Last January, the California Highway Patrol patrolled Fern Valley streets and local highways, requiring snow players to move their vehicles if they were blocking the roads and warning people to get off of private properties or they would receive citations and their vehicles would be towed. Officer Mike Murawski called Idyllwild Garage to tow one truck parked on Highway 243 across from the Nature Center. It was immediately towed while parked over the white line causing a traffic hazard.
Photo by Jenny Kirchner
Idyllwild Librarian Shannon Ng handed out solar eclipse viewing glasses at the library Monday morning, Aug. 21, for locals to come enjoy watching the eclipse safely. People were thrilled, some seeing a solar eclipse for the first, and maybe last, time in their lives. Photo by Halie Wilson

Editor’s note: Each year, the Town Crier reviews the top 10 news items on the Hill. These stories were the favorites of TC readers who attend the weekly news meetings. This week, the TC reviews the final five of these stories. Last week featured the other five.

Snow play visitors disrupt peace and tranquility of many Idyllwild neighborhoods

By Marshall Smith

Staff Reporter

Another significant story of 2017, which began in 2016, was the onslaught of off-Hill snow-play visitors after major snowstorms. Heavy snow in winter 2016 and 2017 generated unprecedented numbers of new visitors seeking snow-play areas.

The problem is that Idyllwild has few public snow-play areas, or public bathrooms and infrastructure to accommodate thousands of weekend visitors seeking the best snow in which to play. Visitors passed through lower elevations to high-altitude residential neighborhoods where snow is more plentiful and lasts longer. Fern Valley Road, with signs advertising a park (Humber Park) at its end, experienced the worst of it — with visitors parking on both sides of the road, trespassing onto private property to play in the snow, using land around residents’ homes for personal bathrooms and often belligerently confronting property owners when asked to leave.

Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz was among the most vocal in calling for parking restrictions, given his concern that visitors’ illegal parking, with vehicles protruding onto roadways, would make it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate illegal obstructions.

Citizen activists in Fern Valley and Pine Cove, led by Fern Valley resident Marsha Kennedy, met with county representatives, including 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington and staff, and secured both concrete actions and proposed solutions.

Chief concerns of Kennedy’s snow group (www.idysnowtalk.com), numbering more than 350 online supporters, were issues of legal liability of property owners for injury of trespassers; blocking of personal driveways preventing regular and/or emergency entrance and exit of owners and family; blocking emergency vehicles; trash left behind; and discourteous and belligerent behavior by snow visitors. “Our ultimate goal is to involve county, state and federal agencies to help us with solutions,” said Kennedy, which is what her group proceeded to do through numerous meetings with county agencies, including Washington’s office, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Caltrans, California Highway Patrol and Riverside County Transportation Department.

Kennedy’s group also held a town meeting to familiarize residents and business owners with the problems caused in residential areas by lack of snow-play infrastructure.

To date, Kennedy’s group has gotten signs at the base of Fern Valley Road and above Forest Drive that previously advertised “Humber Park” changed to “Humber Park Trailhead,” with the promise from the county that when snow and ice conditions merited, flip-down signage showing “closed” would be added.

Kennedy thinks visitors drove up Fern Valley Road to what they believed was a snow-play park, and that clarifying that message to read “trailhead” could deter travel up Fern Valley Road. Also, the county has posted signs from Encino Road to Forest Drive noting no parking on holidays and weekends, from December through April. Those notices also apply to residents and guests who park on the roadway’s shoulders.

In December, Kennedy’s group got agreement from Riverside County’s Watershed Protection Agency to delete mention of Humber Park as a snow-play area in a newsletter email. The email blast had advertised “Humber Park in the Santa Ana Watershed is another prized spot often recommended as the best location for sledding in Riverside County.” The inadvertent mention was soon stricken. “We’re not done yet,” said Kennedy, when contacted on Jan. 2. “Franklin Drive in Pine Cove also had major problems.

