Officials in Lake Elsinore will join law enforcement personnel Tuesday to detail plans for mitigating traffic nightmares and other challenges stemming from attention to the rich poppy bloom that has begun in the hills of Walker Canyon — a sight unseen for four years.
Lake Elsinore Mayor Natasha Johnson, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco and Riverside-Area California Highway Patrol Lt. Kraig Palmer will be highlighting public safety, traffic control and related measures slated to be put in place in anticipation of swarms of people flocking to the canyon.
“City, county, transportation and safety personnel have been working together to create a unified approach to addressing the `2023 Poppy Bloom,”’ according to a statement released by the city.
The bloom has been taking shape for the past several weeks, following a string of winter rainstorms. The hillsides are expected to be carpeted with orange and yellow wildflowers by next month.
The last “Super Bloom” occurred in March 2019, also in the wake of major winter rainfall, some of it damaging.
Officials were caught off-guard by the surge of visitors to Lake Elsinore, Horsethief Canyon and Wildomar. During the weekend before the official start of spring, tens of thousands of people converged on the area, jamming Interstate 15, turning shoulder space into temporary parking, as well as clogging the Ortega (74) Highway and lining residential streets, virtually trapping locals, including Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries and then-state Sen. Melissa Melendez, in their homes.
Both publicly complained about the overwhelming numbers in social media posts at the time.
Law enforcement personnel initially attempted to close roadway access to Walker Canyon, but that didn’t stop people from hiking into the hills.
Within a week, officials designed a transportation and traffic control plan, providing shuttle bus access to the poppy fields, with designated parking areas. CHP officers and sheriff’s deputies then engaged in proactive enforcement to prevent further bottlenecks and widespread illegal parking.
The bloom took a tragic turn when CHP Sgt. Steve Licon, a motorcycle patrol supervisor, was struck and killed while working extra hours to provide traffic enforcement along I-15 on Saturday, April 6, 2019.
Licon, 53, was in the process of writing a ticket when he was hit by then-36-year-old Michael Joseph Callahan, who was driving under the influence and speeding in his sedan along the shoulder of southbound I-15, just north of Nichols Road, to get around stop-and-go traffic.
Callahan was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison in October 2021.
The bloom began to fade by early April 2019 and was all but gone later that month as conditions turned hot and dry. Poppies didn’t blanket hillsides in 2020, 2021 and 2022 due to the drought.