By Karen Billing
The San Dieguito River Park JPA will be adding an open-air classroom/amphitheater to its restored San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands area by next year. The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board recommended approval of the plan for the new gathering spot on Aug. 23.
“It will be used for education activities like ranger talks or for people to come and meet friends,” said Susan Carter, deputy director of SDRP. “We’re well on our way to building it with a huge assistance in funding from Supervisor Pam Slater-Price.”
The county has been committed to help fund the project at the request of Slater-Price, pledging $112,000. As a whole, the project will cost $330,000 and the river park is working with other donors for its completion.
The JPA still needs to go through a permit process but they hope to be finished with the project by next summer, according to Shawna Anderson, environmental planner for SDRP.
“It’s definitely exciting. We’re really pleased about the donations we’ve received and the ability to get to build it,” Anderson said. “It will be an asset to the San Dieguito River Park and it will be open to the public at all times.”
The river park went through a public design process for the whole site in 2009, resulting in the design of a lagoon nature center. In 2009, the cost of the center was estimated to be at $3.6 million to $5.5 million and the river park applied for a grant to get it built.
“We didn’t get the grant so we turned our sights on our open-air classroom as it was a much smaller project and much more doable,” Anderson said.
Thanks to the county’s funding, they were able to revisit the 2009 outdoor classroom design and make a few changes, using the same architects Roesling Nakamura Terada and landscape architect Spurlock Poirier.
The amphitheater will be carved out of a slope that is already on the site in between two trails, the Coast to Crest Trail and the upper pedestrian trail.
The Coast to Crest lagoon segment by the proposed amphitheater is a three-mile stretch for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians that runs from Jimmy Durante Boulevard to the Del Mar Horsepark. When completed, the trail will run from the beach to Vulcan Mountain near Julian.
The lower pedestrian trail is just for walkers and is a quarter-mile long.
The classroom will have tiered seating with a series of four rows and a stage at the bottom end. A shade canopy will be over the seating area that slopes upward like a bird’s wing.
There will be permanent seating for 80 people but with temporary chairs on the stage area, the amphitheater could hold 120.
New wood bridges built on the trail will lead into the classroom and salvaged boulders will be placed on the edges. The surrounding area will be planted with shrubs, Coastal Sage Scrub mix and riparian trees.
A parking area is already in the works near the classroom. It will be covered with decomposed granite and have 60 spaces that will serve trail users, the classroom and the future nature center. Currently, trail users have to park along San Andreas.
The parking area is also close to the historic Strawberry Stand, which is now being used as a nursery. Plants grown in the nursery will soon fill holes in the lagoon area.
“It looks better and better every day,” Anderson said of the plant-filled nursery.
Construction on the amphitheater could tentatively begin by the end of this year and the river park has not abandoned the plan to build out the nature center in full.
“We still want to do the nature center when the funding is available,” Anderson said.