“I had no idea when we started what we could accomplish,” said Kennedy, of her group’s community activism.

Idypark replaces controversial Jo’An’s Restaurant

By JP Crumrine

News Editor

A longtime landmark, Jo’An’s Restaurant, disappeared from the Idyllwild culinary scene in 2017.

Not only did the well-known eatery close, but the building was razed.

Replacing Jo’An’s will be Idypark, a re-creation of the original use of the center of town. For many years in the 1950s into the1970s, the site was called Eleanor’s Park, a reference to Eleanor Johnson, wife of Jerry Johnson, one of the builders of Idyllwild after World War II.

“As the center of town, we envision it to be a peaceful, beautiful location for all to enjoy,” wrote Dave Butterfield, who with his wife Loie, own Idypark LLC, which is the new owner of the parcel as of October 2017.

“We plan to make the property a public park,” he added. “We will continue to support the tree lighting and other community programs that for years have been held at the site.” The Butterfields also are the generous donors to the community of the Idyllwild Community Center site, as well as donors of much of its future structures.

Already the change is creating a new town ambience. Recently, a film producer contacted Idypark about using the site for filming a movie this winter.

Two other local business people have helped in the transformation of the town center, according to Butterfield.

Both Shane Stewart, owner of Idyllwild Realty, who waived his commission, and Bob Hughes of Hughes Properties have contributed to this effort to make Idypark a reality for the benefit and enjoyment of the community.

Stewart, local realtor and investor, also has been managing the site renovation, which took a few weeks to convert from a commercial location into an open space. Work is continuing and will be completed in 2018.

Pine Cove Water victim of major water theft

By JP Crumrine

News Editor

While common crime — break-ins and DUIs— occurs in Idyllwild and throughout the Hill, this year saw the discovery of an unusual and rare crime.

Someone, without permission, appropriated more than 2 million gallons of water from the Pine Cove Water District. General Manager Jerry Holldber reported the theft to the board at its August meeting.

Since unaccounted-for water production was at an all-time high, Holldber originally attributed the loss to unfound pipeline leaks. He even purchased new detection equipment and hired a service to help find the leaks.

In early July, staff and some customers noticed a water leak at a hydrant near Pine Cove and McGovern roads. After the first call, his staff investigated and turned off the water to the hydrant.

The next day, more calls about a leak at the hydrant were received. So, he investigated again and found the valve had been turned back on. He then reported this to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. An investigation revealed that the water was being used for a marijuana plantation in the forest.

“It was obvious that someone was messing with the district’s hydrant,” Holldber told the board. “Because of the amount of water flowing, we knew someone was stealing our water.”

In September, Joel Vargas-Hernandez, 28, of Mead Valley, was arrested on suspicion of the theft of PCWD’s water. He was quickly released on $52,000 bail.

According to the Sheriff’s Department’s press release, investigators received several search warrants that led them to Vargas-Hernandez.

He was charged with three separate felonies, include stealing water and tampering with a fire hydrant.

Two separate hearings have been postponed for future dates. Currently, another readiness conference has been scheduled for Feb. 13, 2018.

Holldber estimated that, at minimum, 2.3 million gallons of water have been stolen from the district. The value of this water is more than $17,000. In Holldber’s opinion, it is likely the water theft began during the summer months of 2016.

Besides the cost of the stolen water, Holldber estimated that other costs, such as staff time searching for leaks and detection equipment have cost the District an additional $42,000.

This water theft poses another problem for the District. PCWD has several water hydrants on the periphery of the District. These are available to the U.S. Forest Service and Cal Fire in case of fires in the forest near Pine Cove.

Locking them would be a hindrance for the fire departments in case of an emergency. Holldber is investigating options for protecting the hydrants while ensuring access in case of fire emergencies.

Solar eclipse draws viewers to Idyllwild Library program

By Marshall Smith

Staff Reporter

One of the major events of 2017, and a feel-good news story, was the August 2017 solar eclipse that drew a large and celebratory crowd to the Idyllwild Library’s solar-eclipse festivities and educational programs.

