Flower power at Bor­rego Springs

Bor­rego Springs hopes to avoid the chaos that 2017 wild­flower ‘su­per bloom’ brought.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By J. Harry Jones Jones writes for the San Diego Union-Tri­bune.

Conditions ap­pear ideal this year for an­other “su­per bloom.” This time, town of­fi­cials say, they’re pre­pared.

SAN DIEGO — New Eng­lan­ders like to brag about the canopy of color that car­pets the North­east in the fall. But when conditions are right, as they ap­pear to be this year, there’s lit­tle that ri­vals the bloom of mil­lions of wild­flow­ers on the floor of the Anza-Bor­rego desert.

And just like back East, where the hordes take to the road to view the turn­ing of the leaves, vis­i­tors from through­out South­ern Cal­i­for­nia will come by the thou­sands to the small desert com­mu­nity of Bor­rego Springs to wit­ness the so­called su­per bloom.

But un­like two years ago, when the town was over­whelmed and un­pre­pared for the nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple who de­scended on the state’s largest park, of­fi­cials say this year they are ready to han­dle the crush of beauty-seek­ing vis­i­tors.

There will be no Flow­erged­don 2, they in­sist, ref­er­enc­ing the term used to de­scribe the chaos that erupted the first cou­ple of week­ends in March 2017, the most spec­tac­u­lar bloom of wild­flow­ers in a decade.

A traf­fic jam nearly 20 miles long stretched from Lake Hen­shaw all the way down Mon­tezuma Val­ley Road (High­way S-22) to the desert floor that first big Satur­day.

Once peo­ple fi­nally got to town, con­fu­sion ruled. Many didn’t know where the flow­ers were, and they couldn’t find a place to go to the bath­room, or eat, or pur­chase wa­ter, or park, or get gas.

“It was that first week­end in March 2017 that took us to­tally by sur­prise,” said Betsy Knaak, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Anza-Bor­rego Desert Nat­u­ral His­tory Assn.

“This time, there is a real sense of pre­pared­ness,” added Bri For­dem, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Anza-Bor­rego Foun­da­tion. “Peo­ple should feel com­fort­able com­ing here.”

The two women and about a dozen other business own­ers and man­agers have formed what could be known as the Flow­erged­don Preven­tion Com­mit­tee, though they don’t re­ally call it that. Of­fi­cially they’ve been meet­ing as part of the Bor­rego Vil­lage Assn.

They are ready for what is to come, they say.

The lat­est fore­cast pre­dicts flow­ers should start pop­ping in as lit­tle as two weeks and last through much of March. But ex­perts say noth­ing is for sure un­til it hap­pens.

“Two years ago, we had an absolutely fan­tas­tic bloom,” said Jim Dice, re­serve man­ager at the Steele/ Bur­nand Anza-Bor­rego Desert Re­search Cen­ter. “I don’t know if we’re go­ing to meet that. It’s likely go­ing to be a very good bloom, but a strong freeze right now could be very bad and a pro­longed hot spell could hurt things.”

Dice said an ini­tial bloom has al­ready be­gun in spots through­out the 630,000-acre park, but not close to Bor­rego Springs. Still, he and other ex­perts say, it ap­pears a great bloom is quickly approaching.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to say how many peo­ple drove from Los An­ge­les and San Diego — not to men­tion other parts of the coun­try and even the world — to view the flow­ers from late Fe­bru­ary to early April two years ago.

Most es­ti­mates place the num­ber at 250,000 to 500,000. Week­ends were in­sane. Even week­days were at times un­com­fort­ably crowded.

De­spite the chaos, the su­per bloom was tremen­dous for business in the town that is home to only about 3,500 per­ma­nent res­i­dents. Some business own­ers said they made as much money in about 45 days as they did the rest of the year.

Pa­trick Samp­son, gen­eral man­ager of La Casa del Zorro Re­sort & Spa and pres­i­dent of the Bor­rego Springs Cham­ber of Com­merce, said his re­sort was booked for 34 days, do­ing more than $1 mil­lion in rev­enue dur­ing that span.

This time around, the group, along with state park of­fi­cials, con­tracted for dozens of por­ta­ble toi­lets to be spread through­out the area, in town and near the flower fields.

A dozen trash bins are on or­der.

There are plans to pass out thou­sands of maps as peo­ple drive in show­ing where the fields, toi­lets, restau­rants (there are 12 in town) and gas sta­tions are (there was one gas sta­tion in 2017; there are two now).

Park rangers and the Cal­i­for­nia High­way Pa­trol are get­ting ready, and there should be far bet­ter traf­fic con­trol in the area. More park­ing has also been pro­vided with a lot near the Mall in the cen­ter of town hav­ing opened.

Restau­rants are ramp­ing up. Two years ago, the food es­tab­lish­ments were over­whelmed. Some ran out of food al­to­gether and at some, a few over­worked and frus­trated em­ploy­ees quit on the spot.

“Now I think we may be overly pre­pared,” said Andy Macuga, owner of Car­lee’s Restau­rant and this year’s honorary mayor of Bor­rego Springs.

“I know I’ve hired more staff than ever out of fear,” he said. “I’m hir­ing peo­ple non­stop. You have a pulse? Love you. Come on in.”

Thomas Hilde­brandt, ex­ec­u­tive chef-restau­rant man­ager at Kes­ling’s Kitchen across the street from Car­lee’s, said the restau­rant had just opened when the su­per bloom hit in 2017. For a month, peo­ple were lined up out­side, he said.

“It was like amuse­ment park lines and there was an amuse­ment park feel­ing in the air,” he said. “It never ended.”

Hilde­brandt said he and his staff know much more now and have de­vised a plan in which peo­ple can quickly pur­chase prepacked sand­wiches and sal­ads.

The com­mit­tee urges peo­ple to come pre­pared. Bring wa­ter and sun­glasses, and close-toed shoes for walk­ing amid (but not on) the flow­ers.

They sug­gest that vis­i­tors plan their driv­ing routes ahead of time and emphasize that Mon­tezuma Val­ley Road isn’t the only way into town.

But don’t worry about bring­ing a sack lunch, they say with a smile. There will be plenty of food for sale.

It’s sug­gested that vis­i­tors view sev­eral web­sites ahead of time be­cause when hordes of peo­ple are in the val­ley, cel­lu­lar phone ser­vice is spotty as the car­ri­ers’ sys­tems get over­whelmed.

Sites in­clude: the­abf.org; parks.ca.gov/an­z­abor­rego and abdnha.org. There is also a Wild­flower Hot­line with a recorded mes­sage that is up­dated ev­ery few days: (760) 767-4684.

For­dem and oth­ers said one of the com­mu­nity’s hopes is that wild­flower vis­i­tors will fall in love with the desert and come back to visit at other times of the year.

“We want them to em­brace the beauty of the desert and its life­style,” she said.

‘It was that first week­end in March 2017 that took us to­tally by sur­prise.’ — Betsy Knaak, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Anza-Bor­rego Desert Nat­u­ral His­tory Assn.

Gre­gory Bull As­so­ci­ated Press

JIM LONG of San Cle­mente pho­to­graphs desert shrubs in March 2017. That spring’s wildf lower “su­per bloom” brought an es­ti­mated 500,000 peo­ple to Anza-Bor­rego, over­whelm­ing the area’s roads and ser­vices.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.