There’s No Biz in Snow Biz – So Far…part one

  • Phil Heylek of Lake of the Woods lives across the street from a church that turned into a snow play park on Saturday, Jan. 23.

    Phil Heylek of Lake of the Woods lives across the street from a church that turned into a snow play park on Saturday, Jan. 23.

By The Mountain Enterprise Staff

“There’s no business like snow business” a few mountain merchants were whistling January 23-24 as 60,000 snow play visitors swarmed across the mountain. But most local merchants and residents were singing a different tune.

“Why do they let so many come up here?” asked Phil Heylek, a Lake of the Woods resident for eight years. The question was heard from Lebec to Lockwood Valley and beyond. “They’re thick as ants” is how Barry Ailetcher described the families mobbing the hills of the Los Padres National Forest west of Pine Mountain.

Yet over $80,000 has been spent by mountain organizations to lure tourists to come to “stay awhile.” The Kern County Board of Trade has invested to make this an attractive “Gateway to Kern County.”

For local businesses, it has been a mixed bag, depending on location. Laura Olney, who owns Traffic Zone at the entrance to Frazier Park, said, “We did awesome on Saturday. I had to go off the hill to get more supplies on Sunday.” But Manuel Leon of La Leña Restaurant in Pine Mountain had a different story: “It was slower than usual on the weekend because they weren’t letting people drive up here….” The Mountain View Market did a brisk business at Lockwood Valley Road where CHP was turning cars around. But logical tourist attractions such as A Spot of Bead and Chatterpillar Toys, Gifts and Balloons on Frazier Park’s main drag said it was a very slow day. “I heard that the motorcycle shop did $1,500 in sleds,” said Wendy Bogdanoff whose store is on Mt. Pinos Way, “but that was Lebec.”

LOW resident Heylek says of the traffic that he’s “never seen it this bad,” but historic photos sent in by his neighbor Doug Peters show that 60 years ago traffic jams were occurring when the great white hit the slopes. The problem is, snow seems to make people stupid.

People park their cars in dangerous places, some stop in the middle of the street. Pedestrians walk down the center of icy roads where motorists are likely to lose control.

In Lake of the Woods, from the moment the El Camino Pines Lutheran Church parking lot was plowed Saturday to prepare for services the next day, the church grounds became a Disneyland for sledders, snowboarders and igloo-builders. In their wake, snow tourists left trash, beer bottles and ‘yellow snow.’

Heylek lives behind the church: “Hey, if [the church] wants to open up their parking lot, fine. If they want to charge people to park there, great. But how about putting out trash cans, porta-potties and letting us residents know they’re doing it in the first place?”

Neighbors heard Heylek yell at a few cars: “Give me your address so I can come park on your one-lane street and play in your yard!”

Another neighbor, Brandon Grosh, a lifelong Mountain Community resident, used his truck as an impromptu roadblock, telling visitors seeking parking that “residents only are allowed; no snow play parking.”

Both Grosh and Heylek complained about the poor plowing by Kern County, leaving room for only one car to pass at a time, with no room for parking on either side.

Heylek asked a Kern County Sheriff’s deputy for help. “What can I do?” he said the deputy responded,

The legality of residents blocking a public road is an issue. A ‘no trespassing’ sign was clearly visible on the church grounds. Illegal weekend parking on Frazier Mountain Park Road, Mt. Pinos Way and Cuddy Valley Road is a safety hazard for residents and nonresidents alike.

There were almost as many sunbathers, barbecuers and tailgaters as there were actual ‘snow bunnies’ on the weekend. Children were having snowball fights on Frazier Mountain Park Road. Drivers and passengers were opening roadside car doors without looking and people were sitting in chairs planted between car bumpers as if that would shield them if a driver lost control of their vehicle.

High school teacher Sue Brown said it took 55 minutes to drive from Lebec to Frazier Park on Saturday. “I’ve lived here since 1968 and that was easily among the very top days for visitors that I have ever seen. There must be a better way, for sure, but it will take investment to do it,” Brown said.

Readers are opening a brainstorm with good ideas in these pages, and we will continue the report and the dialogue next week.

–Reported by K .Penland, P. Sturdevant, G. Meyer, P. Hedlund

This is part of the February 05, 2010 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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