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SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Drought Blamed for Dip in Park Visitors

One more side effect has been attributed to Southern California’s current drought condition: decreased attendance at the county’s largest park, Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in South County.

Nearly 6,000 fewer people visited the park in 1990 than the previous year, making it the lowest annual total since 1981 and only about one-half the record high in 1985, according to totals released by county officials.

Tim Miller, the county’s parks manager, admitted that he was perplexed by the situation but blamed the loss of attendance on the drought.

“I’ve talked with the rangers out there, and they agreed with me that the only thing we can identify is the drought situation,” Miller said. “When you have plenty of rainfall, and the wildflowers are out there and the creeks are running, those things tend to lure people to the park. But when it’s hot and dry over an extended period of time, people tend to not come out.”

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A total of 33,083 people visited the pristine, 6,700-acre park off Ortega Highway during 1990, compared to 38,860 during 1989. The 1990 total was even lower than in 1987, the year after two mountain lion attacks, closed the park for nearly three months.

Because of problems with mountain lions, restrictions were placed on park visitors starting in January, 1987. Since then, children have been banned from the park’s 30 miles of trails and only allowed in the visitors’ center and in the picnic areas near the park entrance.

“Frankly, I wish we didn’t have to put restrictions on visitors out there. It kills me to have to keep children out, but that’s the way it is,” Miller said.

Miller admits that predicting attendance figures and explaining them is not an exact science.

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“We put out brochures, we’ve been on cable television and had a booth at the Orange County Fair describing our parks,” Miller said. “But there are still people in the county that don’t even know Caspers park is out there.”


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