The staff of the Grand Del Mar got their hands good and dirty last week, participating in a habitat restoration project in the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve.
Twenty-three staff members repaired a swath of canyon habitat by putting 230 new plants into the ground. The luxury resort and golf course has the canyon habitat to thank for providing its scenic atmosphere off Carmel Country Road so it was only natural to lend the hand, President Thomas Voss said.
"It's great, it's what we should be doing as we are a part of it," said Voss, with a shovel in hand. "We would do this again any time."
The area the crew restored had previously been full of non-native mustard seed grass. The spot is near the waterfalls of Penasquitos Creek, a highlight of the canyon. The creek is the source of the Penasquitos Lagoon, the estuary where salt water meets fresh water.
The 230 plants donated by the Grand Del Mar represented 11 types of native species: Mexican elderberry, lemonade berry, California sycamore, coast live oak, scrub oak, coastal sagebrush, buckwheat, toyon, needlegrass, blue elderberry and wild hyacinth.
San Diego City Ranger Gina Washington said she was pleased with how fast the group worked. The staff broke into groups of three and even got a bit competitive, cheering when they had finished a plant.
On an unseasonably sunny morning, resort naturalist Dylan Jones led the group on a one-mile hike on the "Cobbles" trails from Del Mar Mesa down to the waterfall area, sharing bits of information about the canyon's history.
"This area has very unique plant features, only four others in the world share this kind of climate zone," Jones said, making note of the coastal sage and chaparral that make their home in the canyon.
There were attempts to subdivide the land in 1886, but it was considered too far away for anyone to want to live - paving the way for it being made a preserve in the 1960s.
Mike Kelly, conservation chairman of the Friends of Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, told the group that its planting area had been a major thoroughfare for the missionaries and was a part of the transcontinental mail route. The mail route went from San Diego to San Antonio, usually taking 32 days, Kelly said.
Voss and his crew didn't need much convincing that the preserve is a very special place, both in its history and its habitat. "It's unique and quiet and scenic," Voss said. "We tell people you don't have to board a plane to go to Tuscany."