Will new lot finally solve Wilderness parking issues?

The Claremont Hills Wilderness Parl parking lot is now open, but according to weekend visitors, the verdict is still out.

The city debuted the newly expanded parking lot last weekend 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 of curious hikers last 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 it’s 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 the north lot at the end of Mills Avenue in an attempt to address the growing popularity of the park and the 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 have started taking advantage of the new north lot, there were still plenty of spots left open while, down the road, the south lot was full and about 30 cars were lined up on nearby Pomello Drive last week. The problem grew worse on Saturday and Sunday, the park’s 2 most popular days. According to Human Services Manager Bill Pallotto, the cars lined Mills Avenue all the way down to Alamosa Drive. Because of the rows of cars taking up the edges of a narrow street leading up to the park entrance, hikers could be seen using the roadway to access the park.

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, especially as paid parking restrictions go into effect next month. On April 1, hikers will be required to pay to park, $3 for 4 hours. They also have the option of an annual parking permits at $100 for the year, $75 if purchased in April, $50 if purchased in July, or $25 if purchased in October.

To date, 125 annual permits have been purchased in addition to 1400 free resident passes obtained, according to Mr. Pallotto. 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. Claremont residents may pick up a free pass to park in the south lot at city hall or the Hughes Center, with proof of residency.

West Covina residents Joe and Wendi Solari used for their hike last week, 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. With hikers seen walking in the middle of the roadway because of the cars blocking the sides of Mills, others worry that there is a deeper problem that needs to be addressed.

Mr. Pallotto assures that park rangers will be monitoring the problem in the coming weeks and the city will assess whether or not further measures need to be taken. For now, there are no set plans for further parking restrictions or expansions.

“There has been some confusion on the parking lot. A lot of people didn’t realize it was open,” Mr. Pallotto explained.

The city’s first course of action is to inform the public about the parking changes.

“We are realizing that a lot of the [park] users are from other areas, so they weren’t aware,” Mr. Pallotto said. “We are going to continue to educate them [about the changes], see how it goes and adjust accordingly.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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