Ranger Jack Altevers of the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District took a risk and succeeded.
Altevers is the supervisory park ranger for the Idyllwild Campground as well as the county parks at Hurkey Creek, McCall and Lawler Lodge.
Beginning his third year managing the Idyllwild facility, he suggested to the parks management that the local campground may still be a favorite camping site even during the winter months.
“It didn’t make sense to close down,” he said. Last winter, he saw people coming and looking for campsites. “It’s definitely successful,” he said. “As long as it’s good weather, people still want to come.”
Traditionally, only Idyllwild campsites two through five, at the very front of the campground, were available for winter use and they were on a first-come, first-served basis. The gate just beyond these sites was lowered and locked from October through March.
But Altevers thought Idyllwild and the campground might attract visitors throughout the year and he has been proven correct. Last season, he opened those four sites up to reservation use and was pleased with the demand. This year, during January, between 10 and 15 campsites have been occupied each weekend.
On Feb. 10, before the Valentine’s Day three-day weekend, Altevers said, “Wait ’til you see this weekend. We’re completely booked.” He was exceedingly proud that all 35 available sites had already been reserved. He was considering opening up the entire campground.
And the whole campground was occupied Sunday morning. More than 55 cars were parked at the numerous campsites. Tents of all colors — blue, red, orange, yellow and purple — were planted from the entrance to the back.
Samantha and Enrique of San Diego had never been to Idyllwild before this weekend. “A friend said Idyllwild was cool, so we looked it up and made a reservation,” she said.
While not the first choice of some, Idyllwild became a valuable and memorable safety net for others. Michele Gardner of Fullerton had packed up her RV and driven to Joshua Tree.
“I got there and they were full. I Googled campsites and saw Idyllwild,” she said. After calling the county campsite and was assured spaces were available, she called her friends and explained that the weekend in the desert had been switched to the mountains.
It’s not their first camping trip here, but will be on the top of their list in the future.
The biggest problem Altevers had to solve before beginning this experiment was determining where visitors could turn around their vehicles. During the summer when the entire campground is open, they can drive to the end at Delano Drive and use the circle to return to the front entrance. But the whole park has not been open.
But near sites 37 and 38 is room to make a U-turn, which also is a convenient place to shut the back of park since it is just past the first restroom facility. He also was able to shut water off just beyond this point.
Safe sledding is another winter issue Altevers has had to address. When it snows, many visitors come to ride sleds; he has to find hillside locations that will protect the sledders from ending up on the park road.
Before the Hill units, Altevers was at Lake Skinner. He chose this assignment in the mountains partly to gain another perspective on the district’s various parks and to “grow as a ranger.”