Williamson Rock

Williamson Rock was Southern California’s premier summer sport climbing destination until it was closed in 2005 to protect the endangered Mountain Yellow-Legged Frog (MYLF).

March 2021 Update:
The Angeles National Forest has issued a formal statement regarding the Bobcat Fire damage at Williamson Rock. The USFS has conducted a post-fire ground survey of the upper Littlerock Creek/Williamson Rock area in mid-October, multiple impacts from the Fire were observed including:
• Multiple dead trees fell into the creek channel.
• Up to a foot of accumulated ash throughout the area, including the creek channel.
• Ash and charred wood leachates visibly entering the surface flow of the creek; and,
• Small rockslides from both the north and south slopes that reached all the way to the creek.
Depending on the amount and the intensity of winter precipitation that the area receives, some of these impacts could be even worse as slopes that have lost all their vegetation could experience soil erosion and introduce large debris flows into the creek.

Given the current impacts and the potential for even more post-fire impacts to the population of endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs (MYLF) in the Project area, our partners at the United States Geological Service captured around 15 adult frogs and over 150 tadpoles from the site and moved them either to another suitable location on the ANF or to captive breeding facilities at the Los Angeles Zoo and the University of California – Los Angeles.

The health and persistence of the Littlerock population of MYLF is central to the success of the ongoing Williamson Rock and PCT Trail Access EIS Project. As currently written, the baseline MYLF population size is the primary indicator in the Project’s adaptive management approach. Changed conditions due to the direct and indirect impacts to the area from the Bobcat Fire may likely require an updated assessment of the baseline environment and potential impacts of the Project. The USFS will need to account for the removal of a large portion of the MYLF population and the feasibility of returning animals to the area next year. For these reasons the USFS has decided to pause any further action on the project until late spring of 2021, when the USFS and agency partners can revisit the area and assess the changed conditions and status of the MYLF population.

After the Bobcat Fire, a Closure Order was put into effect for a majority of the burnt area, including this project area. The Closure Order is meant to protect both public safety and the fragile natural resources. The entire area in the Williamson Rock Project is closed to the public by Forest Order 05-01-20-08 until April 1, 2022. In 2021, USFS staff will assess changed conditions, revise Project documentation as needed, and get a final signed Record of Decision before the current closure order expires.

Access Fund continues to work with the USFS and offer support in post-fire stabilization efforts. We will continue to keep the climbing community informed as further assessments of the area are completed by the USFS.

December 2020 Update:
The Angeles Forest Service has confirmed that the Bobcat Fire burned through the Williamson Rock and Little Rock Creek drainage. A full survey of impacts will be conducted by the USFS in spring 2021. The area remains closed to all access under a fire closure. The impacts to Little Rock Creek and the Critical Habitat for the MYLF are unknown at this time. The pending FEIS to decide future recreational access is on hold until at least spring of 2021. Access Fund will continue to update the climbing community as this situation develops.

May 2020 Update
Angeles National Forest released a draft environmental impact statement that proposes several options for re-opening Williamson Rock to climbing. This is the most progress we’ve seen in over a decade, and we are optimistic that with a strong show of support from the climbing community, this will lead to the reopening of this iconic Southern California crag.

The Forest Service is currently working on incorporating all public comments into a Final Environmental Impact Statement which we are awaiting the release. Stay tuned for updates on this project.

View a map of the Williamson Rock Project Area and alternatives being considered, created by David Potter.

Overview of the Issue
The Angeles National Forest restricted access to Williamson as a result of successful lawsuits brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation organizations to protect the MYLF. Williamson Rock remains closed to climbing, but the Access Fund and local climbing advocates remain focused on pressuring the USFS to finalize an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that evaluates climbing management strategies that could allow controlled climbing access while still protecting the MYLF.

Incremental progress was made in the summer of 2014 when the US Forest Service initiated a process for evaluating alternatives for opening the climbing area. After initial project scoping, the Forest Service postponed the project citing lack of funding.

In the spring of 2017, the USFS announced that the EIS is back on track. In early April, Access Fund joined the USFS staff and a group of stakeholders—including Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Crest Trail Association, US Geological Survey, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of Williamson Rock, Latino Outdoors, and environmental consultants—on a site visit to Williamson Rock to kick off this effort. The tone of the meeting was positive and collaborative, with stakeholders discussing reasonable options to protect the endangered MYLF and nesting raptors in order to re-open Williamson Rock to climbing.

What Can You Do to Help?

  • Stay tuned for an Action Alert. The Access Fund will notify you when the 45-day comment period for the draft plan is open. At that time, we will need climbers to rally and submit feedback.
  • Please continue to respect the current closure of Williamson Rock, and be patient with the EIS process. We understand how frustrating this long closure has been for the Southern California climbing community. Representatives from the USFS have noted and applauded the climbing community’s respect of the closure, and this restraint has gone a long way in proving that climbers are responsible users that can be trusted to steward the area and help protect the MYLF.

There is a long and convoluted history related to the Williamson Rock climbing closure. In September 2009, the Forest Service proposed a plan to re-open Williamson Rock to climbing with restrictions meant to protect critical habitat of the MYLF. But around the same time, a fire (known as the Station Fire) burnt much of the Angeles National Forest, including habitat of the MYLF and the local Forest Service district office. Given the loss of MYLF habitat in the Station Fire, the Angeles National Forest decided that Williamson Rock could not be re-opened as proposed.

In June 2011, a court issued an injunction closing Williamson Rock until the completion of an amended MYLF Biological Survey. Shortly thereafter, the Angeles National Forest attempted to institute a 3-year administrative closure of Williamson Rock to protect MYLF habitat. Allied Climbers of San Diego (ACSD), a local climbing organization and joint member of the Access Fund, stepped up to administratively appeal the 3-year closure. Because of the judicial order to close Williamson, the Angeles National Forest withdrew the decision to close Williamson Rock for 3 years and ACSD’s appeal was dismissed as moot. The court order currently authorizes the continued climbing closure at Williamson.

Since the inception of the climbing closure, the Access Fund, Friends of Williamson Rock, Allied Climbers of San Diego, and other local climbers have been working on ways to reopen Williamson Rock to climbing while protecting MYLF habitat. These efforts have included working directly with the Angeles National Forest to devise a balanced plan, submitting numerous advocacy statements and comment letters asking for reasonable climbing access, an Access Fund grant that funded a trail consultant to plan alternate low-impact access. Our coalition of groups have also lobbied the region’s Congressional delegation to urge the US Forest Service to implement an appropriate plan for the area that includes climbing. The Access Fund prepared a joint comment letter in 2014 with ACSD on the US Forest Service’s proposed Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement that considered management alternatives for the area.

In addition to working on the Forest Service’s planning efforts, the Access Fund and our partners at the Outdoor Alliance recently participated in efforts that designated the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument which includes Williamson Rock. Access Fund advocated for the National Monument proclamation to include mention of the recreation values associated with Williamson Rock. Access Fund will be launching a key advocacy campaign in the next year that will focus on making sure the monument’s management plan allows for reasonable and appropriate climbing access at Williamson.

For more information e-mail [email protected].