'Unbearable': California town closes access to super bloom due to massive crowds

An explosion of California poppies in the hills surrounding a Southern California town has attracted “Disneyland-size crowds,” forcing city officials to close the wildflower-viewing area.

The city of Lake Elsinore shut off access to Walker Canyon and canceled shuttle service as a massive traffic jam developed Sunday.

“The situation has escalated beyond our available resources,” a message on the city’s Facebook page reads. “This weekend has been unbearable.”

The city initially shared a message on Saturday, discouraging people from coming to the area as traffic on Interstate 15, that passes by the Riverside County town, stopped moving.

“We have brought in all available staff, as many outside traffic controllers that we could, more shuttles, and our small City can not sustain crowds of this magnitude,” the message reads. “The wait times are increasing, the shuttles are stuck in traffic, and we encourage you to consider waiting for another day.”

But throngs of wildflower-obsessed tourists continued to descend on the area, leading to a complete shutdown.

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Rain is a key ingredient in the recipe for spectacular wildflower displays. Amid a winter marked by strong storms, botanists predicted wildflowers would pop up across the state, especially in Southern California, because the desert landscape has fewer invasive plants and grasses that push out wildflowers.

Lake Elsinore was the first place to see a so-called “super bloom,” a colloquial term describing wildflower spectacles that exceed a typical season. (Anza Borrego was the second spot to see an abundance of flowers.)

The bloom started the last week of February, and now the hillsides are carpeted in velvety orange.

“The color is super vibrant,” Jonathan Reinig, the natural resources manager for Riverside County Parks, told SFGATE. “You fee like you need to shade your eyes from it.”

Photos of the display flooded social media, and Reinig says the county posted signage encouraging shutterbugs to tread lightly around the flowers.

“People love to get out there and get their Instagram photos,” he says. “They’ll plop themselves in the middle and trample the flowers. People need to stay on the path.”

The super bloom was originally met with excitement in the community, which is about a 90-minute drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego.

But problems began surfacing, including people leaving trails and trampling flowers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Lake-Elsinore-superbloom-wildflowers-close-traffic-13696781.php.

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