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Buttermilk area in need of ‘facilities’?

July 15, 2011

The Leary Bard boulder in Buttermilk. The Inyo National Forest is proposing the installation of toilets in the Buttermilk area that has seen ever-increasing popularity and visitation. Photo by Tony Symanovich

Everybody does it, even climbers, hikers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts. And, there are so many of them doing it in Buttermilk area that the Forest Service is thinking about putting in facilities – yes, toilets – near the popular climbing boulders.
The Inyo National Forest is wrapping up a public comment period on its proposal to construct up to two permanent, vault toilets near the Buttermilk climbing area. The proposal provides two possible locations for the toilets: the first at Birthday Boulders and the second, if needed in the future, at the Borrow Pit.
Installation for the Birthday Boulders location, which is on another side road off the Buttermilk Road, on a hill and directly adjacent to a parking area used by climbers, is set for late summer or early fall 2011, according to the proposal. However, the INF said the date may be moved back.
The Borrow Pit location is directly off the Buttermilk Road, in a shallow canyon area used for parking or turn around by many Buttermilk visitors.
The toilets are being proposed, according to the scoping letter from the INF, due to “a steadily growing concentration of use around the Buttermilk area for dispersed camping and rock climbing.”
The notice for accepting comments on this proposal was printed in this paper in June. The comment period ends today at midnight, according to Lesley Yen, natural resource specialist who has been collecting the comments. Letters can be dropped off at the front desk of the White Mountain Ranger District, 798 N. Main St. Comments can be faxed to (760) 873-2563 or e-mailed to Yen at
Yen said that 200 comments have been collected thus far, mostly from the climbing community. She said the large amount of comments are a testament to the personal interest in and fondness for this recreation area.
The Friends of the Inyo was contacted for comment on the issue and insisted on responding in writing but failed to respond by press time.
The Access Fund, “a national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment,” does not state on its website whether or not it supports the proposal, but “in accord with the local climbing community,” prefers the Borrow Pit location as a primary location.
The Access Fund said that the Birthday Boulders location “presents a litany of potential issues,” including odor with prevailing wind patterns and visual blight with the Birthday location on a hill in plain view. “The toilet would not be near the main Buttermilk Road thus requiring the addition of signage to maximize the toilet’s utility.”
And, fittingly enough, the Access Fund said there could be problems with access. “Currently, the area is almost exclusively used as climber parking. Even without the toilet, the area is too small to accommodate climber traffic during peak usage. Adding a toilet to the area would increase congestion and potentially lead to more resource damage. Further, during the winter snow can sometimes limit access to the area.”
Camping, already stated as a partial reason for installation of the toilets, would only be encouraged with the addition of facilities, the Access Fund said.
The Borrow Pit location, according to the Access Fund, is already heavily travelled and installing a toilet “will not significantly alter the character of the area, and it will be less affected by increased camping.”
Again, comments are accepted until midnight tonight, by phone to Yen at (760) 873-2524, via e-mail to, by fax to (760) 873-2563, and letters can be dropped off at the front desk of the White Mountain Ranger District, 798 N. Main St.

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