Residents observe, take to outdoors on Memorial Day weekend

by Steven Felschundneff |

Memorial Day in Claremont was a virtual snapshot of where this nation stands 10 weeks into the coronavirus pandemic.

On one side of town, the traditional Memorial Day observance was cancelled due to the still-in-place stay-at-home-order from the governor. At the very same time, so many people tried to visit the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park that authorities had to temporarily close Mills Avenue at Mt. Baldy Road.

Similar scenes played out across the country with rivers, lakes and parks crowded with people even as health officials warned that the coronavirus has not gone away.

Claremont’s Public Information Officer Bevin Handel told the COURIER that the busiest days at the park were Saturday and Monday. Rangers were on hand to provide information and ensure that park visitors were wearing face coverings while at the trailhead. At the top of Mills, the city installed an illuminated road sign that flashed “masks required.”

According to the directive from the county, masks are required in parking lots, at the trailhead and when it is impossible to remain six feet away from others. The city enacted one-way trekking which most people observed, however, with the sheer number of people, keeping a safe distance was challenging. By Monday evening the crowds had thinned noticeably, but several groups of 12 or more were spotted near the top of the loop trail. By then it was quite hot and very few people wore masks, although many had them on hand.

Claremont resident Heidi Strash, who lives in the area adjacent to the park, noted that traffic over the weekend was intense. “I drove south on Mills Sunday morning and there were so many people walking north to the trails and loop that it looked like the entrance to Disneyland! So many! Not sure what it looked like on the trails,” she said.

As hectic as the parking lot and trailhead were, several COURIER readers report the trail itself was not too crowded and that people were for the most following the recommendations from the city.

“I went at 0530 on Friday. There were a few people already there and by the time I was done with the loop around 730, the parking lot seemed nearly full. Most people had masks… I overheard a few bikers mocking the one-way route. Otherwise, people were pleasant, respectful, and exercising social distance,” Claremont resident Raymond Joseph Berlejung said.

Another Claremont resident, Stephanie Sutherland, echoed Mr. Berlejung experience hiking in the Wilderness Park.

“Although the parking lots and trailheads were very crowded, there was plenty of space on the trails, and I only saw one-way traffic down the Burbank side of the loop (I came in from Pomello, not Cobal). About half the people had masks on or at the ready, but there’s plenty of space for distancing,” she said.

Oak Park Cemetery, where the Memorial Day observance would have been held, was by contrast not crowded in the least. A handful of people wandered the shaded grounds, some brought flowers to leave for a loved one. Another woman was speaking on her phone while walking laps around the cemetery.

One tradition that did continue this year was the placement of small American flags by each veteran’s gravesite.

Near the southern wall longtime Claremont resident Jane Goodfellow was tidying up the grave of her husband Jack. A crisp new American flag had been placed by Mr. Goodfellow’s headstone in honor of his service in the Navy.

The couple had been married 50 years when Jack died in 2008. They raised two sons and a daughter in Claremont, residing first on Piedmont Mesa and then Claraboya.

After Jack died, Ms. Goodfellow married Bob Weatherton who, sadly, has also died.

“After Jack died I thought I would never marry again because I would never find a man as nice. But I did find another nice man so I married him,” Ms. Goodfellow said.

Now she attends to both graves as a weekly ritual. “I do it more for me than for them, we all have our own ways [of coping with loss],” she said.

City officials created a short Memorial Day video that they released on the official Claremont Facebook page, as well as the city’s website, on Monday at 11 a.m., the same time that the in-person event would have started.

Mayor Larry Schroeder provided an introduction, saying that the video stood as a tribute to our local heroes. He also offered a hopeful message about future public events. “I look forward to gathering again next year in person at Oak Park Cemetery,” he said.

The virtual celebration included a number of the hallmarks of the annual event including a flag raising ceremony, the National Anthem, bugler Steve Collins and bagpiper Mike Terry who played the Scottish Lament.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis praised the courage of America’s armed forces while drawing parallels to the coronavirus pandemic. “We will always band together to fend off anything that threatens our collective well being, whether it is a foreign enemy or a dangerous virus,” Ms. Solis said.

Regardless of where you spent the day, either on the loop or at the cemetery, it was glorious weather with warm temperatures and a cloudless sky. The kind of day that makes one think ahead to a time when we won’t have to social distance anymore.



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