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.


J V said...

Thanks Wills.

Justin said...

thanks for sharing Wills. Writing an email now.

c said...

thanks for posting this! sharing with everyone i know :)

maki said...

Thanks for the post! the Forest Service has been diligently working on this for some time and appreciates all the comments they get from the climbing community!

Sooze said...

Wills, thanks for taking the time on this. Your opinions are well founded and make perfect sense. Now let's get the powers-that-be to see it!


Mike Yoshioka said...

Will, thanks for this post!
The INF has a relatively promising public-education foundation already set for distribution, instruction, and enforcement of human-waste pack-it-out resources.
The deconstruction of solar toilets on Mt Whitney holds some context that ought to: 1) inform the dialogue on the Buttermilks; and 2) challenge the climbing community to demonstrate an adaptive behavior that serves to normalize a new culture of environmental engagement.

Ken Ryder said...

How about a toilet that looks like a boulder: concrete slab, rebar skeleton, shotcrete (light weight concrete) sprayed over the frame, climbing holds sculpted into the surface. That way climbers can get some burns while waiting their turns. Similar to what the Bozeman Boulder Initiative has done here in our parks. Think outside the box.

Ralf said...

Hi Wills,

thanks for this post. I agree with the most of your arguments. Despite this I would like to say that the idea to build up a pit toilet is great and helpful to us climbers. I will write an email to Lyen.

Greetings from germany


Wills Young said...

Hi Ralf,
Good point, thanks.

B.Hatchett said...

This is a great discussion to open! I strongly support a borrow pit toilet. The preservation of the Buttermilk aesthetic is paramount and the location of a toilet in the Birthday area would contradict this mission, as Wills has clearly demonstrated. The borrow pit location would minimize negative impacts and maximize positive impacts. May I suggest to the USFS that a composting toilet be considered? The borrow pit is near enough to the stream (BirthBldrs likely has similar issue, but an analysis of the local shallowgrd/sfc hydrology would be needed to show if such is the case) that ecological considerations of shallow groundwater and surface flows must be taken. Composting toilets enhance decomposition processes and thus reduce (compared to pit toilets) availability of pathogenic microorganisms and nutrients to the environment. By building a composting toilet in the Borrow Pit we can maximize the services provided by the Buttermilks throughout the year, including their protection, while minimally impacting the Buttermilks experience. If you want a toilet nearby, just go climb Midnight Lightning!
Ben Hatchett

Frank said...

It seems to me that either location is close enough to the main bouldering area that people will use the toilet. That is the primary concern from my point of view.

I think it is great that The Forest Service is taking the initiative to build this toilet. This is a huge step is reversing the accelerating environmental degradation at the Buttermilks.

Anonymous said...

I say NO toilet. Instead, a wagbag dispenser (and perhaps some educational material or sign about 'accelerating environmental degradation') would be much prefered in my opinion.

Again, isn't the idea to encourage LESS impact? Not only would a toilet (anywhere) encourage more camping, etc, but it's also a permanant structure. Boo.

What's the cost of the
construction and upkeep on a toilet VS. a wagbag dispenser? I would venture to guess that there's quite a bit of difference there.

As a 7 year Bishop resident, I'll be 'bummed' (haha, get it? sorry.) to see a permenent toilet erected in the Buttermilk area.

Victor Lawson

Anonymous said...

whoops, I accidentally cut off part of my post:

I feel that money, view sheds, and even more of the environment can be saved by a wagbag dispenser. One could argue that more people will use the toilet, making it more effective ultimately, but what about all the fuel and chemicals and noise, etc, that a septic truck will use/create? A wagbag dispenser coupled with an educational kiosk of some kind could prove very effective in persuading people to use the service...especially if you included comparisons to it VS a toilet (ex; X gallons of fuel were saved annually by not needing a septic truck, etc).

