White with fresh late-season snow, the region’s sparkling mountains are again attracting visitors eager for a taste of winter.
“A lot of people see snow from the valley and they say, ‘Hey, let’s take the kids up and play in the snow,’” said Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington.
Miguel Miller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, said the first of three cold storms on the way brought snow to the mountains above 5,000 feet on Friday, March 8. He said the second — and most potent — storm in the series is expected to drop snow to 4,500 feet and deliver 6 inches above 7,000 feet Sunday night into Monday.
The third storm, poised to arrive Tuesday afternoon, is the coldest but weakest of the three and could dust mountains with snow as low as 4,000 feet, Miller said.
But drier and warmer weather is expected to follow later next week, and this may be people’s last chance this year to enjoy Southern California’s version of a winter wonderland.
But check before you head out snow lovers: February storms exacted enormous damage on mountain roads and some remain closed.
Idyllwild in Riverside County is still particularly hard to get to. Highway 74 remains closed east of Hemet and Highway 243 is closed south of Banning due to storm damage, San Bernardino National Forest officials said. To reach Idyllwild, you will have to drive in along the 74 from either Anza or Palm Desert.
Know, too, that measures have been taken to curb problems some snow-play visitors cause.
In past years, the seasonal crush has created anxiety for mountain residents in Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties, as visitors have trashed communities and trampled private property.
“They will block driveways,” said Carol Banner, who has lived in Lake Arrowhead half a century. “They will get out and play in people’s yards.”
Activists and government agencies have been taking steps to reign in what Idyllwilld’s Marsha Kennedy said can be absolute chaos. If February’s snow days were any indication, their efforts appear to be working,
“Things have not looked as bad as they did during the winter snows of two years ago,” said Kennedy, who started the Idyllwild Snow Group to call attention to the problem and highlight places where visitors can legally play in the snow without disrupting the lives of local residents.
“If complaints are an indication,” Washington said, “then I think we are doing a better job than we did in the past.”
Washington, whose 3rd District takes in Riverside County’s San Jacinto Mountains, said his office was inundated with complaints a couple of years ago and has received far fewer this winter — so far.
Not everyone thinks the situation is getting better, however,
San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who represents large swaths of the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains, said some constituents report that problems were worse earlier this winter than in recent years.
“Remember, we haven’t had this amount of snow in several years,” Rutherford said of the February snow flurries.
Still, the problem has hardly disappeared.
“Every time there is a big snow this happens,” Rutherford said.
What happens is this: Visitors leave behind mountains of garbage — everything from diapers to food wrappers to broken sleds. Some park illegally, blocking public roads and private driveways. Some slide down hills and urinate and defecate on private property.
A few even refuse to leave when informed they are playing in someone’s yard.
“We’ve had residents bullied and threatened,” Kennedy said.
Problems became so distressing in Idyllwild earlier that the town’s residents decided to do something about it, enlisting the help of multiple players and agencies, Kennedy said.
“2017 was sort of the tipping point,” she said.
Washington said Riverside County responded by posting seasonal no-parking signs along residential streets that lead to the popular Humber Park Trailhead, and California Highway Patrol officers have been ticketing illegally parked vehicles.
A similar ticketing campaign is underway in San Bernardino County, Rutherford said.
“People see snow on the side of the road and they just pull over,” she said, saying visitors often park in a traffic lane and even “double park.”
To deal with the trash, Caltrans spokesman David Matza said state officials made arrangements with waste haulers to install seasonal trash bins — and promptly empty them — at large turnouts on mountain highways.
In February 2018, Matza said, Burrtec Waste Industries placed trash bins at seven turnouts along Highways 330, 18 and 173 in the San Bernardino Mountains. Those bins were removed at the beginning of May, then brought back a little earlier this season, in November, he said. They will, again, remain in place through April.
This is the first season for trash bins to be placed at turnouts in the Wrightwood area, he said. Matza said three bins were installed in November on Highway 2 near the Los Angeles-San Bernardino county line.
“There are a lot of snow play areas right there,” he said.
Three bins also are in place near Idyllwild for the first time.
Matza said there are bins on turnouts just south and north of town on Highway 243, he said. The third is at Highways 74 and 243 in Mountain Center. He said CR&R Environmental Services installed those trash receptacles ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday holiday weekend.
“Next year we’ll probably add some more (in the Idylldwild area),” he said. “This is kind of the first wave.”
Matza said so far the receptacles’ presence seems to be reducing the amount of trash.
Aside from making it easier for people to properly discard trash and enforcing traffic and trespassing laws, Kennedy said she figured it was important to tell visitors where they could in fact legally play in the snow. Her group lists places where people can slide on an Idyllwild Snow website.
One of the listed places is the Idyllwild Nature Center, operated by the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District.
Anthony Miller, supervising park ranger, said the center located at 6,000 feet has been busy this winter, as word has gotten out about its availability. The center charges fees of $10 for adults and $5 for children.
While the jury is still out on how effective various strategies ultimately will prove to be, Banner, the longtime Lake Arrowhead resident, pleads for visitors to pack common sense and courtesy before coming up.
“We welcome people. Tourism is our bread and butter up here,” Banner said. “We want to share our beautiful mountain with people.”
But Banner asks that visitors be good neighbors.
“Bring your manners,” she said. “And for heaven’s sake bring your jackets, boots and gloves.”
Source: Orange County Register