By Ken Stone
A day after declaring a #PoppyNightmare and closing flower-filled Walker Canyon to visitors, the city of Lake Elsinore on Monday reopened the site of its historic super bloom.
But the city, in its social media announcement, called parking “EXTREMELY limited.”
“Lake Elsinore, we truly understand how difficult this natural phenomenon has been on our residents. This is something unlike anything we have ever experienced in our city and may never again. It demonstrates the #ExtremeBeauty that we have right here in our city, which is one of many reasons so many have chosen Lake Elsinore as their home,” the city said on Instagram.
Officials said they continue to evaluate all options to reduce traffic and other strains.
“At this time, it is not feasible for us to keep visitors away from #WalkerCanyon,” the city said. “We are working on a new plan and new options for the coming weekend and will be sure to share this with our community as soon as possible.”
The post ended with hashtags including #hangintherele.
On Saturday, the city said the flood of flora-gazers was creating “chaos” and a “public safety crisis.”
The early Instagram plea, which included a map of road closures, said the city brought in all available staff and “as many outside traffic controllers that we could, more shuttles.”
But it said the city of 66,000 souls was not made for “Disneyland size crowds.”
“We have reached out to our neighboring and county agencies for help,” it said. “We have reached out to Caltrans. We have reached out to CHP. We are running out of options.”
The page urged what others have called poppy peepers to come another weekend or a weekday.
#SuperBloom Update: Walker Canyon has reopened. However, parking is EXTREMELY limited. Lake Street and Nichols Road have also been reopened. Lake Elsinore, we truly understand how difficult this natural phenomenon has been on our residents. This is something unlike anything we have ever experienced in our City and may never again. It demonstrates the #ExtremeBeauty that we have right here in our City, which is one of many reasons so many have chosen Lake Elsinore as their home. Lake Elsinore is the destination for so many unique and incredible features. And, this attraction has brought thousands of people from around the world to not only see our City, but to shop in our stores and dine in our restaurants. The City continues to evaluate all possible options to reduce the strain on our community, the freeway, and local roadways. At this time, it is not feasible for us to keep visitors away from #WalkerCanyon. We are working on a new plan and new options for the coming weekend and will be sure to share this with our community as soon as possible. #hangintherele #LakeElsinore #CaliforniaPoppy
“The wait times are increasing, the shuttles are stuck in traffic, and we encourage you to consider waiting for another day,” the city said.
Last week, a San Diego makeup artist drove 75 miles to see the Lake Elsinore super bloom and reported hearing threats to tow cars parked on hillside shoulders.
“One [officer] even announced … ‘It’s just orange flowers, people — what’s the big deal?” Tat Sy posted on Facebook.
The big deal led Thursday to Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos announcing — in a “POPPY APOCALYPSE UPDATE” — that shuttle vans would be dispatched.
According to his Facebook post, Stryder Transportation will provide four shuttles, up to 25 passengers each. They’ll take visitors from the Outlets at Lake Elsinore to Walker Canyon, an epicenter of the poppy explosion visible from Interstate 15.
Saturday night, Manos was crying uncle.
“Residents have been screaming at the people directing traffic,” he said on Facebook. “Met people from Sacramento. Estimated 50,000 visitors. Twice as many as last weekend. People lined up since 5:30 am. It’s insane.”
In reply to a resident who complained city efforts made things worse, Manos said: “I know it was bad today, but I honestly believe that it would’ve been worse without the shuttles and the traffic plan.”
Manos said that when he asked the city traffic engineer to work up a plan this week, “we only expected about 10,000 or 20,000 visitors. We got more like 40,000 or 50,000.”
Locals were at wit’s end over traffic delays.
“Sounds like you guys are failing at traffic control,” posted Frank Rodriguez, suggesting signs that say “residents only” with police checking IDs. “Get some Mexicans from over the border and I guarantee you they will ensure smooth traffic.”
But most were sympathetic to the mayor’s plight.
Courtney McManaway wrote: “How on earth is the city supposed to be responsible for and accommodate these visitors? I can’t believe people are actually blaming city officials…. Some of you need a little patience and understanding.”
Manos noted that the city wasn’t advertising the bloom.
“There are no presale tickets,” he said. “It’s a free public space. It’s incredibly hard for an engineer to plan for something like this and we may have to resolve ourselves to the idea that there may not be a good solution.”
He said no one enjoys a tough puzzle more than he does, “so we’ll keep working. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a little calmer with less traffic.”
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Shuttles will cost $5 a person, and trips start at 8 a.m. with a last at 7 p.m., said the post. Take Nichols Road offramp to 17600 Collier Ave. for the outlets mall. No pets will be allowed on the shuttles.
Others will take the chances finding a parking spot on Lake Street, where thousands have been ambling to the Walker Canyon Trailhead.
An Oceanside man posted pictures and offered advice on another viewing spot.
“I hiked up the peak of the Temescal Canyon near Lake Elsinore to get the best of the Calif Poppy Flowers Beautiful View on Top Precarious Trail,” Edward Lugan said. “Not Recommended without Good Hiking Boots.”
He advised taking I-15 past Lake Elsinore, getting off at Indian Truck Trail, turning right and heading south parallel to the freeway to the end of road. Then: “Follow Crowds Up Steep Trail.”Lake Elsinore’s Manos said visitors can park along Walker Canyon Road “until it reaches capacity and then it will be closed off and manned to only allow visitors in as spaces become available.”
Once parking on Lake Street is full, he said, traffic will be redirected back onto freeway to go to Nichols Road for the shuttle.
Manos said six police officers, three or four code enforcers and the CHP will help this weekend.
But plans “can be adjusted and resources moved around to try to address concerns,” he said. “This will be a learning situation and will continue to improve over time.”
Updated at 2:25 p.m. March 18, 2019
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