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Work begins on Coast to Crest Trail through Surf Sports Park

A group of volunteers began work on the Coast to Crest Trail at Surf Sports Park on Dec. 4.
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There has finally been movement on the San Dieguito River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail segment that runs through the Surf Sports Park, a project many, many years in the making.

At a Dec. 4 work party, about 49 volunteers showed up to blaze the trail including members of the San Diego Mountain Bike Association, the Del Mar Rotary, San Dieguito River Park staff, and JPA board representatives San Diego City Councilmembers Marni von Wilpert and Joe LaCava, Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden and Poway City Councilmember Dave Grosch.

The trail runs 1.3 miles along the length of the property, aligned with the San Dieguito River. The trail had become overgrown with ice plant and invasive species and the surface was not very usable. In some spots, the trail was very narrow, down to only one foot wide. With the first stages of work, the surface is much smoother and it’s about eight feet wide and usable for bikes, horses, runners and walkers.

“On Saturday when we were working out there, several runners and bicyclists came by and were very excited and happy about it,” said Shawna Anderson, executive director of the San Dieguito River Park (SDRP).

SD City Councilmembers
SD City Councilmembers and SDRP JPA board members Marni von Wilpert and Joe LaCava with SDRP Executive Director Shawna Anderson, center.
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For many years, the public trail on the city-owned property was never used by the community.

The previous lessee, the San Diego Polo Club, was prohibited from impacting the trail but over time it became torn up as the club used it for polo ponies. In 2005, the city’s code enforcement department issued a notice of violation to the polo club for damages to the Coast to Crest Trail. A site development permit was issued for restoration work but nothing was done for the next 11 years they held the lease.

Once the city awarded Surf Cup Sports with a 28-year lease in 2016, they agreed to take the project on. However, shortly after they were awarded the lease, the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley filed an lawsuit against the city challenging the lack of an environmental review. The legal issues continued for several years until January 2021 when the court ruled that environmental review was not required.

Anderson said the River Park has struggled with Surf to fulfill their obligation with the trail but as Surf Sports CEO Brian Enge said, they were not going to start work while the legal challenges were ongoing. With the legal issues resolved, this year both parties were able to come together with assistance from LaCava.

Volunteers at work on the Coast to Crest Trail segment at Surf Sports Park.
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Enge said their intent is always to be good stewards of the property and it has been a process this year working with the city to complete permitting before beginning the physical work on the trail. For the Dec. 4 kickoff, Surf did the initial clearing and grubbing of the site and SDRP agreed to bring the volunteers—the San Diego Mountain Bike Association also stepped up big time to help get the word out.

Enge said he was very impressed by the team of volunteers, especially elected officials like LaCava out with a rake putting in work.

“(The volunteers) made a big difference, the trail looks fantastic,” Enge said.

The work is not a small investment—Enge estimates it could be up to $1 million and Surf is still in the permitting process for the habitat restoration, which has been designed.

“We know this is important to the community,” Enge said. “We always strive to be a good partner of the community and we’re happy to continue making progress on something that people will get a lot of joy out of.”

The eastern half of the Surf trail was a bit was more usable although some surfaces are quite sandy and will need more surface improvements, Anderson said. The eastern end will eventually connect to the the Osuna segment, a recently secured connection near Morgan Run Golf Club which will include a 160 foot long bridge over the San Dieguito River, linking the coastal trails with 31 miles of inland trails. SDRP received a $1.3 million grant from the state to design, permit and construct the new segment and the goal is for the trail to begin construction in the next year and be completed in 2024.

On the western end of the trail, SDRP is waiting on the city’s El Camino Real road widening and re-alignment project that has been in the works for over 15 years. The new four-lane road would include a bridge replacement with an undercrossing that would connect the Surf trail to the Horsepark and Lagoon trails and out to the beach in Del Mar—the Coast in Coast to Crest.

The latest estimated start date for construction is 2024.

While over the last few years there has been some controversy about the Surf Park’s field use, Anderson said that SDRP’s focus right now is on the Coast to Crest: “We just want to get the trail done,” she said.

The Dec. 4 work day was just the first step in the process—portions of the trail need a lot to work, piles of ice plant on the trail edge need to be removed and habitat restoration will take some time.

San Diego City Councilmember Joe LaCava with San Dieguito River Park rangers Leana, Nate and Avary.
San Diego City Councilmember Joe LaCava with San Dieguito River Park rangers Leana, Nate and Avary.

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But this is a promising and exciting first step on what has been a long journey.

“We’re really pleased to get some headway here and to get started with improving the trail along this section,” Anderson said.

The widened and revitalized trail.
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