A record number of visitors are traveling from around the state and country to witness the “super bloom” of flowers and orange covered hillsides at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve.
Unfortunately, some of these overly enthusiastic visitors are straying from the reserve’s established trails and trampling the poppies in the hopes of snapping a coveted shot for their social media accounts.
“It’s gotten really bad,” said Jean Rhyne, state park interpreter for the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. “Everybody wants their own picture of them in the poppies on social media and that kind of is creating a snowball effect.”
A search of #SuperBloom on Instagram draws up more than 57,000 posts and location tags of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve shows visitors standing, sitting and even laying down in the middle of the poppies.
This practice of stepping off the reserve’s eight miles of established trails creates “social trails” in the poppy fields, which compact the soil and can damage the flowers for more than a decade.
“As soon as someone walks off the trail that kills the plants by the next week,” Rhyne said. “So then it looks like a trail and people who are following the rules end up [unknowingly] walking on these man-made trails.”
A similar problem is occurring at several California State Parks and has made some close their trails to visitors. In March, eager crowds in Riverside County caused park officials to temporarily close the Wildflower Trail at Diamond Valley Lake.
“Unfortunately a lot of wildflower areas are being impacted by this,” Rhyne said. “We’re not going to be closing our trails, but we are seeing unprecedented damage.”
Rhyne said the reserve does not want to put up a lot of warning signs because it “disrupts the viewscape of the park,” but noted that park officials are putting up ground level signs near affected, foot-trafficked areas.
“We’re telling everyone that comes in to stay on the trails,” she said. “We do have a lot of visitors who are self-regulating and self-policing the park. We don’t want people to start fights, but we do appreciate the help in protecting our resources.”
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is also experiencing problems with large crowds on the weekends.
“We’ve been having the parking lots get full by 9 o’clock in the morning,” Rhyne said.
Since mid-March 2017, the reserve has seen 67,000 visitors, according to Rhyne. The spike in visitors is a large one compared to 2008 super bloom when 65,000 people entered the park during the entire wildflower season, from March to May.
“But that was before social media,” Rhyne said.
To avoid the crowds, the state reserve is recommending that individuals carpool to the location and visit on weekdays. On busy afternoons, visitors can also park along Lancaster Road and enter though the reserve’s main entrance.
Entering through other areas of the park or driving through private properties and hopping the reserve’s barbed wire fences, which individuals have been doing, will result in a citation and a possible misdemeanor.
“What we’re mostly ticketing for is people coming through the fence line,” Rhyne said. “It’s about $400 to climb through the fence.”
Rhyne said that most people who do visit the reserve are respectful of its rules; however, a small percentage of rule breakers out of the thousands of visitors do make an impact on the poppy fields.
“Less than 5 percent of the people are going off the trail but it’s making significant damage,” she said.
Rhyne said she hopes individuals who travel to California State Parks, like the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, choose to use social media to remind their peers to #ExploreResponsibly and #LeaveNoTrace.
“If they do post photos of themselves, they should not post photos of them breaking the rules,” she said. “In wildflower areas they should mention they are being responsible park users to use social media to change attitudes.”
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_