RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) – Riverside County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Jeffries vowed Tuesday to hammer out a plan of action with state and local agencies to prevent another “Super Bloom” stampede in and around Lake Elsinore this weekend.
“The blooming poppies may be fun to look at, but the traffic problems they’ve created are unmatched in the county,” said Jeffries, a longtime Lake Elsinore resident. “We’re seeing 40,000 to 50,000 people going down there on a given day. It has done irreparable harm to our local residents. People in Temescal Valley have been unable to get in or out of their homes and businesses.”
Jeffries said the California Highway Patrol and county sheriff’s deputies were “overwhelmed” Saturday and Sunday by the mass of motorists who descended on Walker Canyon along Interstate 15, as well as just to the west of Lake Elsinore along the Ortega (74) Highway, where one lane of the two-lane corridor had to be shut down Sunday because of the volume of vehicles parking on the narrow shoulders.
The supervisor said the blooms in the Cleveland National Forest attracted the throngs on the 74.
“These caused some really serious traffic issues,” the chairman said. “There weren’t enough resources. It was pretty severe.”
Jeffries intends to meet with public safety heads from the county, the CHP and the Emergency Management Department. He also is trying to set up a meeting with officials from the governor’s Office of Emergency Services to procure additional “state law enforcement assistance.”
“The traffic plan for the poppies is still being worked out,” sheriff’s Deputy Robyn Flores told City News Service. “We will have resources there (for the weekend).”
A Riverside CHP Office spokesman, Officer Dan Olivas, told CNS that his superiors were coordinating with county officials to establish a strategy for stopping traffic chaos on I-15. Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos said Monday that public safety personnel re-opened the main trail into Walker Canyon, just to the east of I-15, because there was no way to close “an entire mountain” to keep sightseers away.
This year’s record-breaking rainfall have led to the hills of Walker Canyon coming alive in orange hues, causing traffic on the adjacent freeway to grind to a halt and drivers to do dangerous things – like illegally park on the side of the freeway – in order to take in the so-called super bloom in person and maybe get a few pictures to post on social media.
At one point Sunday, the CHP estimated 500 vehicles had been parked on the shoulder of I-15 at Lake Street, where occupants headed off into the canyon to view the carpets of yellow poppies blanketing hillsides.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a longtime Lake Elsinore resident and former mayor of the city, was aghast Sunday at the way travel arteries had been turned into virtual parking lots because of the huge influx of motorists, all heading to the canyon.
She tweeted that she hoped more people would opt to see the poppies in Anza-Borrego in San Diego County this coming weekend.
Area residents fumed in social media posts that vegetation was being needlessly trampled and not enough law enforcement resources were in place to deter motorists from taking hazardous risks to reach the canyon.
A shuttle service was established at the Lake Elsinore Outlets to ferry visitors to the poppy fields, but that was canceled Sunday when traffic conditions became unbearable.
Walker Canyon reopened Monday after being shut down due to the weekend frenzy.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)