Wetlands restoration project nearing completion

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.

“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

“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.

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.

As the ranger led a hike down the lagoon trail she greeted the various users: runners, people walking dogs and families with small children. It makes her very happy to see people out on the trail and commented it’s the only section of trail they have where she’s seen people in wheelchairs and kids learning to use their bikes because it’s so easily accessible and flat.

After passing under I-5 and crossing the boardwalk, the Lagoon Trail ends at the Jimmy Durante Bridge.

The River Park is working on a grant for an initial study called “Reach the Beach,” which would extend the lagoon trail over Jimmy Durante — now it’s a “game of Frogger” for people trying to cross the busy road near the Del Mar Fairgrounds. To get to the beach, users still have to cross the train tracks (illegally).

Much work has been done to revegetate the area—new plants grow steadily around the trails and many of it has been the result of volunteers working with the rangers. The Del Mar Rotary, for one, helped in removing invasive species, such as the water-hogging ice plant and replacing it with new trees and plants.

“Without our volunteers we wouldn’t get half of the things we do accomplished,” Borchardt said.

They are currently looking for volunteers for their trail patrol, people who utilize the trails often who can help rangers by notifying them of any suspicious activity or any repairs that need to be done, such as felled trees. A training session will be held at the end of January. For more information, visit

New trail system planned off El Camino Real

You may have seen grading or orange construction fencing up on El Camino Real, across from the Evangelican Formosan Church and the Stallions Crossing development on Sea Country Lane. The work is not part of any new development project but actually a new trail loop. The San Dieguito River Park JPA finally received permits approved to build a series of trails on the site, to be known as the Mesa Loop Trails.

There will be an entrance from El Camino Real and a permanent staging area and trailhead for about two miles of trails.

“It will be mainly for very passive recreation, pedestrian use only,” said park ranger Natalie Borchardt.

Right now the area is pretty barren but Borchardt said they are starting to see plants grow in — the planted Coastal Sage Scrub should reach about waist high.

An automated gate will be open during the daylight hours and there will be lodge pole fencing to mark the trail and protect bird-nesting sites for least terns. Borchardt is hopeful that they will be able to encourage the return of the least tern, a bird that hasn’t nested in the area for years due to encroachment on their habitat.