The deepest snow in half a decade has brought hordes of sledders to a stretch of Highway 108 that has long been a hassle for the California Highway Patrol.
Officers issued 110 citations for illegal parking from New Year’s Eve through Sunday, Sgt. Dave Chesson said. They also responded to an accident involving an 8-year-old sledder from Modesto who was struck while walking on the highway, he said. The boy, who was not identified, went to the UC Davis Medical Center for treatment of a possible broken leg.
The roughly 12-mile stretch, from Sierra Village to Strawberry, has been a problem for decades. It eased off with the drought of the past four years, but it is back with the abundant snow of the past two months.
Visitors, many of them from the Northern San Joaquin Valley, ignore the “no parking” signs along much of this stretch and start sledding on hills close to the pavement.
“They’re in the road without any warning to the motorist going by,” said Chesson, who added that the driver in Sunday’s accident was not at fault. The speed limit is 50 miles per hour on the two-lane portion and 65 mph where 108 widens to four lanes.
Sledders also risk injury on the slopes, some of which end at roadside ditches or, in Strawberry, on the banks of the Stanislaus River’s south fork.
Much of this land is in the Stanislaus National Forest and open to the public, but drivers need to park only where it’s legal. Safer alternatives also are at Leland High Sierra Snow Play and similar private operations in the Sierra Nevada. Yosemite National Park has places to play, as does Calaveras Big Trees State Park.
Leland, on 108 east of Strawberry, charges people to use its groomed play area but provides equipment, parking, restrooms, supervision and other services, owner Lance Vetesy said. As many as 40 employees are on hand to serve crowds that can reach 1,400.
“There are a lot of people who come upon us, and once they see us, they’ll never go to the side of the road again,” Vetesy said.
The trouble-prone stretch of 108 is often the closest snow to Modesto, and the drought has meant plenty of pent-up demand.
“You’ve got to realize that the kids are excited to get up there,” Chesson said. “As soon as they get out of the car, they’re going to run over to the hill.”
John Holland: 209-578-2385