LAKE ELSINORE (CNS) - A strategy to prevent another “Super Bloom” stampede in Lake Elsinore is in place, officials said today, with road closures, detours and an elevated law enforcement presence planned to spare area residents from traffic misery while giving visitors a chance to enjoy a “once in a lifetime experience.”
“The Super Bloom has created significant challenges for the community and shown the world the natural beauty of Lake Elsinore,” Mayor Steve Manos said during a news briefing alongside multiple state and county officials. “Together, we want to make this a much more manageable experience. We're using a coordinated approach to reduce impacts to residents, while still providing visitors an opportunity to see this amazing public display.”
The acres of orange and yellow poppies saturating hillsides in Walker Canyon, thanks to heavy winter rains, were unlike anything he'd ever seen, Manos said, acknowledging that social media buzz had raised interest to a level no one could have anticipated.
“Tens of thousands of visitors have poured into our city, wanting to take part in this once in a lifetime experience,” the mayor said. “In some ways we've succeeded, and in other ways failed (to maintain order). But what we're doing now will provide a blueprint for future generations to deal with similar events.”
Last weekend became chaotic when sightseers -- by one estimate, 50,000 people at any given time -- swamped Lake Elsinore in order to trek into Walker Canyon from Lake Street to take pictures and video, as well as walk in the poppy fields. Public safety officials completely closed access to the canyon Sunday after city roads turned into virtual parking lots, and one city employee who was attempting to direct traffic was clipped by a hit-and-run driver, suffering minor injuries.
The plan for the coming weekend incorporates full road closures, limited access routes and an expanded shuttle service to contain traffic and pedestrian volumes.
Riverside County sheriff's Capt. Michael Lujan, who heads the Lake Elsinore sheriff's station, said segments of Lake Street and Nichols Road will be restricted, with no through traffic. He added that no pedestrian or vehicle traffic will be permitted to enter Walker Canyon.
“Visitors to the Super Bloom will need to use the shuttle service,” Lujan said. “Forty deputies will be focused on traffic control and enforcement.”
He noted that as conditions dictate, personnel may shut down side streets and block access to corridors to mitigate hazards and traffic spillovers.
California Highway Patrol Capt. John Tyler, who commands the Riverside- area station, said more officers will be “out roving” this weekend, particularly between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., when access to the canyon will be controlled.
“We were overwhelmed last weekend,” Tyler said. “We'll have additional officers out there to keep people moving.”
Shuttle service will be available from a dirt parking lot immediately after exiting Nichols Road from northbound Interstate 15, and at the Lake Elsinore Outlets Mall for people exiting I-15 from the south, officials said.
On Sunday, an estimated 500 motorists parked on the shoulders of I-15 and walked into Walker Canyon when they encountered hours-long backups going into Lake Elsinore, according to the CHP.
“We ask visitors to be respectful of local residents and treat the area as you would want to be treated in your neighborhood,” county Department of Transportation Director Juan Perez said. “Please be patient and follow the signage on the freeways and surface roads. We're blessed by this natural wonder, and we want this to be a good experience for all.”
Shuttle buses at the staging areas are capable of carrying 150 passengers at a time, and more than 50 shuttles will be available, leaving every few minutes Saturday and Sunday.
Perez noted that Horsethief Canyon and Hostettler roads in the Temescal Valley will be restricted to residents-only traffic, with deputies checking for identification.
According to Caltrans spokesman Catalino Pining, changeable overhead message signs along I-15 and the Riverside (91) Freeway will keep motorists informed as to traffic conditions in and around Lake Elsinore, as well as what detours are in place.
“Use alternate routes whenever possible -- Interstate 215 and state Route 74,” Pining said. “People should enjoy the Super Bloom, but do so safely.”
Area residents over the weekend fumed in social media posts about the monstrous traffic and that vegetation was being needlessly trampled as people roamed into the canyon, leaving designated pathways.
Riverside County Parks & Resources Chief Dustin McLain told reporters that visitors should “stay on trails, bring water and wear sturdy shoes” to view the wildflowers.
“It's two miles in and two miles out to see Mother Nature at her best,” McLain said, estimating that the bloom will be gone in two to three weeks.
“It's a downward trend,” he said. “The flowers will wither and wait for the next rain cycle.”
Manos observed that Lake Elsinore and Temescal Valley residents have “suffered through fires, floods and now flowers,” since last August, and even though the city didn't expect an economic windfall from the bloom, Lake Elsinore is “pivoting toward tourism, and this is a great stress test.”
More information about the weekend closures and Super Bloom sightseeing is available at www.Lake-Elsinore.org.