Escondido Creek restoration gets $ 8.5 million boost


A long-held vision of transforming a concrete flood control canal that runs through the heart of Escondido into a linear park lined with landscaping, public art, walking and cycling trails will soon begin to take shape. , through an $ 8.5 million national park and recreation grant.

The city of Escondido learned last year that it had been selected for the grant, funded by Proposition 68, a $ 4 billion bond measure approved by California voters in 2018. The city’s restoration of the Escondido Creek Waterway was one of nine projects to receive the maximum grant in 2020.

Citizen groups, nonprofits and city officials have worked for years to create a vision for Escondido Creek, which was covered with a concrete flood control culvert decades ago by the US Army Corps of Engineers on a 6.2 mile stretch in central Escondido. To the east and west of the concrete channel, barricaded on both sides by wire fences, the stream remains in its natural state.

This fall, detailed plans for the creek’s restoration will be presented to the town planning commission and city council of Escondido, and a construction offer is expected to be awarded in early 2022, with construction expected to begin shortly thereafter. The work is expected to take about a year.

Efforts to revitalize the creek began as early as 2010, resulting in the creation of two key documents, the Revealing Escondido Creek Vision Plan and the Escondido Creek Trail Master Plan, said Joanna Axelrod, Deputy City Manager for the Town of Escondido.

Over the years, several projects have been completed or initiated, such as the ‘missing link’ bike path between Broadway and Center City Parkway, the midway crossings of major arteries along the creek route and a pocket park and a mural near the intersection of North Broadway. on the channeled stream.

“This grant really allows us to put the icing on the cake, to truly make it a gem and an asset to the community,” said Axelrod.

Katie Stokes, owner of the Edible San Diego website, joined an ad hoc committee of Creek supporters as the vision plan was completed. Before getting involved as a volunteer, she said, she often passed through the concrete canal without thinking twice.

But then she met the former executive director of the Escondido Creek Conservancy, Geoffrey Smith, who helped open her eyes to the history of the waterway.

“It was a revelation to me, that the creek was a real body of water that was ancient, going back to time immemorial,” Stokes said. “It was (Smith’s) vision for the urban part of the creek that really sparked a spark in me.

Members of the committee, called “Reveal Escondido Creek”, undertook to inquire and contacted groups and individuals interested in restoring the creek. Between 2012 and 2014, they organized events such as walks and bike rides along the creek, as well as guest speakers.

“He has waited all these years for a grant of this magnitude to bring this linear park to its potential,” said Stokes. “I am over the moon with this grant, what a wonderful opportunity. “

While the creek upgrade project will affect the 6.2-mile channel that crosses the city limits, the bulk of the work will focus on a 4.5-mile stretch between Broadway and Midway, Axelrod said. “It’s at the heart of our urban core,” she said.

The project will create 1.7 miles of double-sided trail, with an asphalt cycle path on one side of the canal and a decomposed granite footpath on the other side. Just under half a mile of new bike path will be added.

Other elements, Axelrod said, will include new, more attractive fences, fitness stations, parklets, drought-resistant landscaping, lighting, new stripes and new signage. Benches, water bottle filling stations and murals will also be added along the route, Axelrod said.

“It will give that feeling of a place people want to be,” she said.

The city is considering a location between Elm and Date streets for a community garden with space for 10-20 garden plots. Public art will also be a big part of the upgrade, with the larger mural slated for the back of the Neighborhood Healthcare building on Elm Street.

Designers work with local Native American tribes on patterns and designs to incorporate into such items as pavers and signage.

“We want to celebrate the diversity of the community through the works of art created,” said Axelrod.

The city is working with funding partners to complete the creek restoration, including the Escondido Creek Conservancy, a non-profit organization focused on the protection and restoration of the entire creek watershed, which stretches from Wohlford Lake in the east to San Elijo Lagoon in the west, including the concrete channel through Escondido.

“Our collective goal is a lot more shade, a lot more greenery, a lot more of a human-friendly trail,” said Ann Van Leer, the current executive director of conservation. “We want it to be cooler, with trees and nature all along the way.”

One of the reserve’s proposals is a “park within a park” at Grape Day Park, which would include aquatic features, an amphitheater and public art, connecting the park to the creek trail. This project is not included in the funding provided by the State.

Among the topics discussed, Van Leer said, was the possibility of removing parts of the concrete canal to restore the creek to its natural state, allowing for creek-side meals and other activities. She recognized that such a project would require technical analysis to ensure that the creek could fulfill its role as a flood control channel.

At least for now, that seems unlikely.

“It would be incredibly expensive, even if we could get the permits,” Axelrod said. “Unfortunately, it’s not in the cards.”

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