Crowds Viewing Elsinore's `Super Bloom' Cause Traffic Nightmare

LAKE ELSINORE (CNS) - A trail temporarily closed to visitors in Lake Elsinore where stadium-sized crowds poured in over the weekend to view acres of blooming poppies, causing massive traffic headaches for law enforcement and angering locals, was reopened today, drawing huge crowds once again.

``We expended lots of resources over the weekend, and we have folks out there ticketing again, but we are full,'' Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos said Monday while standing at the entrance to Walker Canyon. ``If you could come back another day, we would really appreciate that.''

``We re-opened Walker Canyon because we don't have the resources to keep it closed,'' he said. ``It's an entire mountain. Please be patient. We are working on a solution.''

At one point Sunday, the California Highway Patrol estimated that 500 vehicles had parked on the shoulder of Interstate 15 at Lake Street, where occupants headed off into the canyon to view masses of yellow poppies blanketing hillsides, in what's been named the ``Super Bloom.''

Lake Street became what Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a longtime Lake Elsinore resident, compared to a parking lot, with traffic barely budging, causing side streets to become blocked.

``I hear Anza-Borrego is nice,'' she said suggestively in a tweet Sunday.

Another Lake Elsinore resident, Riverside County Supervisor Kevin Jeffries, said both I-15 and state Route 74 were ``overwhelmed'' Saturday and Sunday with ``foolish poppy picture (takers) and hikers, who are literally parking on the freeway and highway right-of-ways, causing massive traffic and safety hazards.''

``Pray for very targeted HEAVY RAINS this next weekend!'' Jeffries wrote on his Facebook page.

City of Lake Elsinore video showed crowds returning to the area Monday, but nothing on the order of a stampede along the Walker Canyon Trail.

Area residents fumed in social media posts that vegetation was being needlessly trampled and not enough law enforcement resources were in place to deter motorists from taking hazardous risks to reach the location.

A shuttle service was established at the Lake Elsinore Outlets to ferry visitors to the poppy fields, but that was canceled Sunday when traffic conditions became unbearable.

At one point Sunday, the county's Emergency Management Department Operations Center was activated, and personnel were requested to help coordinate with municipal officials on how to mitigate traffic congestion. The EMD has been working overtime over the last three months to ensure public safety during winter storms, with the threat of flooding, mud and debris flows on the eastern boundary of the Cleveland National Forest, just a few miles from Walker Canyon.

Lake Elsinore administrators, Riverside County sheriff's officials, the CHP and county Executive Office staff did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what preparations are underway to prevent a similar ``Super Bloom'' scenario from playing out this coming weekend.

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