By Bianca Bruno
LAKE ELSINORE – Over the last few weeks, thousands of wildflower enthusiasts have descended on a small Southern California town to experience the “super bloom” of California poppies and other wildflowers brought on by a very wet winter.
But the chaos of managing the crowds caused the city to temporarily close access to the hills to the public Sunday.
Lake Elsinore, a city of about 66,000 people located in Riverside County, is in the midst of a “Super Bloom” of California wildflowers on the hillsides of the Walker Canyon Ecological Reserve in the Temescal Mountains.
California’s deserts experienced similar blooms in 2016 and 2017, during which Lake Elsinore also saw its hillsides blanketed in orange poppies. But those years apparently did not draw the same crowds as have been flocking to the town recently.
According to the Los Angeles Times, between 50,000 and 100,000 people visited Walker Canyon each day over the weekend.
In a Facebook post to the city’s page Sunday, city officials announced they had decided to close access to Walker Canyon after an “unbearable weekend” which was “miserable and caused unnecessary hardships for the entire community.”
Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos, clad in a highlighter-yellow and orange traffic safety vest emblazoned with his last name, posted a series of videos to the city’s Facebook page Sunday discussing the gridlock traffic for miles in both directions on Interstate 15 and local roadways. The city hoped the videos would help residents avoid the congestion caused by flower gawkers.
On the Walker Canyon Trail Sunday, thousands of people of all ages made the trek to see the poppies. Families pushed strollers up the dirt path while some parents wore their kids in baby carriers or coaxed their toddlers to cooperate for a family photo shoot as the sun beamed down on the trail.
Some visitors wore athletic gear and hiking apparel, perhaps intent on completing the roughly four-mile trail to reach less-visited parts for poppy-viewing. Other visitors were clearly intent on getting nice photos with the flowers near the beginning of the trail and donned sundresses, sandals and other garb impractical for a hike.
But the weekend’s closure was short-lived, as the city announced late Monday morning it had reopened access to the poppy-covered hillsides. Manos, now sporting a suit, said in a Facebook video the city was “forced” to reopen the trail because it didn’t have the resources to keep it closed. He also said people who wanted to view the flowers Sunday were parking on the freeway or making other unsafe decisions to get a glimpse.
In a Facebook post announcing Walker Canyon had been reopened, city officials Monday referenced “the thousands of people from around the world” who came to see the flowers and “shop in our stores and dine in our restaurants.”
The city suggested visitors go to other Southern California locations experiencing similar blooms, including the Hartford Spring Reserve in Perris; the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve in Murrieta; the Box Springs Mountain Reserve in Moreno Valley; and the Hidden Valley Wildlife Area in Riverside.
Manos did not immediately return phone calls for comment.
The wildflower event follows an unusually wet winter across the entire Golden State, one that has made all 164,000 square miles of the state drought-free for the first time in eight years.