People come to Oak Glen to experience nature, but sometimes the mountain community gets a little more than it can handle.
This year’s apple season was off to what growers called a good start when flash flooding from Tropical Storm Kay brought devastation to portions of the community on Monday, April 12.
Businesses remained open and ready for tourists, but the most direct route into Oak Glen was closed by mudslides.
Oak Glen is known throughout Southern California for its U-pick orchards, and growers said they have a good crop.
“I think it’s going to be better than average,” said Michael Hudson of Snow-Line Orchard, citing a summer without major heatwaves until September.
“Looks good,” said Freeman House of Stone Pantry Orchard. “Bigger than last year, not as big as some.”
Enjoying the grounds
Oak Glen is a community in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains that was settled in the 1870s by farmers who planted potatoes and started apple orchards, according to the 2006 book “Oak Glen and Los Rios Rancho.” After World War II, the community began to promote itself as a center for U-pick apples. Now tourists can also pick peaches, pears, raspberries and strawberries.
Apple season traditionally kicks off on Labor Day weekend and runs into November. Several varieties of apples grow in Oak Glen, ripening at various times during the fall.
Faith Riley of Stone Soup Farm & Heritage Orchard, expects her decades-old grove of Stayman Winesap trees to ripen in October and the crop to last about two weeks.
But U-pick is just one activity that Riley and her husband Tim offer on their property. They have developed an interest in regenerative agriculture that Faith Riley said caused them to evaluate their operation.
“I think for us, when COVID hit we had time to step back and think.”
They have a shop selling food items and small-batch products as well as a kitchen garden, flower lanes and berry patches.
They also book picnic lunches and schedule farm-to-table dinners with organic vegetables, artisan breads and locally sourced cheeses
“It’s just about enjoying the grounds,” said Faith Riley.
Like Stone Soup, many Oak Glen growers offer visitors a wide range of activities, including cider pressing, wine tasting and live entertainment.
More Southern Californians are discovering Oak Glen, she said. Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, 2020 was a good year as people from Los Angeles County were looking for an outdoor escape from lockdowns. She is also seeing more people coming from Palm Desert to beat the heat.
But there was another disaster in 2020 that affected Oak Glen’s apple season. The El Dorado Fire, caused by explosives set off at a gender reveal photo shoot, swept through more than 22,000 acres in the Oak Glen/Yucaipa Ridge area and within the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area of the National Forest and caused the death of a firefighter.
The El Dorado Fire’s burn scar is blamed for this month’s mudslides, which caused San Bernardino County supervisors to declare a local emergency on Sept. 15.
Oak Glen is usually 10-20 degrees cooler than lower elevations, Hudson said. But being in the mountains raises the risk of wildfires that can suddenly shut down tourism. Fire and mudslide warning signs are up year-round.
The Sept. 12 storm destroyed or damaged 30 homes and affected 3,000 mountain residents, but only took out one business, according to the Oak Glen Apple Growers Association.
That business is the Oak Glen Steakhouse & Saloon, which was hit by a 7-foot wall of mud that obliterated 70 percent of its kitchen and dining room and kitchen, according to a GoFundMe campaign set up by Brandon Gallegos, co-owner and manager of the family business.
In a phone interview two days after the mudslide, Gallegos said he had trees in his dining room.
“The goal for us right night is getting our building excavated as quickly as possible.”
Gallegos said neighbors rallied to his aid, bringing in construction equipment to clear out the debris.
He plans to reopen. In three days, the GoFundMe campaign raised more than $14,000.
“The west side of the Glen got hit pretty had, but we haven’t over here,” said Devin Riley of Los Rios Rancho in a Facebook video posted on Sept 13. “Just a few drops. Not much of anything.”
Los Rios Rancho is in the process of rebuilding from a separate fire that destroyed its store, bakery and packing house in October 2020.
Oak Glen is eager to reassure visitors that businesses are open and ready for them.
“The rest of the Glen is enjoying beautiful fall temperatures and businesses are open for your fall festivities,” the growers association posted on its website.
Oak Glen is not incorporated. Some businesses give addresses in Oak Glen, and some give addresses in Yucaipa, the city down the hill. Either way, most of the addresses will be on the long and winding Oak Glen Road.
The growers association and businesses are recommending motorists avoid the westside stretch near the steakhouse as well as Potato Canyon Road, which is prone to flooding.
Theu recommend visitors use Wildwood Canyon Road or Beamont Avenue to get to Oak Glen Road from the east.
Oak Glen attractions
Los Rios Rancho
What: A 300-acre property that dates back to the pioneer days
Attractions: U-pick, shopping, outdoor barbecue, entertainment, nature walks, nature walks and an Apple Butter Festival, Nov. 25-27.
Produce: Apples, berries, pumpkins, corn and chestnuts.
Where: 39611 Oak Glen Road, Yucaipa.
Oak Tree Mountain
What: This 14-acre shopping center doesn’t grow apples, but it is the home of Apple Annie’s, a restaurant and bakery that turns out popular 5-pound Mile-High Apple Pies. Recent additions include Common Ground Public House, serving cocktails and bar food, and a giant, red-white-and-blue slide. Oak Tree Mountain is cash-free, so plan on using credit or debit cards.
Attractions: Full-service and quick-service dining, ax-throwing, outdoor games, shopping.
Where: 38480 Oak Glen Road, Oak Glen.
What: Sprawling property with colonial-style buildings that puts on “living history” field trips and dinner theater.
Attractions: U-pick, shopping, dining, entertainment, historical reenactments.
Produce: Apples, berries, pears, pumpkins.
Where: 12261 Oak Glen Road, Yucaipa
What: This apple farm specializes in cider, including hard cider. It is also the home of the popular mini cider doughnuts, made fresh in a shop that sells several varieties of apples and has a bar in the back.
Attractions: U-pick raspberries but not apples, wine tasting.
Where: 39400 Oak Glen Road, Yucaipa
Stone Pantry Orchard
What: Property available for private events, such as weddings, school tours and church retreats.
Attractions: U-pick, u-press cider.
Produce: Apples, pears, berries, pumpkins.
Where: 11993 Oak Glen Road, Yucaipa
Stone Soup Farm & Heirloom Orchard
What: Regenerative farm with “heirloom” and new apple orchards.
Attractions: U-pick apples, picnic packages, special dinners.
Produce: Apples, berries, vegetables.
Where: 12131 Oak Glen Road, Yucaipa
Willowbrook Apple Farm
What: 1910 orchard will open for the season on Oct. 1, according to its website.
Attractions: U-pick, u-press cider, wine and s’mores tastings.
Produce: Apples, berries.
Where: 12099 Oak Glen Road, Yucaipa