Last January, after several weekends of unprecedented snow-visitor traffic, Riverside County 3rd District Supv. Chuck Washington convened a multi-agency meeting to address issues growing out of the snow-play visitor glut. Washington did so at the request of Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz, who was concerned about emergency vehicle blockage by illegally parked cars as well as widespread littering, trespassing and destruction of property both public and private.

Washington recalled the same agencies to a meeting in Riverside on Monday, Nov. 21, to discuss contingency plans should off-Hill, snow-play visitors again create safety and property-destruction problems. “The purpose of this meeting is to discuss mountain snow emergencies, traffic congestion and safe movement of public safety agencies and vehicles in this environment,” said Washington.

Reitz noted the greatest parking problems were in neighborhoods where snow visitors parked in residential areas to play, significantly narrowing roadways. Capt. Joe Borja, Hemet Station commander, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, warned against confrontation with snow visitors. “If people refuse to leave private property, owners can call the sheriff’s department,” said Borja. Washington agreed. “It should not turn into a confrontation,” he suggested. “Go back into your home and call the sheriff.”

County Transportation representatives discussed using portable trailers with electronic signs, having secured encroachment permits from Caltrans, to warn of traffic congestion on mountain roads — posting these warnings on both highways 74 and 243. Discussion at the meeting seemed to indicate this option is currently ready to be deployed if and when needed.

California Highway Patrol representatives said their primary responsibility during snow emergencies is to keep traffic moving. They suggested, if personnel and resources were available, CHP officers could conduct traffic control for limited periods to facilitate safe movement of vehicles and prevent illegal parking that encroaches onto roadways.

Shelli Lombardo, Caltrans public information officer, said her agency does not have sufficient resources to assist in traffic control. “We’re in the same situation as CHP without resources to conduct ongoing traffic control,” she said. “Our crews are out clearing snow from roadways.”

Attending agencies noted the challenges involved having sufficient resources and personnel to deploy to the mountain during snow emergencies. Said Washington, “We can’t just abandon efforts to create safety. We need more social media outreach regarding weather conditions, traffic, driving, and chain requirements and closures. We must plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Also reviewed at the Nov. 21 meeting were suggestions made last January to deal with litter, traffic congestion and illegal parking. Still on the table as potential solutions, but as yet not currently in progress, are:

  • Extra trash cans in Idyllwild public recreation areas and in the village business district;
  • Mobilizing Idyllwild’s volunteer agency base (Rotary, Mountain Disaster Preparedness, Mountain Community Patrol and resident Community Emergency Response Team members) to greet, help educate and monitor snow visitors;
  • Signage in turnouts primarily on Highway 243 reading “no parking” for snow recreation — only for putting on chains or other emergencies;
  • Identifying “traffic/parking/congestion pinch points” and deploying law enforcement to those areas.

Washington thanked attendees and stressed the importance of staying connected to deal with future mountain snow emergencies.