By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, people from all over Southern California are still seeking a reprieve from city life and are visiting the mountains to get closer to trees, water and nature.
Without much new advertising, residual knowledge and childhood memories of visits to the mountains have brought visitors in droves to escape the city. They do not know what to expect, but many have Googled and seen old information or called the local visitor bureaus and chambers of commerce to see what amenities are still open. Even those offices have curtailed hours these days.
The Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center located in Lake Arrowhead Village is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays and has maps and Adventure Passes for sale for the many Forest Service hiking trails that require them. Lake Arrowhead Village is open to shoppers and the restaurants’ patios are open for dining. Also, the village benches can be used to relax while dining on take-out, but the lake itself is open only to members of the Arrowhead Lake Association.
While the Hootman Center, where the Running Springs Area Chamber of Commerce office is located, is closed, the chamber is operating and taking phone calls and emails to assist people. The Snow Valley and Rim Nordic bike trails are open to those who have brought their bicycles to do mountain biking. The community’s stores are mostly open on weekends and the restaurants are open for take-out or patio seating.
The community of Green Valley Lake has a population of less than 500 but has a small village with a restaurant and stores. Its private lake has a small beach and the renting of a small number of fishing boats is permitted.
The 0.7-mile hiking trail at Heaps Peak Arboretum on Highway 18 is open for those with USFS Adventure Passes. The trail leads to the largest Giant Sequoia grove in Southern California and yearly attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the plant-lined path.
SkyPark at Santa’s Village is open Thursdays through Sundays and is attracting mountain biking enthusiasts to make reservations and visit. The SkyPark campground is about to open; and at this time reservations are being taken.
The merchants of Crestline have chosen to embrace the visitors who are coming to escape the city. The Heart Rock hiking trail in Valley of Enchantment attracts hundreds of visitors each day. The community merchants, when the businesses had to close their doors, put up a couple of porta-potties for the hikers to use at the trail head on Highway 138. They also, at their expense, put up a few porta-potties around Lake Gregory. The USFS hang-glider launch pad at Teddy Bear Peak is world famous but has no amenities.
Lake Gregory Regional Park has not been able to fully open, so the beach and dock areas are currently closed. However, by stopping at the Crestline-Lake Gregory Chamber office, visitors find out that fishing is available for $8 and they have the opportunity to launch their own kayaks and canoes for $13. The fees are payable at the San Moritz Lodge.
There are several picnic tables around the lakeshore available for use, although barbecuing and cooking fires are not permitted for fire danger reasons. There are two free walking trails around the lake with dogs welcomed and a free dog park for the four-legged visitors to run freely. The tennis and basketball courts are free and available on a first-come basis, which surprises many, because in their city the courts often must be pre-reserved. The skateboard park is open, with a nearby restroom.
The restaurants in Crestline have opened up their patios to patrons and are also offering take-out; even the store Designed by Faith offers their picnic tables for visitors to use. The merchants have also placed porta-potties around the lake and in the business community for guests to use. The library has reopened with limited days and hours.
The USFS campgrounds at Dogwood and Lake Arrowhead’s North Shore are now open, but prior reservations are recommended, especially this year, since many of the individual campsites are closed for social distancing purposes. The forest day use areas along Highway 18 have mostly been closed, even for daytime picnicking purposes. Their restrooms are closed, but some have porta-potties for traveler convenience.
The state recreation area (SRA) at Silverwood Lake has been forced to curtail its operations to 50 percent of regular usage. That means that visitors line up for hours prior to the 6 a.m. opening to be able to get into the park for the day. It offers boating, fishing and jet ski opportunities; however, the biking, hiking and beach visitors often arrive for the day without prior reservations and are turned away due to the entrance limitations, caused by the virus. The group campsite is still closed, but half of the family campsites are open, accessible by online advance reservations.