Each winter since 2017, huge numbers of off-Hill visitors have driven to Idyllwild at the first signs of snowfall. With few public snow-play areas, visitors poured into neighborhoods, especially Fern Valley, seeking snow in which to play.
The previously unseen numbers of snow visitors overwhelmed Idyllwild’s infrastructure, causing dangerous traffic jams on two-lane roads, obstructing the free flow of traffic and leaving massive quantities of trash throughout Idyllwild — in highway turnouts, at the Nature Center, at the Idyllwild Community Center site and on private property in higher elevations where there is more snow. And since there are no truly public bathrooms other than for restaurant, gas station and shop patrons, private residential land served that purpose in winters past.
The good news for Idyllwild residents is that a coordinated interagency effort involving the California Highway Patrol, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Caltrans, Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office, the Idyllwild Fire Department and the nonprofit Idyllwild Snow Group is becoming effective through a variety of educative efforts:
• Handouts and a website and Facebook page produced by Idyllwild Snow Group that are getting off-the-Hill attention. Ten thousand, five hundred, fifty six people have seen the Facebook/Idyllwild Snow page with the “park on the road-get towed” pictures, in a day and a half beginning on Jan. 12, 2019. Said ISG organizer Marsha Kennedy, “This is part of an effort to educate visitors and give them realistic expectations of what they’ll find on the Hill.”
• Signs on upper Fern Valley Road prohibiting weekend/holiday parking during the winter, December through April.
• New signs on Franklin Drive in Pine Cove prohibiting stopping at any time.
• Aggressive ticketing and towing by the CHP that is beginning to help visitors realize what they can and cannot do. CHP Officer Mike Murawski takes photographs of towing and ticketing for public posting to warn others.
• Forest Service installed a permanent gate leading into Humber Park Trailhead in August 2018, replacing temporary gates that snow-play visitors simply removed, creating dangerous traffic incidents in the upper parking lot of the trailhead.
• ISG partnered with Idyllwild Rotary for a village map showing snow-play areas and visitor tips. The map is in a new UV-resistant coated glass map case by Harmony Monument.
• ISG also is producing refrigerator magnets for locals, giving numbers to call if there are problems with trespassing, property damage, illegal parking, traffic and road hazards.
The amount of trash left by snow visitors in years past has been staggering and perhaps the largest and most expensive of the problems created by their visits. Caltrans is spearheading an effort to place dumpsters in certain designated pullouts on state highways in the Idyllwild area. Said David Matza, Caltrans District 8 Government and Legislative Affairs Liaison, “This program has been very effective in Big Bear and Arrowhead in the Bernardino Mountains in reducing trash from snow visitors. We’re excited to be able to bring the program to Idyllwild. It’s satisfying when agencies work together to get things accomplished. The state permit should be approved shortly.”
CR&R Environmental Services, Idyllwild Transfer Station management company, will be tasked with placing the dumpsters and regularly emptying and/or removing them after snow visitor episodes.
When the program was put into place in Arrowhead and Big Bear, Caltrans District 8 Director John Bulinski said, “Today is a proud day for our region as we have taken a major step in eliminating litter from our stunning mountains that people from all over the country come to visit.”
The stated goal of placing the bins prior to storm events and removing them after the heavily travelled weekends was to reduce left-behind litter. Said San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who represents Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs, “We welcome visitors who drive up and enjoy the snow, but ask that you please respect the forest and our mountain residents by not littering or trespassing on private property.”
Kennedy noted there is much more to do but that cooperation among county agencies and Idyllwild residents has accomplished a great deal in only two years. She notes more “no parking” signs are needed on Forest Drive, the last Idyllwild street before Humber Park Trailhead. She said closure of parking at Humber pushes visitors down to Forest Drive where parking and trespassing have become acute problems. Her group also would like to see signs designating snow-play areas.
Depending on where you live in Idyllwild, contact with snow-play visitors could be mild or extreme. But it is a Hill problem and the steps taken to educate visitors by official agencies have been productive, including a video, “CHP Idyllwild Snow Safety Video” spearheaded by then commander of the San Gorgonio Pass Station, Capt. Mike Alvarez.