Temecula Valley visitors explore mountain flora

Nov 15, 2023 | Arts & Culture, Mountain Gardening

Russ Keller tells the story of the creation of Lake Arrowhead in front of the museum’s diorama of the building of the dam, during the Temecula Valley Native Plant Network’s tour of the mountain. (Photo by Rhea-Frances Tetley)


Staff Writer


Members of the Temecula Valley Native Plant Network took the “Mountain Meadows and Beyond” field trip on Thursday, Nov. 9. These interested visitors paid a visit to the San Bernardino Mountains for the day, touring the SkyPark nature area, continuing on to MacKay Park for a presentation on water of the area and then to the Mountain History Museum to learn about local history to complete their plant tour of the San Bernardino Mountains.

They began their morning at SkyPark at Santa’s Village in Skyforest, parking by the meadow. There, Brad Lofland, Skypark’s assistant general manager, and Gina Richmond led the discussion centered on native plants, local animals and the ways to use technology to protect a riparian habitat already in an area and in the future.

SkyPark has revived the meadow that had previously been used by people for concerts and other events. It was even further ruined in many aspects by the trees the bark beetles killed and the burned trees from the 2003 Old Fire that were stored in that meadow. SkyPark has worked hard to restore the natural meadow from that destruction. The Temecula group found this so interesting they stayed longer than scheduled and left late.

Then the group caravanned to MacKay Park through Kuffel Canyon, noticing the colorful dogwood trees and the semi-riparian environment created from the stream that flows down the canyon. They were attentive to the change in the plants and various mini-habitats as they entered the drier side of the lake environment. This is vastly different from the Temecula Valley, where they live.

When they arrived at MacKay Park, they discussed among themselves the various differences in plants and the weather from their area. They ate their lunches while Carol Kinzel explained what they were seeing from that elevation over the Lake Arrowhead dam and Papoose Lake. The tour group could see this unique setting with the two dams in such close proximity to each other from their vista point above the lakes at MacKay Park.

They then left for the Mountain History Museum, where they were given a tour by historian Russ Keller, who explained the unique water history of the Lake Arrowhead area. He told of the many years of creating Lake Arrowhead (1892-1920s), the plan for a seven-lake system and the lawsuits that ensued, which resulted in the creation of Lake Arrowhead only.

Because it was not allowed to be the irrigation reservoir it was originally designed and built to be, Lake Arrowhead became a recreational lake, with homes surrounding it, many of them owned by movie stars. It became a private homeowner-owned lake when Boise Cascade, who owned the lake at the time, refused to repair the old dam and was going to allow the state to lower the lake by 70 feet in 1979.

The residents protested and bought the lake, created a flood control district and built a downstream dam. This $7 million dam created Papoose Lake, which put equal water pressure on both sides of the old 1900s dam, satisfying the state and allowing the 185-foot-deep lake to remain full.

Then, Rhea-Frances Tetley allowed the group to explore the museum, learning more of the history of the mountain areas. This included the use and misuse of the mountain environment, from the decades of logging destruction to the forest, the impact of being one of the most densely populated forests in the country and the resulting human-caused fires and some about the local animals.

Catherine Peterson, one of the ladies on the tour, said about the presenters, “You all are such a treasure trove of knowledge for your mountain community! We all had a wonderful time today.”

Some members of this group had visited the mountain on this tour in the spring to explore the mountain environments, so a couple were repeat visitors, as they wanted to see the seasonal changes in the local plants, especially after last winter’s storms and the wetter than normal summer.

Groups – educational, Scouts, church, reunion, seniors and others – are invited to schedule a tour of the museum this winter season. Visit the website at www.mtnmuseum.org and go to the “Contact us” page and request a tour, giving the date and times you would like to do it. The requests must be at least 10 days in advance so docents can be coordinated. Be sure to leave contact information, and if a particular topic would like to be presented.

The free Mountain History Museum will be open to the public Thanksgiving weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 24, 25, 26, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 27176 Peninsula Drive at Rhine Road in Lake Arrowhead, weather permitting.

Santa will be at the museum that weekend, so bring your camera and take a free selfie with the jolly old elf. While there, look at the Santa’s Village display. Santa’s Village in Skyforest opened in 1955, six weeks prior to Disneyland. It closed in 1998 and the facility was threatened by the Old Fire in 2003 and was then used as a storage area for burned trees. It reopened as SkyPark at Santa’s Village in 2016, so it does have a long and fascinating history. Because these ladies had started their day’s tour at SkyPark, this exhibit was especially interesting to them.

This tour from the Temecula Valley Native Plant Network group was coordinated by Carol Kinzel, the former president of the Rim of the World Interpretative Association that manages the Heaps Peak Arboretum. She said, “I am so glad these women were able to visit our mountain and learn about our history and plants. I hope other members of the group can come again next spring.”




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