After days of powerful El Niño storms, San Diegans flocked to Mt. Laguna last weekend to play in freshly-fallen snow, but the massive crowds left behind so much trash, rangers are still cleaning up the mess.
On Thursday, U.S. National Forest Service officials said cleanup crews in the Cleveland National Forest region were “overwhelmed” with work following the influx of visitors to the Mt. Laguna area after the first big snowfall of the season.
U.S. Forest Service officials want to encourage visitors to abide by a “pack out” what they “pack in” code. By hauling out everything that’s brought into the tiny mountain community, the amount of trash left behind on Mt. Laguna can be significantly reduced.
“Simple things like food wrappers or broken sleds amount up to a lot when left behind. If trash receptacles are full, we ask that the public pack items and throw them away down the mountain. If each family does their part it can make a huge difference in the outcome," said District Ranger Julie Hall.“We want to be able to accommodate these large crowds and encourage people to come visit, but managing the aftermath is extremely difficult," she added. "We are asking the public for their help and support."
The U.S. Forest Service said budget and staffing constraints, coupled with the loss of temporary employees in the winter, makes it difficult to manage larger crowds in the Cleveland National Forest.
This past weekend, for example, rangers had to request help from California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers to aid in traffic control.
Much like this past weekend, Mt. Laguna visitors should brace for heavy traffic and long waits when heading to the snowy mountains.
Over the weekend, traffic wait times reached as long as three hours from Interstate 8 up Sunrise Highway to the peak as visitors tried to get to the Mt. Laguna snow.
As delays persisted and traffic backed up for miles, officials temporarily closed and restricted access to both Old Highway 80 and Sunrise Highway. On Sunday, the highway was reopened, but with restrictions, due to congestion at the peak.
When visiting mountain communities, including Mt. Laguna, forest officials want to remind drivers to pay attention to posted signs and avoid trespassing or parking on private property.