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City trails open with near perfect spring weather

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

After six weeks of strict closures, recreation returned to Claremont’s popular hiking trails, with Thompson Creek Trail opening on Saturday and the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park on Monday.

With people anxious to get back on their favorite trails throughout Los Angeles County, health officials issued a number of restrictions to ensure that everyone using the system remained as safe and healthy as possible.  

“Those enjoying the trails will need to observe at least six feet of physical distancing and wear a mask or face covering in all parking lots, trail heads, staging areas and crowded areas where it is not possible to maintain six feet of physical distancing. Masks or face coverings are only required on the trails if users cannot keep six feet of distancing between one another,” Los Angeles County Public Health said in a statement.

The city of Claremont decided to reopen its trails in phases because of reduced staffing and increased duties including cleaning and keeping the public informed about new protocols. Electing to wait until Monday to allow people back into the Wilderness Park and the ever popular “five mile loop” trail gave rangers a bit of a break since there are generally fewer visitors on weekdays.

“We have limited rangers right now because the majority of our volunteer rangers are over 65. Because of the new protocols we need additional staff to educate and manage visitors as well as additional cleanings of the porta potties and restrooms, filling sanitation stations, and issuing citations. Opening both trails on the first weekend would have overwhelmed the available staff, as we anticipated large crowds,” Claremont’s Public Information Officer Bevin Handel said.

There will be some restrictions unique to Claremont’s parks including one-way traffic on the loop trail. Visitors are asked to use Cobal Canyon fire road for the uphill portion while returning on Burbank fire road. The city has set up a series of green arrow signs showing the recommended direction of travel. However, anyone who can’t complete the entire loop for any reason is welcome to turn around. The city simply wants the majority of traffic to be headed in the same direction, according to Ms. Handel.

At 7:30 a.m. Saturday, which is usually peak time for hikers in Claremont, the parking lot at the top of Mills Avenue was about 75 percent full and foot traffic on Thompson Creek was similarly light.

The larger parking lot at the Wilderness Park trailhead remained closed over the weekend, and human services recreational leader Alexa Perez stood by a barricaded section of Mills Avenue directing traffic. Wearing a brightly colored safety vest, she mainly answered visitors’ questions about when the Wilderness Park would be open.

“We expected there to be more people,” she said about the fairly uncrowded Thompson Creek Trail. “Maybe people are not used to it being open. It will grow in the next few days, and by next weekend it will be busy.”

Some residents complained that too many people were on Thompson Creek Trail but Senior Park Ranger Jamie Torres said the crowds have been manageable. The rangers and city staff have been encouraging hikers to use the dirt path along Thompson Creek for walking south and to use the paved path for the return trip. He also said that people for the most part were observing social distancing as much as possible.

A big red sign at the Thompson Creek trailhead with arrows at each end shows visitors what six feet of separation looks like.

Montclair resident Joselyn Chavez was walking with her dog Joey, along with her friend, who did not want to be identified. She heard on the radio that the county was reopening trails and decided to drive up to Claremont to see if Thompson Creek was open. Since the shutdown began she has been walking Joey in her neighborhood, but she really appreciates the opportunity to be back in nature.

“It’s nice to get out and get some fresh air, since everyone has been stuck at home,” she said.

By mid morning on Monday the parking lot at the top of Mills Avenue was about half full of cars with a handful of people buying parking passes or getting ready for their hike. The city had two rangers and one human services employee on hand to help ensure that the reopening went smoothly.

Ranger Norma Saldana was answering questions about the new regulations at the main Wilderness Park trailhead. A pair of cyclists stopped by to complain that people were not wearing masks on Thompson Creek Trail. Ms. Saldana reminded the two men that mask wearing was a recommendation and not a requirement.

As of Monday, both parking lots at the top of Mills Avenue that serve Thompson Creek and the Wilderness Park are open and parking permit restrictions will be enforced. The Evey Canyon trailhead and La Puerta parking lot will remain closed for now.

“City staff and rangers will be monitoring the trails, and trailheads, and enforcing the safety protocols,” Ms. Handel said.

Visitors are encouraged to bring plenty of water because fountains will be closed. Restrooms will be available at Higginbotham Park for the Thompson Creek Trail and at the Mills Avenue trailhead of the Wilderness Park loop. Portable toilets along the loop trail will be closed. Hand sanitizer stations will be placed at the kiosks near the entrance of the loop trail.

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