Lastly, and perhaps my greatest concern personally, is the very real possibility of a toilet paving the way for a pay campground in the area. I can very very easily envision budget cuts making costly toilet maintenance out of the question, in turn making a pay campground the only solution in keeping the toilet open. The other option is of course, closing it...and wouldn't that be something? A locked, permanant structure in buttermilk country.

Victor Lawson

Wills Young said...

Hey Vic,
Please be sure to write to Lesley Yen. It's definitely not too late to influence a decision on this, but you need to get your opinion to Lesley in the next few days. I think you're right about the camping issue. Maybe a permanent toilet anywhere would encourage camping nearby. I agree this needs addressing.
The idea of a pit toilet at the Buttermilks has been something that some local climbers and some climbing group(s) have been working toward for many years, but I had heard little about it lately. This announcement seems to have come out of the blue for a lot of people, myself included. Maybe a bigger effort to involve the local community could have been made in advance of reaching this stage.
Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Letter sent. Basically a copy of my post above.

Yea, I remember an AAC sponsored b-milks cleanup and a follow-up fundraiser for a toilet at the Inyo Council for the Arts awhile back...there was also an AAC dinner hosted in town that weekend. Got to hang with Doug Robinson, and Alan Steck amongst others there. During dinner I got to talking with many people about the pros and cons of the toilet. As most people had traveled all the way from "the other side" of cali. specifically for this fundraiser, they were needless to say, overwhelmingly "for" the toilet.

But that's not the point. The point is, that was quite awhile ago. During that time, everything seemed like a go. But it fizzled for some reason and I had forgotten about it to some degree, and like you, am surprised to hear that it is again a very real and eminent proposal.

Anyway....write in people! Whatever your view!


Chinchen said...

What about putting it on the side road that leads to Checkerboard? It would be more centralized without inhibiting the view of the mountains. the Borrow pit seems too far for most lazy boulderers to hike to use.

Mike V said...

Wills, thanks for this post. I am an out-of-towner but would like to see the pristine nature of the Buttermilks preserved.

I think an additional concern is that many visiting climbers currently choose to pay to camp at the Pit rather than camp for free in the Buttermilks because the Pit has bathrooms. With a toilet near the Buttermilks, many more climbers will probably decide to camp there instead, increasing impact substantially. More climbers may also choose to drive to the Milks, stay there for their entire visit, and then leave town, rather than heading to town to use the bathrooms and spend money at local businesses while they are there.

So even though it would be a big convenience for me personally, I think it would be better for the Buttermilks (and perhaps for Bishop overall) if they stay toilet-free. If a pit toilet must go in, the Borrow Pit is clearly a better location for all the reasons you cite. I sent an email expressing this to Lesley Yen, hopefully the FS will reconsider the Birthday Boulders location!

Ian said...

Thanks for the post. I support putting the toilet in the borrow pit location.

Let me put in my two cents in response to some of the other comments posted here. First off, the process has been in the making for more than a decade.

I realize that the borrow pit location has its downsides, and I respect that the "No Toilet" vote is a legitimate opinion. But please, something needs to happen at the Buttermilks about sanitation.

Don't be an armchair activist who shouts NO at the end of a involved, long-overdue process and then doesn't do anything. You want wag bags, toilets disguised as fake boulders, or a different location? Put forward a rational, realistic proposal that actually has the support of the local climbing community. In my opinion, we have a worthy proposal that needs to go forward.For the sake of our environment and our access, we can't afford to derail this.

Ian Bell

A. Schurr said...

Hey all,
Wills thanks for the post. This discussion is great and many good points and concerns have been raised. That being said this has been in process for over a decade, and many members of the climbing community (both local and national) have worked on it. I have been a Bishop resident for 3 years and work closely in the conservation community with many others who have lived and climbed here for decades longer.

