Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Buttermilk Pit Toilet--Comments Needed

Andrew Schurr of the group Friends of the Inyo wrote to me recently about a proposal from the Forest Service to construct one or two permanent pit toilets with wheelchair accessible paths adjacent to the Buttermilk boulders.
The proposal mentions two locations: 1) the parking/turn-around at the Birthday Boulders, and 2) the gravel pit just before the Peabody Boulders on the right hand side of Buttermilk Road. This latter is an old borrow pit that has become a large parking pullout at the base of an old disused 4-wheel-drive track a hundred yards or so before the Peabody Boulders.
The Forest Service proposal states an intent to build a toilet at the Birthday Boulders either at the end of the summer or early fall this year, and then to build a second one at the gravel pit also known as the "borrow pit" only if needed.
I would prefer not to see a permanent structure placed at the Birthday Boulders as it would be ugly and present other problems. So choosing the borrow pit location as the first, and ideally, the only option would seem like a better approach to me. Here’s why:

Visual problems:
Birthday Boulders Site: Visual impacts would be a disaster here. A permanent toilet would be an eyesore. This area is high on a plain and, as viewed from the boulders, any toilet structure will stand out against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This area is famed for its beauty. Why ruin it?
Borrow Pit Site: This would not ruin the view from the boulders. From nearly all perspectives this location will be unobtrusive. Even a large toilet block here could be made to blend in against the hillside and have little impact.

Camping problems:
Birthday Boulders Site: We really must do what we can to REDUCE camping in and around the Birthday Boulders and the Birthday Boulders parking spots. A toilet placed here would undoubtedly increase camping at this location. This fragile area is not suited as a permanent campsite with all the accompanying erosion and visual impacts of tents, cars, campers, networks of paths etc. I would like to encourage people to camp away from the boulders.
Borrow Pit Site: Increased camping here will have less of an impact as the area is less visible and is already impacted from previous use.

Access problems:
Birthday Boulders Site: This is a site nearly exclusively used by climbers. It is at the end of a spur, off of a small side road that diverges from the only regularly used access road to the Buttermilk area. Climbers specifically choose this place to park for its proximity to the boulders, and on busy days all the parking in this vicinity is taken up by climbers. Few if any other users choose to take this spur road and so this climber-specific location may lessen the value of the toilet for all other groups as well as present a parking problem.
Borrow Pit Site: This site is occasionally used as a parking spot by climbers, but is rarely if ever filled with climbers’ cars. The nearby road is wide and easily accessible by all users of the Buttermilk area. This site is conveniently located beside the only regularly used approach road to the area, taken by virtually everyone.

Winter Access Problems
Birthday Boulders Site: During the winter this site is often inaccessible due to snow, sometimes for weeks.
Borrow Pit Site: Even while the upper area is blocked by snow, the lower site and lower bouldering areas remain in use and nearly always accessible.

Usefulness Problems:
Birthday Boulders Site: Even for many climbers, this site will require a special trip to reach. The site is off of a side road, and along a spur. People approaching the Buttermilks in the morning and intending to climb at any of the lower locations first reached, which is a large proportion of all climbers, could be discouraged from making a special trip to use the facilities. Adding to the discouragement could be a cluster of cars trying to get into and out of this already-crowded turn-around. The roads there are narrow and will get stretched as cars attempt to park and/or pass each other.
Borrow Pit Site: As stated above the location is beside everyone’s approach so there’s no reason not to use it for anyone needing to ”go” as they arrive at the area. The Buttermilk Road is wide at this point and stopping would be relatively easy.

The comment period for this proposal is 30 days and nearly up. In fact those wishing to express their opinion on this only have until July 15 to do so. Please submit comments to Lesley Yen, White Mountain Ranger District, 798 N. Main Street, Bishop, CA 93514; fax 760-873-2563; phone 760-873-2524; email There is a link to proposed actions here. I believe I have expressed the proposal accurately but if you wish to see the two-page pdf from the Forest Service please drop a line to Lesley or me (email at right) and ask for it.
Having spoken to Lesley recently I know that the Forest Service is genuinely interested in people’s opinions and may reconsider the proposal accordingly. If you can drop a line or call Lesley to politely express your thoughts on this, that would be great.