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Outdoors after hours? Get a ticket

Users of the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park may have until Monday, April 15 before enforcement of metered parking goes into effect, but hikers are not exempt from the newly enforced park hours, as many have discovered.

The new park hours, a set of 12 rotating times, were posted to a board near the park entrance early last month. Police chose to strictly enforce those hours with the debut of the Wilderness Loop’s newly expanded parking lot opened on March 22. Many hikers are learning the hard way.

An estimated 150 parking tickets have been given to those who have violated park hours since enforcement began 2 weeks ago, according to Claremont’s Chief of Police Paul Cooper, who says the problem with hikers violating park hours has become “significant.”

“All they have to do is pay attention to what they are doing,” said Chief Cooper of Wilderness Park users. “We have tried to put [signs with park hours] all over the place.  A lot of people continue to use the park, and some are not paying attention to those new signs.”

Last December, the Claremont City Council adopted a more defined set of park hours to clear up issues of ambiguity with the park’s previous “dawn to dusk” guideline. The hours, approved with the assent of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy, took into consideration changing daylight hours as the year progresses.

“I understand some people are frustrated with the fact that it is still light out when the park closes,” Chief Cooper acknowledged of the park’s 6:30 p.m. close time in March despite Daylight Savings Time on March 10.

“There is no perfect system because darkness hours change on a nightly basis,” he continued.  That’s why we have 12 different hours. We wanted to provide as much usage for people as we could while also mitigating after park hours.”

Police have no plans to let violators off easy. Chief Cooper says officers need to begin strict enforcement right away because of increased safety issues at the park. A few months ago, police employed the use of another agency’s helicopter as first responders searched for a man lost on the trails after hours. It took 3 hours of searching before the man was found. Not long before that Chief Cooper says police came to the aid of a woman who ran out of the park after hours, screaming with a small dog in her arms. Without sunlight illuminating the path, the woman was unable to spot a rattlesnake on the trail. While she was unharmed, her dog was bitten by the snake.

To avoid further problems along the wilderness trails, park rangers will not be taking a half-hearted approach to their enforcement endeavors. Handing out warnings is not a part of the plan, says Chief Cooper.

“How many warnings can we give?” he said. “Our goal is to just get people to obey the rules. We are taking a no tolerance approach.”

Throughout April, Wilderness Park hours will be 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Hours change again on May 1. Those who violate park hours are subject to a $50 fine. View the full list of rotating park hours at www.couriercitybeat.blogspot.com.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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