This is verbose so settle in; I have tried to address as many points as possible in defense of the Barrow Pit location:

As much as I wish it were not necessary to install a waste facility in the area I cannot suggest that in good conscience. Bouldering is only getting more and more popular and with the proliferation of gyms it is unlikely that fact will change. The Buttermilks, with their easy access, high concentrations of amazing problems and world famous status will only continue to see more use. In the 3 years I have been living here alone the Birthday Boulder Parking area has nearly doubled in size. I have actually walked up on steaming piles, complete with TP, on the trail between boulders. Something needs to be done.

As a member of the conservation and climbing community, (I am a Stewardship Coordinator by trade and have substantial experience cleaning up after other peoples impacts) also someone who is close to this process I would like to add my input. A WAG bag system would be preferable but completely impractical and pretty ineffective in my opinion. Without substantial enforcement and agency presence a WAG bag system will either be ignored, misunderstood, or they will be stashed or forgotten when people leave. As someone who has packed out innumerable pounds of other peoples poop in a bag this is not a preferable system. Unless there is a dedicated local group who is willing to patrol the area, campsites included, or the Forest Service greatly steps up enforcement and is willing to start writing tickets (neither of which is likely and the latter option would not be pleasant for anyone involved) a WAG bag system will not work. If you want to know how effective it actually is in the Portal go ask the rangers down there how many WAG bags they pack out every year, you will be disgusted with the answer. Or even better go up to trail camp and start looking under rocks for buried “treasure”.

With the extreme ease of access and the diverse and often inexperienced climber user group who visits the area one cannot reasonably expect there to be a broad knowledge base of Leave No Trace techniques, local ethics, or an understanding of ecological impacts caused by what many see as normal acceptable behavior, in my opinion. A great number of climbers are coming straight out of gyms and do not truly understand the sensitivity of the environment, how to dispose of waste properly or, in all likely hood, would be willing to poop in a bag if there was no consequence of doing otherwise. Education can go a long way but more often than not, not far enough. None of this is done out of spite or malice just a lack of understanding regarding human impacts. We also need to remember that many others who are not climbers use the area as well, and unfortunately climbers often get blamed for their impacts, everybody poops!

To be continued, please read the following post for more …

A. Schurr said...


A pay campground in close vicinity of the boulders (or anywhere up there really) would be a travesty, I agree, but it is unlikely. Even getting this single facility proposed for installation has been more than a 10 year process. There is also money committed by the AAC, the Access Fund and several local groups that is marked for maintenance and up keep. This is where the local and national climbing community comes in. The last thing that anyone wants is an access issue. Once a land management agency unilaterally decides that something needs to be done to address a resource problem generally no one is happy with the result, even the agency e.g. Heuco. Being proactive before a problem reaches epic proportions can help avoid unpleasant situations in the future. By being engaged and helping to maintain, clean, and encourage the use of facilities, which can be done through a “host” or steward program among other things (like informational kiosks), the local community can work to avoid future problems.

As far as location, the environmental analysis process and the NEPA process are extremely complicated and involved. Everything from resource and hydrological concerns to archeological concerns must be addressed. The entire Buttermilk region is essentially one massive archeological site. These two locations have been all that has been able to be cleared through an expensive and lengthy process.

A toilet disguised as a boulder would be great but without the money to pay for its design, installation, transportation ect. it is impractical.

After saying all this I encourage everyone to comment as they see fit. I personally support the Barrow Pit location along with small, unobtrusive (you know those informational signs that are at about waist height and have a slightly less than horizontal orientation you see at scenic vistas) informational kiosks in strategic locations is the best option. These signs should not only talk about the environment but also local ethics, taken from the guide book, and the climbing history. The bottom line is something is going to happen whether we like it or not, it is much easier to be angry after the fact than it is to be proactive and meet challenges head on. Let’s be proactive. I am much closer to this process than most and work closely with the Forest Service and even specifically on this and other climbing related issues. If anyone has questions about the process, its history or what goes into making these decisions feel free to contact me acschurr @ gmail . com (did that so I don’t get spammed but you get the idea) and lets get a beer. There is no need for anger or frustration in the local community. This is already too long so I will cut it off here but this is happening, so it is up to us to make sure it happens in the best way possible. Get a hold of me I am for most of the week.

