Can Southern Californians have good things?
We might find out this weekend when officials impose new rules meant to control rampant crowds going to see this year’s epic super bloom of wildflowers in Lake Elsinore.
Officials said several detours and road closures will be in place this weekend to improve the heavy traffic the super bloom is drawing, and shuttles will transport all visitors to the poppy fields at a cost of $10, double last weekend’s fare of $5. The shuttles will run between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. No animals will be allowed on the buses.
Mayor Steve Manos said he hopes the fare increase, combined with the expected spending by visitors to the city will allow Lake Elsinore to break even on its expenses managing the weekend influx.
Residents will be allowed onto some local streets after several who live in the area were denied access last weekend. Manos said roads to Walker Canyon could be closed again if congestion gets out of control.
“If you live here, you know a lot of the side roads,” said Nicole Dailey, assistant to the city manager. “Take any and every side road.”
On Sunday, Lake Elsinore announced it was closing access to the popular poppy fields in Walker Canyon.
“This weekend has been unbearable,” a Facebook post noting the closure said.
Access was restored the next day in anticipation of lighter weekday crowds, Manos said. But Tuesday afternoon, as city officials worked to come up with a better plan, access was closed again “due to severe congestion,” the city said in a Facebook post.
Between 50,000 and 100,000 flower fanatics visited the canyon Saturday and Sunday, causing traffic jams that overwhelmed Lake Elsinore, which has a population of 63,000, officials said.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to support those numbers,” Manos said in an interview with The Times on Monday. “The impacts on our community have caused some of the residents to voice loud and clear that they’re frustrated by some of the crowds.”
There were also reports of injuries, heat exhaustion and snakebites. One traffic control officer was hit by a car, suffering a minor injury. The driver fled.
Manos spent Monday with staff members and traffic engineers coming up with a new plan for this weekend.
Anticipating this year’s super bloom, Lake Elsinore officials began planning two months ago on how to accommodate visitors and alleviate traffic congestion, including opening two lots for parking at Walker Canyon. But the explosion of flowers ended up being even more spectacular than the super bloom of 2017, which was then the largest in more than a decade.
Beginning Saturday, the northbound lane of Lake Street will be closed between Temescal Canyon and Nichols roads. Westbound Nichols Road will be closed between Lake Street and Collier Avenue. Both on- and offramps onto Lake Street from the 15 Freeway will also be closed.
To access Walker Canyon, drivers traveling south can exit the 15 Freeway onto Indian Truck Trail to Temescal Canyon, while those on the northbound freeway can take any exits south of Nichols Road.
The city is also encouraging visitors to see the blooms elsewhere.
Manos said he hasn’t seen crowds this bad — or poppies this beautiful — in his 32 years as a Lake Elsinore resident.