Foothills wildflowers have attracted big crowds, leading to parking issues

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For a variety of reasons, the Wenatchee Foothills are attracting bigger-than-usual crowds this spring and that has led to illegal parking and other problems.

Spring typically brings a throng of people to the trails, looking for a chance to witness the annual rush of brightly colored lupin, arrowleaf balsamroot and other wildflowers.

But this year, the crowds have been especially heavy, quickly filling parking lots that serve the trail system.

Over the weekend, the Chelan County Sheriff’s office was called out five times to deal with illegally parked vehicles along residential streets above Wenatchee, said Capt. Jason Reinfeld.

Several, citations were issued, he said.

The Sage Hills area off Fifth Street has been especially problematic, said Olivia Schilling stewardship and trails coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust.

She said the influx of trail users has been both locals and people from other areas of the state

“We’ve had a lot of issues with parking and also some wildflower picking and some people off trails too, said Schilling said.

When the parking lot is full, she said, people still can park on Fifth Street, but not the narrow residential streets leading to the trails.

If the wildflower blooms have seemed especially spectacular this spring Schilling said that could be because the dry climate has compressed the growing season.

“You’re seeing everything kind of all at once,” she said. “A big part of it is perception. People have had a really rough year, for the most part. They’re getting more hopeful and focus on hopeful things and kind of seeing more blooms and seeing things that are kind of positive in their life.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more people wanting to get outdoors throughout the state and country, Schilling said. That was the case last spring and even more so this year.

In addition, people sharing their experiences on social media has made even more people want to witness the flowering of the Wenatchee foothills.

“The word is spreading, so we’re seeing a lot of people from the west side coming over, as well as locals,” Schilling said.

A resident near the Sage Hills Trailhead said one group of visitors said they came from the Seattle area after seeing photos of the wildflowers on social media.

The cars were so tightly packed along Day Road over the weekend “you could barely walk along that road,” the resident said.

Schilling said people need to stay on the established trails, resist the urge to pick the wildflowers and, of course, make sure they are parked legally before using the trails.