Although the path of the total eclipse passed well north of Idyllwild, the Monday, Aug. 21, event drew an excited crowd of 75 or more to the library’s programs both indoors and out.

At its apex, 65 percent of the Sun was blocked as viewed in Idyllwild by the moon’s orbital passage. That occurred at about 10:24 a.m., causing an ethereal light to color the village.

Although total eclipses are not rare, ones passing across the continental U.S. are not common. The last was in 1979. A total eclipse is when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, causing the light of the Sun to be blocked by the Moon.

The U.S. path of the 2017 “total” eclipse crossed 14 states beginning in Oregon around 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time and ending in South Carolina around 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The Idyllwild Library provided “solar” sunglasses for viewing the event because looking directly into the Sun without an appropriate filter can cause significant damage to eyes.

The library’s eclipse events began with John Garrett hosting a discussion about eclipses, their history and the science behind the phenomenon on Saturday, Aug. 19. Garrett also brought a telescope to be set up for viewing the event on the 21st.

At the library on the 21st, events included a viewing party, live streaming of the total eclipse from NASA videos, special children’s events, an eclipse red carpet photo opportunity and screenings of two movies in which eclipses play a part.

What made the event special was the childlike excitement of those who came to the Idyllwild Library viewing party. It was a feel-good community event with a sense of awe and wonder about it.

The next U.S. “total” eclipse will be in 2024, again missing Idyllwild, with a trajectory from Texas northeast to New England.

Long-awaited Idyllwild Brewpub opens to rave reviews

By JP Crumrine

News Editor

Southern California is home to one of the largest number of craft-beer breweries, the fastest-growing segment of the beer industry.

In 2017, the Idyllwild Brewpub opened, bringing the popular concept to the Hill.

After an unofficial New Year’s Eve opening on Dec. 31, 2016, the official opening was in March 2017.

In less than a year, Head Brewer Don Put is able to offer more than a dozen local brews to customers. The choices vary from the Idyllwild IPA, to a smooth and soft Pilsner to a beautifully crafted porters and stouts. Choices matter and the Idyllwild Brewpub’s selections challenge the more well-known and national brands — Stone and Ballast Point — that originate in Southern California.

Also, few breweries offer customers the choice of sitting at a bar crafted from a single, 40-foot plank. Some choose the outside venue (enclosed for cold weather) to view Strawberry Creek and the trees.

Put has been a homebrewer for more than two decades and the Brewpub is the realization of his private dream. The facility is state-of-the art for brewing and a showcase for conservation — from solar panels to generate electricity, to its own well and waste treatment equipment.

Its notoriety is not limited to its many satisfied patrons. In May, Riverside County honored the Brewpub for its contribution to sustainability.

At the Board of Supervisors’ May 2 meeting, Hans Kernkamp, general manager-chief engineer of the county’s Department of Waste Resources, announced the Sustainability Award for each supervisorial district.

The Idyllwild Brewpub, which was the smallest organization honored, was the award recipient for the 3rd District.

“Idyllwild Brewpub implements many environmentally responsible practices,” said Corinne Awad, public affairs coordinator for the Department of Waste Resources.

After the ceremony, Lori Ferro, co-owner of the Brewpub with husband Frank, said, “It was a very proud moment after such a long time.”

While some residents were concerned about the Brewpub’s waste overwhelming the Idyllwild Water District’s waste treatment facility, General Manager Jack Hoagland assured them of just the opposite.

During periods of heavy rainfall, such as last spring, the runoff can stress the treatment plant. He may ask the Brewpub to increase its discharges, which would improve the water plant’s ability to process the sewer waste.

Currently, the Brewpub’s discharges are well below its permitted volume, he emphasized.

And Put added, “I’m proud of what we accomplished and feeling fortunate to have been a part of it.”

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