Wetlands restoration project nearing completion

The more than two-mile long lagoon trail is good for hikers, runners and cyclists. Photo: Karen Billing
The more than two-mile long lagoon trail is good for hikers, runners and cyclists. Photo: Karen Billing

By Karen Billing

Fish, fowl and trail users are flocking to the San Dieguito Lagoon, where the five-year wetlands restoration project is finally winding down. The restoration has allowed for the community to have a real asset, safe from development where native species can again thrive in their wetlands and marshland habitats, according to Natalie Borchardt, a park ranger with the San Dieguito River Park JPA.

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Winter is a great time for seeing migratory birds in the lagoon. A snowy egret stands in the foreground. Photo: Karen Billing

“We were fortunate enough to have people in this community stand up for protecting this area as open space,” said Borchardt, on a Dec. 10 hike.

The wetlands restoration has been a very long time in the making, considering the research for the restoration began 15 years ago by the San Dieguito River Park — they were just waiting for someone with the “deep pockets” to finance the project, Borchardt said. When Southern California Edison was required by the Coastal Commission to mitigate for work on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the River Park jumped at the opportunity to offer up its project. The $90 million project is one of the largest coastal restoration projects on the West Coast. The final opening of the river channel from the ocean was completed on Sept. 19

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The San Dieguito River Park boardwalk. Photo: Karen Billing

“The majority of the restoration work is finishing up and they will be completed with the project within the next few weeks,” Borchardt said.

She said the project has been a great success, with the native species surpassing all the expectations of ecologists. At last count, they were up to around 192 species of birds.

The last project will be on the south side of the river where it flows under Jimmy Durante Bridge. Old cement material will be pulled out and replaced with rock and plants to help sustain the riverbank long-term.

Besides establishing more native species in the lagoon, another success has been bringing people to enjoy the area through the addition of trails since work began in 2006.

The lagoon trail runs about two and a half miles round trip from the kiosk on San Andres behind the Albertson’s shopping center to the Jimmy Durante Bridge — 0.28 miles of it on boardwalk.

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Native species in the San Dieguito Lagoon have surpassed expectations since the restoration. Photo: Karen Billing

There is also another mile of trail that goes east from the kiosk toward the Del Mar Horsepark that opened three months ago, which Borchardt said has been very well used.

Park rangers will begin work this week on the new Horsepark section of the Coast to Crest Trail, revegitating the area by planting some 10,000 plants. The Horsepark section of the trail runs along the western edge and connects to the west side of El Camino Real.

The River Park hopes to work with city in its widening and realignment of El Camino Real to ensure safe passage for trail users.

“Right now is an exciting time for all of the birds migrating from the north because they like our weather,” Borchardt said, pointing out egrets and ducks. “They’re true snow birds.”

A walk along the lagoon trail is scenic and quiet, despite of its proximity to the freeway.

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