About 1,500 tickets were purchased Sunday morning for the shuttle to the picturesque “Super Bloom,” where wildflowers were blanketing the Gavilan Hills in eastern Lake Elsinore, and where visitors endured wait times of an hour or more, officials said.
An estimated 16,000 to 20,000 people frolicked in the poppy fields on Saturday, and measures put in place to avoid the pandemonium from the throngs of visitors last weekend were largely successful, a Lake Elsinore spokesperson said.
Officials announced the coordinated strategy on Thursday. Shuttle service is available until 8 p.m., with buses retrieving people every few minutes from a dirt parking lot adjacent to the Nichols Road exit from northbound Interstate 15, and at the Lake Elsinore Outlets Mall for people exiting I-15 from the south, officials said.
With another day of crowds expected Sunday, two additional busses were added to the rotation.
“The Super Bloom has created significant challenges for the community and shown the world the natural beauty of Lake Elsinore,” Manos said. “Together, we want to make this a much more manageable experience.”
The acres of orange and yellow poppies carpeting 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.
Last weekend became chaotic when sightseers — by one estimate, 50,000 people at any given time — swamped Lake Elsinore to trek into the 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 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 mitigation plan this 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 said segments of Lake Street and Nichols Road would be restricted, with no through traffic. He added that no pedestrian or vehicle traffic was being permitted to enter Walker Canyon.
According to Caltrans spokesman Catalino Pining, changeable overhead message signs along I-15 and the Riverside (91) Freeway kept 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.
California Highway Patrol Capt. John Tyler said more officers would be “out roving” this weekend, particularly 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.”
Last Sunday, an estimated 500 motorists parked on the shoulders of I-15 and stampeded 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.”
Perez said Horsethief Canyon at Temescal Canyon Road, as well as Hostettler Road at Temescal Canyon and De Palma Road — all in the Temescal Valley — were to be restricted to residents-only traffic, with deputies checking for identification.
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 a couple weeks.
He emphasized that people should also stick to trails to avoid rattlesnakes, which are emerging from winter hibernation.
More information about the weekend closures and Super Bloom sightseeing is available at www.Lake-Elsinore.org.
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