The Coalition of American Canyoneers has recently become involved in the canyon access issue on the North Face of Mt. San Jacinto. The north face of Mt. San Jacinto, near Palm Springs in southern California, is popular with climbers and mountaineers. It has the greatest number of vertical feet (9000) per horizontal distance of any climb in the contiguous states. This is called Snow Creek. The next canyon to the east is Falls Creek, which has a huge waterfall. Periodically people canyoneer Falls Creek. Some will start at the top of Mt. San Jacinto and do the entire 9000 vertical feet.
The areas in question are Sections 28 and 33:
The Desert Water Agency provides water to the public through aquifers and the Snow Creek/Falls Creek drainage. 97% of the water supply comes from aquifers and 3% from the creeks. Most of the north side of Mt. San Jacinto is federal and state wilderness and is not privately owned. The DWA only owns one square mile on the north side of Mt. San Jacinto – Section 33. Unfortunately, that gives the Desert Water Agency control of the access. Do not enter Section 33 – it has cameras, guards, no trespassing signs and you will be cited. The Forest Service controls section 28. In the past, they have issued the DWA a special use permit.
The DWA is in the process of renewing its use permit for Section 28. Currently, as dictated by the Forest Service, there are no non-motorized restrictions in section 28. You can hike, bird watch, or canyoneer in the watercourse. The only restriction is stay off of DWA property (tanks, pipelines, that kind of thing). The problem: DWA is denying access to Section 28 with no authorization and, according to local sources, has posted no trespassing signs along with guards and cameras. The DWA has generally not interfered with hikers on the PCT, but if one were to walk up the road towards the structures or up the service road towards the water tank, they would typically be met by a security guard and be told to leave.
The Coalition of American Canyoneers is in communication with the Forest Service to resolve this issue. In the future we would like to open communications with the DWA to see if we could reach a compromise for access through Section 33.
On August 28, 2014 the comment period closed for re-issuance of DWA’s special use permit. The following letter was sent to the San Bernardino National Forest in regards to the license renewal:
I. The Coalition of American Canyoneers (hereinafter referred to as the CAC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. We work on behalf of the interests of the canyoneering community. One of our functions is advocacy for access to public lands.
II. It has come to our attention that the lease held by the Desert Water Agency (DWA) of the National Forest lands in Township 3 South, Range 3 East, Section 28 (Section 28) is currently in the process of being renewed.
III. We have examined the DWA’s application for renewal, and we find that it is substantially incomplete. To wit:
A. Structures. Those structures operated by the DWA which can be clearly seen in a satellite photograph of Section 28 (http://caltopo.com/map?id=5M51) are not enumerated in the DWA’s application for renewal. Inasmuch as those structures are not listed in the renewal application but do constitute land use and may have substantive environmental and other impacts on the public lands in Section 28, the DWA’s application for renewal cannot be considered complete. The observable structures have been labeled for references as follows: Structure 1, Structure 2 and Structure 3. Note that structure 3 may or may not be completely within the confines of Section 28. For further discussion of this point, see section V of this communication, below. The approximate latitude and longitude of each of the structures is as follows:
33.87364470, -116.6814083, Structure 1
33.87347795, -116.6815880, Structure 2
33.87360572, -116.6816993, Structure 3
B. Residential use. At least one of the structures operated by the DWA appears to be a residence. Residential use is not described in the permit application. The permit application cannot be considered complete until all uses are listed.
C. Electronic surveillance. The DWA has placed electronic surveillance devices on the lands contained within Section 28. The use and location of these devices are not described in the permit application. The permit application cannot be considered complete until all uses are listed.
IV. Inasmuch as the DWA’s application for renewal is substantially incomplete, we urge the US Forest Service to suspend consideration of renewal until an amended application, one that is complete, is received from the DWA.
V. The precise location of the boundary between Township 3 South, Range 3 East, Section 28 and Township 4 South, Range 3 East, Section 33 is not clear. The last known Survey of Record of this boundary occurred in 1896, according to records publicly available. Without a proper Survey of Record, it is impossible for the public to reasonably understand what is contained in Section 28 and therefore impossible for the public to have a reasonably informed opinion concerning the DWA’s application for renewal.
VI. Inasmuch as the public does not have the information necessary to form a reasonable opinion regarding the DWA’s application for renewal, we urge the US Forest Service to suspend consideration of renewal until such time as a Survey of Record of Township 3 South, Range 3 East, Section 28 and Township 4 South, Range 3 East, Section 33 can be completed.
VII. Regardless of whether the renewal process for Section 28 proceeds or is suspended, the CAC urges the US Forest Service to write in specific provisions. The current provisions in the Proposed Action in the section entitled “Non-Exclusive Use” should be expanded to expressly allow non-motorized recreational activities including but not limited to: photography, hiking, picnicking, rock climbing, canyoneering and bird-watching, The “Non-Exclusive Use” section should specifically state that public passage on foot on the lands in Section 28 be permitted. These additions are necessary due to the DWA’s long-standing practice of forbidding any and all public access.
Chairman, Board of Directors
Coalition of American Canyoneers