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Seeking to Avoid 2019 ‘Super Bloom' Chaos, Lake Elsinore Closes Walker Canyon

In anticipation of another potentially large poppy bloom that could attract throngs of people, officials in Lake Elsinore announced they will be closing Walker Canyon to the public as a preemptive safety measure.

Though the current bloom is in its early stages, and indications are that it will likely be smaller than 2019’s “super bloom,” officials want to avoid a repeat of what occurred four years ago, when traffic was gridlocked, visitors were injured, locals were frustrated and a California Highway Patrol Officer died, Mayor Natasha Johnson said Tuesday at a news conference.

The closures, which will last until the poppies are gone, include trails on both public and private land, including access to Walker Canyon at Lake Street. Parking in and around the canyon will also be banned.  

“While typically the City of Lake Elsinore welcomes visitors to enjoy our vibrant community and boost our economy, the overwhelming number and unfortunate behavior of our visitors to Walker Canyon in 2019 came at a cost that was way too steep for our residents and our wildlife,” Johnson said.

Johnson noted that tens of thousands of people – as many as 100,000 in a weekend – made their way to the canyon that year. Not only did those people damage the wildlife they were there to see, she said, but they also jammed the 15 Freeway and pulled over to the side of the highway to see the poppies, posing a risk to themselves and others.

“Unfortunately, the area around Walker Canyon is not suitable for heavy traffic,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said. “The roadways are small, they are heavily traversed, and there is no room for parking.”

The 2019 bloom also saw people showing up unprepared for challenging hikes, which led to injuries and multiple rescues, according to Johnson. Meanwhile, the traffic congestion meant medical personnel were having trouble responding to emergencies within the communities, she said.

Some neighborhoods were “literally severed” from access to the rest of the city because of the number of vehicles on the roads, meaning some people couldn’t even get to work, according to the mayor.

Bianco said law enforcement officers will take a “zero tolerance” approach this time around, which includes fines starting at $58 and potential towing of vehicles. Additionally, he noted that trespassing is considered a misdemeanor and could result in jail time.  

“We know that people want to see a beautiful sea of color. We also want the land in our community to thrive. Managing public resources comes with public responsibility. Therefore, the trails and access to Walker Canyon are closed,” Johnson said. “You won’t be able to get here. 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.”

Though visiting the canyon is off limits, people can still view the poppy bloom through Lake Elsinore’s live bloom stream.

Source: NBC Los Angeles

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