The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve has a few rules: Don’t bring your dog to the park, don’t eat food along the trail, and don’t fly drones overhead. The most important? Stay on the trail. But during this season’s super bloom, a semi-rare outbreak of golden poppies in spring, staff at the reserve have had a difficult time making sure swarms of kids, families, and models posing for Instagram follow along without trampling the delicate wildflowers.
On a typical day, the park sees about 60 visitors. During super bloom season that number skyrockets to around 2,000. Jean Rhyne, who has been an interpreter at the reserve for 13 years, has been vocal about the long-term impact this can have on the park’s natural wildlife.
“This park was created specifically because of the poppies that are here,” Rhyne told Vice News, “And if they get stepped on or sat on to take a picture in […] it compacts the soil and then the roots from the seeds of the next year can’t get in. So we’ll have scars in the habitat for many years to come. ”
Super blooms in California tend to occur about once a decade on average, dependent upon heavy rainfall and favorable temperatures, but this season is the second the reserve has seen in three years. In 2017, there was what Rhyne calls the “Apopalypse,” when park staff first saw a significant and unexpected rise in visitorship, most of whom were drawn there for social media.
Since then, the reserve has tried to adapt, hiring staff from other California State Parks, providing numerous trails and walkways, and even using their hashtag #DontDoomTheBloom to inform people about the potential harm before they visit.
But this hasn’t deterred people from getting their perfect shot. Fewer than 300 Instagram posts have the #DontDoomTheBloom tag while more than 147,000 are tagged #superbloom. 45,000 have the hashtag #CaliforniaPoppies.
This year has also brought some unique problems. In March, a pair landed a helicopter in the middle of a field of poppies. When a park ranger approached the couple, they ran back to the helicopter and fled. The reserve responded to the incident in a since-deleted post on Facebook: “We never thought it would be explicitly necessary to state that it is illegal to land a helicopter in the middle of the fields and begin hiking off trail. We were wrong.”
Rhyne, on the other hand, was not surprised. “You just never know what’s going to happen out here,” she said. “People do weird things.”
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