Andrew Schurr
Local Climber and Stewardship Coordinator for
Friends of the Inyo, Bishop, CA

A. Schurr said...

*I am around for most of the week* my bad

Anonymous said...

Fantastically put, Andrew! Thanks.

And Ian, (if you were refering to me) I'm not trying to derail anything from my armchair, rather, I'm just voicing my opinions & commenting during the comment period.

I will say that, I've talked to some very smart people since my post, and have had trouble holding water with my argument. Truth be told, I am not going to fight hard one way or another, and am even surprised I posted in the first place. Feelin froggy I guess. I am all about listening to a well presented and educated opinion and am not afraid to change my mind.

Perhaps I'm just holding on to the "wild west" feeling of the Eastside that I love so much. Maybe by accepting the fact that the Buttermilks now have more in common with say, South Lake, than they do with The Druids I'd be more open to realizing the need for a little user group management. In this case, it's a toilet. Cool. But as soon as they start paving a campground loop, I'm going to go get my monkeywrench. ;)

Thanks again Andrew for your post!


A. Schurr said...

Vic, no problem man. And I am right there with you as far as pavement and more unnecessary development. However a little user group management goes a long way in preventing the need for those kind of things. Hopefully by heading some of the issues associated with increased use off at the pass (so to speak)we can keep the area as minimally developed as possible and keep it sustainable at the same time. The East Side is a special place and we all as the local community need to take steps to keep it as pristine as we can in a sustainable and workable manner by educating the larger community and taking steps to address the issues before they reach a boil. That way when we are all old crotchety geezers we can return and rant about how in our day we used to use foam pads!, instead of crazy floaty hover pads or whatever the damn kids and their hover boards are using, at the same amazing spots we used to hang out, then tell them to get off the lawn and shake our canes.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully we can still own guns by then and we can shoot at them, Norman Clyde style!

T-Bone said...

Perhaps if we put the brakes on overselling this area (blogs, videos, guidebooks) there might be some mitigation of the issues at hand?

I have watched this pristine spot being hyper-marketed since the late 90's, before which there was absolutely no issues. But, like virtually everything else in this world, capitalism prevails and exacts it's toll. Magazines, guidebooks, pads, shoes, clothing -- of all the hundreds of thousands of dollars being milked (no pun intended) out of this area, virtually nothing is being spent to relieve the additional pressure.

Sorry for the rant, but those who have a financial stake in continuing to promote this amazing place need to step up and pay their dues. It's the right thing, and it's what is to be expected.


Anonymous said...

While there is a clear need for something out at the Bmilks, if they put a permanent facility at the birthday boulders, its going to become a full blown defacto campground (as if its not already). The only left to do will be to install fire rings, number posts and start collecting fees. We then say goodbye to whats left of that semi wild feel the milks have always had

Toilet Paper said...

Pit toilet is a great idea and helpful to all climbers.

Anonymous said...

No pay camp ground what ever goes on wag bag movement is ideal for climber climbing any place in bishop

jason said...

What ever happened to this? I was at the milks before Christmas and didn't see any development. The inyo website says it is pending.

I think a toilet is necessary, due to the lack of responsibility people are taking in regards to there bowels. Leave no trace ethics need to be practiced, or you shouldn't be there. The last time we were there, my buddies dog found poo and rolled in it within 5 minutes. Also, a couple months ago my dog dug up a bloody tampon 10 feet from the base of the Iron Man boulder. A used tampon buried in a shallow grave next to probably one of the most popular boulder problems in the world! You should be ashamed of yourself whoever did this!

Cleaning shit off of your dog while camping with limited water, is so gross, wastes precious climbing time, and instills a hate for humanity!

If you got to go, get in your car and drive miles away. Dig it deep and pack out/burn the TP!