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Parking, pedestrians wreak havoc on Wilderness Park

After nearly a year of input from city officials, community members and park consultants, the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park (CHWP) Master Plan is beginning to take shape, with a draft scheduled for review in March 2015.

The process has been challenging, with hits and misses along the way, but residents remain hopeful their concerns will be addressed.

In December 2013, the city contracted with MIG Consulting to work with staff and the community in preparing a comprehensive master plan for the CHWP, seeking to strike a balance between environmental conservation and passive recreational use. In addition, MIG was asked to update the current management plan for the city-owned 2,000-acre preserve and incorporate various documents and agreements that guide its operation and maintenance.

One of the first steps in developing the CHWP Master Plan included creating a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), whose members were appointed by the mayor. The TAC is comprised of 11 community members representing neighborhoods, conservation groups, recreation and open space users, as well as the community at large. Some residents have been critical of the composition of the group.

“There are no plant or wildlife experts, no geologists, no trail development experts, no county fire department personnel, almost none representing users residing outside Claremont,” Dean McHenry noted in a viewpoint published in the COURIER. “In fact, its composition makes it more of a ‘political’ action committee than a ‘technical’ one—specifically, individuals more likely to weigh the concerns of those who live near the park rather than to consider the concerns of all park users and other community members.”

The park’s increase in popularity has remained a top concern for residents and users alike. The number of visitors to the Claremont Wilderness Park has skyrocketed from a reported 30,000 visitors in 2006 to an estimated 500,000 annually, according to a report released by MIG in September. With the assistance of numerous volunteers, MIG collected its own data for the report using intercept surveys, conducted on varies dates and times from late spring through mid-summer 2014.

An understanding of the magnitude of park visitation may be sufficient to develop policies and implementation actions if the goal of the master plan is to manage the impacts associated with park usage rather than establishing a maximum number of visits per year, says MIG.

Given the current impact on those who live closest to the nearly 2,000-acre preserve, managing it would be a welcome  idea. The growing number of visitors has created an equally concerning issue of traffic congestion, safety and enforcement. Packed parking lots have led to street parking and cars jammed bumper-to-bumper along adjacent streets.

In April 2014, the city council attempted to solve the problem by adding additional permit parking-only zones on three residential cul-de-sacs next to the wilderness area—Holyoke Place, Macalester Place and Forsyth Place. These permit parking zones are expected to sunset in September 2015, along with a slew of other wilderness loop parking restrictions, as the city works on an overarching master plan to solve lingering parking problems. Realizing this was only a temporary solution, the city council issued a moratorium on further parking restrictions until the master plan has been adopted.

Feedback from the community has been considered creating the CHWP Master Plan. Several meetings were held throughout the year, with many residents speaking out on the conditions of the trail. While not wanting to limit the number of people who use the park, many voiced that is has become increasingly difficult to share the paths. Retractable dog leashes, and hikers wearing headphones unaware of approaching cyclists as well as discarded water bottles and other trash are also said to be a part of the problem.

All of these factors may also be having an affect on the park as a whole.

Bonterra Psomas, an environmental planning and resource management service, conducted a baseline environmental assessment and identified areas in the park where disturbance has affected environmental conditions. Although the study area was found to be in overall good condition, several areas need to be addressed, including the use of unauthorized trails as well as the presence of litter and human waste.

Strategically placed port-a-potties were available in the park earlier in the year, only to be removed. They were replaced by city council in hopes of solving the human waste problem. Trash cans located throughout the park have proved to be a temporary solution, although MIG suggests the city consider bear-resistant containers for the master plan.

The location of the wilderness area in a high fire risk zone has caused additional concern. The park has been closed six times this year due to drought conditions and high winds, a prime recipe for wildfire. Closing the park during such conditions can take Community Services more than four hours to complete.

The city council approved a temporary modification to the CHWP Management Plan, authorizing the city manager to automatically close the park during a Red Flag Warning for the San Gabriel Valley as issued by the National Weather Service. The policy is also under review to be a permanent part of the master plan.

For more information, visit the city’s website www.ci.claremont.ca.us.

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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