Parking still an issue as more visitors use park

The Claremont Hills Wilderness Park parking lot is now open, but the verdict is still out.

The city debuted the newly expanded parking lot on Friday to mixed reviews. For the most part feedback has been positive from locals and park regulars concerned with overcrowding, according to Eric Flores and Kay Dorn-Giarmoleo, city recreation leaders on hand at the park’s entrance to answer the questions from curious hikers this weekend.

“Residents around here have been really happy because there has been such an influx of traffic,” Ms. Dorn-Giarmoleo said.

The pair noted the dramatic increase in park visitors over the past couple years.

“When we were in high school, there was no one here,” Ms. Dorn-Giarmoleo said. She speculates that word of mouth and information posted online has increased its popularity. “More people know its here now.”

Brian and Missy Tucker say the situation at the wilderness loop has gotten so bad that they won’t even go up the trail. They start their daily 4-to-5 mile jaunt at their Miramar Avenue home and walk up Mills Avenue, but bypass the park entrance.

“It’s like Disneyland,” Ms. Tucker said of the crowding at the park.

In December 2011, the Claremont City Council approved the expansion of north lot at the end of Mills Avenue in an attempt to address the growing popularity of the park, and traffic and safety concerns that followed. With the approved expansion, the lot has grown from its original 20 parking spaces to about 157 spots, with the area of the lot having grown to about 1.45 acres from its previous thin slice along the hillside.

While some were taking advantage of the new north lot Friday morning, there were still plenty of spots left open while down the road the south lot was full and about 30 cars lined up on nearby Pomello Drive.

As “no parking” restrictions are placed along Mt. Baldy and Mills, some residents fear that the parking problem at the Wilderness Park will only be relocated elsewhere. Especially as paid parking restrictions go into effect next month. On April 1, hikers will be required to pay to park, either $3 for 4 hours or hikers have the option of an annual parking permit. Permits are $100 for the year, $75 if purchased in April, $50 if purchased in July, or $25 if purchased in October.

Not all are willing to deal with the fees or deal with the traffic. The Tuckers admit if they decide to go to for a hike, they choose to enter the park through alternative entrances at Sycamore Canyon Park or through the Thompson Creek Trail. Though Claremont residents have the option of picking up a free resident’s pass at City Hall or the Hughes Center, with proof of residency. However, those permits can only be used in the south lot.

West Covina residents Joe and Wendi Solari used the lot on Friday morning, but say they don’t mind parking elsewhere when the paid parking goes into effect.

“It’s the reason we are out here in the first place,” Ms. Solari said.

The metered parking and the traffic won’t stop them from visiting their favorite hiking destination.

“We don’t mind it,” Mr. Solari said. “We enjoy the challenging elevations and the people here are really friendly.”

Others feel differently. While much of the feedback has been positive, a few hikers have been vocal about their displeasure, calling out the city on targeting “lower socioeconomic groups,” according to Mr. Flores and Ms. Dorn-Giarmoleo. The real test, they say, will be tomorrow when the crowds venture out for the weekend.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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