimes involved extracting people by helicopter, Miller said.
The area that's off-limits is described as a section of five to 10 acres within 150 feet of Falls Creek, starting at the northern end of Big Falls Trail and continuing north. It will be closed through October 2016.
(Credit: U.S. Forest Service)
The fine for being caught violating the closure is up to $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, imprisonment for up to six months, or both, according to the Forest Service order.
During the year it's closed, the Forest Service will be meeting with community members to explore different ways to prevent people from getting hurt in the area, Miller said.
In the meantime, he said, "While you can't go to the upper portion of the falls, you can still go to the lower portion, you can still play in the water. We just want to keep people from climbing that one face and falling and getting hurt."
This story has been updated.