Snow group proposes government snow-play area

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Marsha Kennedy, who is leading a group of volunteers, speaks to a group Saturday afternoon at the Nature Center. Locals concerned about recreational snow visitors who have innundated the Hill over the past two winters have been investigating ways to deal with the crowds. Photo by becky clark

Despite daffodils and lilacs blooming all over the Hill, some residents aren’t willing to let go of winter — at least when it comes to talk of recreational snow visitors.

Marsha Kennedy is leading a group of grassroots volunteers, mostly residing in the area of Fern Valley Road which has been heavily impacted by off-Hill snow visitors over the past two winters. Residents have experienced “tons of safety issues,” as Kennedy put it at a public meeting before about 25 people Saturday at the Nature Center. These issues range from illegal parking to trespassing to rude and bulling behavior.

Over the past few months, the snow group has produced a mission statement and investigated solutions to the issue of Idyllwild and surrounding areas not having the resources to accommodate the hundreds of people who have now discovered the Hill during winter.

Emergency vehicles being able to get through to a residence, residents’ liabilities if a snow visitor gets hurt on their property and possible violent confrontations with trespassers all were discussed at the meeting. “They can sue you if they get hurt, even if they are 99 percent responsible,” said Kennedy, after explaining California’s Pure Comparative Negligence Standard. “So, we have a high motivation to get people off our property.”

“I guarantee I will sue if an emergency vehicle cannot get up if I have an emergency. I will,” said one man in the audience.

Kennedy said the California Highway Patrol commander in San Bernardino urges residents to not be confrontational with trespassers or illegal parkers. Instead, ask them to leave. If they do not, don’t say, “I’m going to call the police.” Just go call 911. “Remember,” Kennedy said, “they may not do anything to you now but they know where you live.”

But even if you call 911, who will come? Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz told the audience that CHP sent two extra officers up here one of the weekends. “They can’t keep doing that unless someone pays for it,” he said.

So, what is the solution? Kennedy said her group is asking the U.S. Forest Service to change Humber Park’s name to Humber Park Trailhead because the name “park” implies a place to park and play in the snow. And then post signs that say “Snow Parking and Snow Play Prohibited; Humber Park Closed.” But post them not only at the park but down on the highway and six places throughout Idyllwild. That way, visitors will not even venture up Fern Valley Road, they hope.

Kennedy said the belief that merchants weren’t complaining because they were “making a killing” is a misconception. The snow group surveyed more than 25 percent of merchants and learned that the ones who did best were coffee shops, candy stores and convenience stores.

Restaurants had increases but not across the board. Many of the snow visitors came in large groups who could not be accommodated. Some ordered a cup of cocoa just so they could use the restroom.

“Some shops closed,” she said. “Real estate tanked. Increased theft was noted.” At one grocery store, no one was buying but the restroom lines were long. Toilets backed up and someone even defecated on a restroom floor. “There were no grins on faces after they left us,” she added.

She called the situation “an endless and irreversible force.”

The group has approached Mountain Community Patrol to put warnings on people’s windshields that they are illegally parked. But they are wary to get involved because of liability issues.

They approached Bill Tell of WNKI-1600 AM, who is working on ideas involving scrolling LED signs directing people to snow play areas. Idyllwild Community Center’s Janice Lyle told the group that 145 parking spaces will be available at the site in June of 2018 on over 5 acres of property.

The group has talked to people in Big Bear, Julian and Forest Falls, which has an even bigger challenge in that it is in a cul-de-sac. The community of only 1,200 was able to get a sheriff’s office in their town. But Reitz pointed out that Riverside County is planning cuts to law enforcement right now that will affect the rural areas. “Law enforcement is on the chopping block,” he said.

Reitz did not poo-poo the group’s efforts, however. “Patience and persistence,” he said. He also suggested expanding one of the County Service Areas to include law enforcement or vote in a new CSA to fund increased law enforcement.

Kennedy’s group is proposing a long-term solution of a snow play area at a 6,000-foot elevation on either county, state or federal land. It would have parking, bathrooms, trash cans and even food concessions.

She researched past Town Criers and discovered that in 1971, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved the Idyllwild County Park as a play area.

For the time being, she said the Mt. San Jacinto State Park superintendent has agreed to allow snow visitors to play at the park. The group is working to get signs directing snow visitors to Mt. San Jacinto State Park, Idyllwild County Park and the Nature Center.

Nature Center Park Interpreter Amanda Allen said she walked around the Nature Center during the snow weeks talking with visitors and handing out trash bags. She said she would welcome volunteers to help do the same. “I had luck walking around with an educational vs. enforcement approach and that helped,” she said.

“The alternative,” Kennedy said, “is to continue to tolerate the recreational snow visitor issue and prepare for far-reaching consequences.”

However, the populations in the surrounding areas are growing and will continue to grow. Hemet was predicted to grow 61 percent between 2005 and 2035; Riverside County, 72 percent. And Banning and Coachella Valley were not better, Kennedy pointed out in a PowerPoint display.

So, the group is not giving up. Future tasks include a law enforcement officer at the chains required sign at the bottom of the Hill; meeting of Idyllwild business owners; a media campaign telling off-Hill residents “we do not have what you want up here”; more signage.

During a question-and-answer session, Annamarie Padula of the Pine Cove Property Owners Association said their group is purchasing new trespassing signs with the Penal Code in English and Spanish for PCPOA members. But Marge Muir of Pine Cove said, “What is the image you’re creating? Be careful. Too many people found us, that’s the problem.”

One woman complained about her friends voting for Idyllwild as a Top 10 town. “Why do that? You’re creating a problem,” she said.

At the back of the room, people signed up to volunteer in the group.

“We hope we can accomplish things,” said Kennedy. “The history of Idyllwild shows that we get things done by collaboration of many rather than the leadership of a few.”

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