Despite a rainy and cool morning, about 20 residents trudged to the Pine Cove Fire Station to hear Fern Valley resident Marsha Kennedy discuss the origin and efforts of the Idyllwild Snow Group.
Heavy snowfalls during the winter of 2016-17 attracted a vast number of visitors to the Hill. Most of them were seeking places to park close to where their children could enjoy and play in snow, which is a seldom, if ever, possibility in the flat lands from Hemet to the coast.
With so much snow, even plowed roads barely had local access. Visitor parking along the edge of the roads and berms often made passage difficult and posed problems for emergency vehicles.
Kennedy and several friends and Fern Valley neighbors were concerned about the effect on public safety, as well as the cavalier attitude of littering, leaving trash and parking on private property.
After a Town Crier “Out Loud” column, Kennedy and her cohorts found sympathetic companions throughout the Hill communities, and the Idyllwild Snow Group was conceived and formed.
Since then, they have reached out and spoken to local representatives such as state Sen. Jeff Stone and Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington, law enforcement officials at both the county and state level, and the local forest ranger district.
The concerns about offensive and rude behavior were just part of the larger issue of where visitors could find safe places to enjoy the snow without harming residents.
“Snow-play visitors are an irreversible force,” Kennedy admitted. But the Hill has “no infrastructure needed to accommodate this influx during difficult weather conditions.”
The group has developed a flier, which is on its website (idyllwildsnow.com), and found in the case next to Harmony Monument in town. The flier identifies several areas, with public restrooms, available to those coming to enjoy the snow. These include the Nature Center, the State Park, Idyllwild County Park and Thousand Trails.
The website also offers advice on using chains, road closures and litter disposal.
Kennedy noted that visits to the website have grown from about 8,000 in 2018 to more than 190,000 already this year.
The group conversed with the California Highway Patrol and the county Sheriff’s Department, both agencies of which seem receptive to and cooperative about the dangers excessive visitors can create on snow-laden roads. The agencies send additional deputies to the Hill after snow and patrol the roads to reduce illegal parking. The first weekend with snow after highways 74 and 243 were closed in February, CHP had a checkpoint at Lake Hemet to limit access for non-residents.
The local Idyllwild Ranger District also has cooperated, according to Kennedy. The gates to Humber Park have been locked to prevent traffic and access during snow events. Also, there is an effort to emphasize that the area is the Humber Park Trailhead, Devil’s Slide and Ernie Maxwell trails, as opposed to a large and inviting park.
The group is still working with officials to obtain signage identifying snow-play areas. The county has placed many no snow parking signs along Fern Valley Road and others.
PCPOA Director Jerry Holldber suggested Kennedy encourage the U.S. Forest Service to expand its efforts to provide snow-play areas. The local forest lands are available for other recreational use, such as hiking, horse-back riding, off-road-vehicles and fishing. Playing in the snow is another appropriate activity if it is organized and controlled.
Other comments included Pine Cove resident Jeff Smith discouraging the placement of trash bins in local highway turnouts. He argued that these were safety locations and should not be overwhelmed with long-term parking.
Mark Dean suggested the group also work with the local rental agents and Airbnb hosts so they can help inform visitors of the local situation and opportunities.