Okay. It may only be a single double-vault toilet. And it’s not even installed yet. But it’s a start.
On Tuesday, community members debated stewardship plans for the Buttermilks Recreation Area and other popular recreation hubs in the Bishop area which have become increasingly overrun with people, trash, and sometimes, a combination thereof.
Elaine Kabala of the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments (ESCOG) facilitated the meeting, which took place at Bishop’s Cerro Coso campus.
The Buttermilks was one of eight projects (of 183 considered) which received grant funding in 2022.
Tim Belvins, a consultant being paid out of the grant to solicit public feedback, addressed the audience after Kabala, and said he’d received 120 comments from approximately 70 people.
Concerns from the community were wide-ranging, including camping, parking, roadway conditions, trail damage, and fires. Attendees discussed potential solutions such as paving to address roadway conditions and formalized parking lots to curb destruction of wild areas.
One community member recommended banning liquid chalk from the area after one man complained that chalk marks basically look like graffiti. “Ban liquid chalk use in Buttermilks and Happies and Sads. Using liquid chalk on rocks has contributed to the degradation of their appearance visually and to their friction,” she said.
Why does liquid chalk suck? When applied to climbing holds and rock surfaces, it can gradually degrade the natural texture and friction of the rock over time. This degradation affects not only the climbing experience but also the rock’s overall integrity, impacting its long-term sustainability. Moreover, liquid chalk has a tendency to persist on the rocks long after the climbers have left, creating an eyesore for those who visit the area.
The idea of paving the road leading to the Buttermilk Recreation Area sparked concerns and apprehensions about increased traffic. One local resident said, “I don’t want the road paved under any circumstance.” This echoed a prevailing concern about unintended environmental consequences. Another community member repeated these fears, but pointed out one possible benefit, saying, “Paving the road comes with consequences, but it also cuts down on dust.”
Locals expressed reservations about making it even easier to attract even more visitors to an already busy area, emphasizing the importance of striking a balance between accessibility and preservation.
A concerned community member raised the question: “So who is going to pay for this?” To which Kabala responded by highlighting plans to double the number of toilets and facilitate future conversations. “What would come out of this is only recommendations,” Kabala told the audience.
In breakout groups, attendees like Diana Cunningham stressed the importance of enforcing existing rules, especially regarding fire pits and designated trails. The overwhelming number of visitors and lack of stewardship were concerning to many.
Seth McKinney highlighted the need for accessibility and suggested a shuttle service to mitigate car traffic. The idea garnered both support and thoughtful insights from the community. “Hell, I’m a local, and I’d love to take a bus to the Buttermilks,” McKinney said. He recognized that accessibility sometimes means limitations and saw the shuttle as a solution to ensure equitable access, and continued access.
Another community member chimed in, “The sheer number of people is overwhelming.” Amid the discussions, there was an understanding that the shuttle service, if well-implemented, could offer a practical solution to manage traffic and preserve the Buttermilks’ natural beauty. But then again, who is going to pay for it?
The influx of visitors into town who choose to literally live in non-camping designated areas for weeks on end around the Buttermilk Recreation Area has become a growing concern. As Cunningham said, “Because so many people don’t practice leave no trace, this freestyle camping – dispersed and informal campsites – adds debris and trash. … People are not being good stewards.”
Graham, a Bishop resident, said “People have been coming here forever,” emphasizing the long history of Buttermilks as a climbing destination. Some generally agreed. Cunningham, not so much. She said she has been climbing in the Buttermilks before guidebooks, before the internet and cell phones, and disagreed that it has always been this popular, and disagreed that climbers are always good stewards. Graham, decades younger than Cunningham, explained how nowadays every climbing gym has pictures of the Buttermilks, and there are even popular events nowadays held at the boulders that hundreds, if not thousands of climbers attend. “I don’t know a climber who isn’t a good steward,” he said.
If that were the case, there wouldn’t be trash, human feces, destroyed vegetation, and campers taking over campsites for weeks.
Most would agree that over the decades, the Buttermilk Recreation Area has experienced a remarkable transformation, evolving from a hidden gem known primarily to a select few into a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
As the meeting concluded, the next steps were outlined, with plans to meet twice more before year’s end.