Valley News -

By Kim Harris
Managing Editor 

Lake Elsinore reopens Walker Canyon for poppy viewing following harrowing weekend

 

Last updated 3/18/2019 at 7:29pm

Kim Harris photo

Early morning visitors to Lake Elsinore begin to arrive at the poppy fields located at Walker Canyon, Friday, March 15.

The city of Lake Elsinore reopened Walker Canyon for poppy viewing following a harrowing weekend when drivers parked on Interstate 15 to get to the canyon which was overfilled with eager visitors.

Walker Canyon was once again open Monday, March 18, after the super bloom of poppies brought an estimated 100,000 people to the city to view the state flower in its natural environment the previous weekend.

Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos took to social media to announce the reopening.

"We expended lots of resources over the last weekend," he said. "We have folks out there ticketing and towing cars once again."

According to Manos, unlike the melee that caused massive traffic backups March 16 and 17, the freeway was moving "fairly well," but the Monday, the fields were once again full with visitors flocking to see the city's beautiful curse.

"We are full," he said. "If you have the opportunity to come back later or another day, we would really appreciate that."

Many complained on social media about the city choosing to reopen the canyon, but Manos said that the city really had no choice other than to allow poppy viewers in.

"The reason why we reopened Walker Canyon is essentially we don't have the resources to close the entire mountain," he said.

Long wait times, backed up traffic and other public safety concerns caused the city to bring in all available staff and eventually shut the viewing down Sunday, March 17.

"The city has expended all available resources to address the #SuperBloom. We have brought in all available staff, as many outside traffic controllers that we could, more shuttles, and our small city cannot sustain crowds of this magnitude," the city said on its Instagram page Saturday, March 16.

While the city struggled to maintain order, the influx of people became too much for its resources to handle so Sunday, just after 5 p.m., Lake Elsinore announced the shutdown of Walker Canyon for poppy viewing, taking to social media to announce the closure.

"#PoppyShutdown: The situation has escalated beyond our available resources. No additional shuttles or visitors will be allowed into Walker Canyon. This weekend has been unbearable Lake Elsinore," the city posted on Instagram and Twitter, adding it would "evaluate all options next week" including ways to shut the poppy viewing down completely.

"We had a number of problems that stemmed from the closure yesterday, people going in other places and pulling off on the sides of the roads, parking on the freeway, some things are out of our control," Manos said.

During the height of the poppy frenzy Sunday, the California Highway Patrol had a running report of motorists' activities as they approached the city of Lake Elsinore's Lake Street exit off Interstate 15, Sunday.

Everything from children playing on the side of the freeway to people parking and exiting their vehicles as they walked their dogs, appeared on the CHP incident page at https://cad.chp.ca.gov/Traffic.aspx. Reports of people picking poppies on the side of the freeway along with hundreds of vehicles stopping and opening their car doors, preventing other vehicles from moving through the area, was also reported.

One update from the CHP, which was ticketing those parked illegally, reported "thousands of vehicles" stopping to view the flowers with "children walking down the freeway."

Further north at the intersection of Indian Truck Trail and I-15, California Highway Patrol reported much of the same behavior as their counterparts in Lake Elsinore. Hundreds of cars stopped along the roadway to view the poppies blooming there.

"Hundreds of vehicles parked illegally," and "multiple parties" out of their vehicles and "walking in lanes" of the freeway, the inland Communication Center for CHP reported at 4:46 p.m. on the traffic incident page.

In an effort to control antics of drivers stopping along the roadway to view the super bloom, the city brought in shuttle buses to assist with the crowds over the weekend, charging $5 a person to offset the cost. Shuttles ran Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those wishing to ride the shuttle, the city's preferred way for people to get to Walker Canyon, could park at the Lake Elsinore Outlets and shop while they waited nearly two hours to climb aboard the shuttle to Walker Canyon.

"People are creating chaos out there, and we have already had an injury. This is a public safety crisis, so we ask your support," the city's statement issued Saturday said.

A city employee was struck by a hit-and-run driver Saturday, and a visitor was bitten by a rattlesnake along Walker Canyon trail.

Lake Elsinore's Instagram post said the city had reached out to the neighboring cities and county agencies for help.

"Our city is not made for Disneyland-size crowds," the post said. "We have reached out to Caltrans. We have reached out to CHP. We are running out of options."

While visitors flock to the city, many residents are not happy, taking to social media to voice their concerns.

"All available staff?" I saw two guys the whole 45 minutes from Riverside to the Park and Ride, one Twitter commenter who was identified as @Angelic Flautist, said. "This is ridiculous, whatever was going on before was better than this. Get it together; this is not right."

Manos said that the city is trying to do the right thing and that he understands the frustrations of residents.

"Some believe if we simply shut the road down that people will politely turn around and head home or that we can simply use a checkpoint to verify identities and allow thousands of residents through closed roads. That's not realistic," he said.

Traffic into Lake Elsinore from both the north and south backed up for miles Saturday and Sunday. Riverside County Emergency Management Department, CHP, Riverside County Sheriff's Department and city staff were all on hand to help with traffic congestion.

Much of the same is expected for the coming weekend, so the city asked residents to show understanding for the situation which is beyond its control.

Kim Harris photo

The hillsides at Walker Canyon in Lake Elsinore are covered with poppies and other wildflowers, causing an 'unsustainable' influx of visitors to the city.

Visitors should refrain from coming to the area on weekends and instead are encouraged to visit during the week when the crowds are smaller.

"The city is truly trying to do the best and right thing. While the community has expressed many concerns, please understand that many things are beyond our control and we are doing what we can. We wish we could do more," the city's social media posting said.

"We are asking people to be patient," Manos said Monday. "We have heard you. We are working on a solution."

While the city struggles with the crowds, they are asking both residents and visitors to remain patient.

"We must remain flexible to this once in a lifetime opportunity and crisis facing our city," the city said.

For the most up to date information on "Poppy Apocalypse," visit http://www.myvalleynews.com.

Kim Harris can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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