When heavy rains in 2019 created a super bloom of poppies on the hillsides of one California town, the majestic scene became a nightmare for local residents.
With the same situation unfolding in 2023, city and county officials have a message they are sending loud and clear: Stay away.
Lake Elsinore officials said the massive amount of people coming to the town in search of the super bloom creates public safety dangers and nuisances for residents. For that reason, there will be a zero policy in effect this month.
The poppies are just beginning to emerge in blankets on the hillsides, but parking anywhere in those areas is strictly off-limits, according to Mayor Natasha Johnson.
“The flowers were beautiful,” she said about 2019, according to the Associated Press. “The scene was a nightmare.”
Overwhelming The Canyon
The problem area was Walker Canyon, a location just outside of the 71,000-resident town about 65 miles east of Los Angeles.
“Numerous safety incidents occurred on the trail and on our roadways,” Johnson said. “Tens of thousands of people, as many as 100,000 in a weekend — Disneyland-sized crowds — seeking to experience nature trampled the very habitat that they placed so high in regard and sought to enjoy.”
People illegally parked along Highway 15 and in neighborhoods, creating safety hazards and major complications for residents. Tourists were also unprepared for the hiking involved to get to the poppies up close, resulting in several injuries.
“The behavior of those that came was unfortunate not only to the preservation of the poppies, but to local respect,” Johnson told NPR. “We had basically paralysis of our entire community and certain neighborhoods that couldn’t get out for just day-to-day life and going to work. The gridlock was incredible. Because even though we were offering shuttles, folks were trying to get in another way.”
The paralysis was not only dangerous in 2019, but fatal in one instance. Johnson said a California Highway Patrol officer died during a traffic stop on the freeway during poppy-viewing season.
In an effort to avoid something similar this year, officials are simply banning parking or any other activity that causes gridlock along the freeway and in neighborhoods.
“You know, a lot of folks are saying, ‘Natasha, why don’t you guys just figure out a way to monetize it?’ We’re not trying to put money over our residents’ quality of life and, most importantly, public safety,” she said.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco told the Washington Post that those caught will be cited and could face serious consequences.
“We don’t want anybody coming here thinking that they’ll pay the fine and be good with it,” he said. “It’s a misdemeanor infraction subject to arrest.”
Some tourists have labeled the move as the “poppy police” or the city throwing away thousands of dollars in economic gain. But Johnson will have none of that.
“We understand that this is not the news that everybody may want to have heard, but our community’s safety as well as preservation is our main focus,” Johnson said.
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