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Chaotic wildflower crowds create ‘public safety crisis’ in California town, mayor says

An idyllic “super bloom” of wildflowers in one Southern California city has devolved into something more menacing, according to local leaders: “The Poppy Apocalypse.”

Lake Elsinore in western Riverside County is near Walker Canyon, where tourists from the Los Angeles area and beyond have rushed this month to take in hills bursting with California poppies and other wildflowers. But with those crowds have come headaches for locals — and injuries.

“We’re short-handed,” Lake Elsinore Mayor Steve Manos wrote Saturday on Facebook. “One of our employees was hit and run by a driver. A rattlesnake bit a visitor. Residents have been screaming at the people directing traffic.”

An estimated 50,000 visitors have made a trip to the bloom as of Saturday, Manos said, and “twice as many as last weekend.” The president of the local chamber of commerce said around 1,000 visit the spot each day, the Los Angeles Times reports, though city officials said visits spike on weekends.

Flowers are blossoming statewide this year after heavy rains drenched California over the past several months, causing flooding and mudslides but also pulling the state from drought — and bringing once-scrubby hills to life with green vegetation and colorful flowers.

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Super blooms usually pop up about once every 10 years, so having two years of super bloom so close (the last was in 2017) is “highly unusual,” according to the Associated Press.

On Instagram, city officials wrote that Lake Elsinore “is not made for Disneyland size crowds” that have clogged roads, overwhelmed shuttles and angered locals. And that’s despite the city’s efforts to bring in traffic controllers and add staff and shuttles, city leaders said.

“People are creating chaos out there and we have already had an injury,” the post said. “This is a public safety crisis so we ask your support.

City officials begged tourists to come on weekdays: “The wait times are increasing, the shuttles are stuck in traffic, and we encourage you to consider waiting for another day.”

And there’s no easy solution, the mayor said.

“Some believe if we simply shut the road down that people will politely turn around and head home. Or that we can simply use a checkpoint to verify identities and allow 1000’s of residents through closed roads,” Manos wrote on Facebook. “That’s not realistic.”

Lake Elsinore isn’t the only place where super bloom visitors might encounter problems.

Tourists have gotten their cars stuck in muddy roads at California’s Carrizo Plain National Monument, where wildflowers are blooming on the hills, the San Luis Obispo Tribune reports. Highway patrol helicopters had to help find the vehicles and arrange for the cars to be towed.

Still, few places appear as overwhelmed as Lake Elsinore.

“It’s better than going to Disneyland,” Randy Solis, a Riverside County Habitat Conservation Agency patrol officer, said at a trailhead near Lake Elsinore, the Los Angeles Times reports.

But some visitors aren’t on their best behavior.

“Look at those people. They’re stepping all over the poppies,” Solis said, according to the Times. “The people are nice – except when they’re fighting about poppies.”

Super bloom enthusiasts who want to avoid crowds and traffic have plenty of wildflower options beyond Lake Elsinore — and many haven’t hit their peak blooms yet, the Tribune reports.

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