By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
Mission Trails Regional Park, already considered to be one of the crown jewels of parks in San Diego, is poised to become an even bigger and brighter gem for outdoor enthusiasts.
On May 21, San Diego City Council voted unanimously to approve a master plan update (MPU) for Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) that maps out how the park will expand acreage, improve infrastructure, provide more outdoor activities, improve trails, and better protect habitat and natural resources.
“Mission Trails is a special place for me, just as it is for thousands of other San Diegans,” said Councilmember Scott Sherman in a statement after the vote. “The area was my playground as a child even before it became an official park, instilling a deep appreciation for the outdoors that I still carry today. I thank the City Council for approving this update so we can continue investing in this natural treasure.”
The most significant change in the MTRP master plan update — it’s first since 1985 — is the addition of new acreage in the East Elliott and Sycamore West sections of the park. The update will increase the size of MTRP from 5,380 acres to approximately 9,780 acres with the potential to acquire additional property in the future — mostly from a planned annexation of the Sycamore Landfill property. Other areas of park expansion would be from private landowners in East Elliott.
As of now, there are no legal trails in East Elliott. Current trails are utility access roads and user-created trails that cross public and private land and are not formally designed or planned and have no legal access. The MPU contains recommendations that provide guidance for the long-term development of a trail network within East Elliott area that can be implemented as lands are brought into public ownership or are permitted for private development. It is anticipated that trail linkages within the area may eventually provide a connection to trails within the county’s Gooden Ranch Sycamore Canyon Preserve and the West Sycamore area of MTRP.
As the park adds acreage, there will be more rangers added to the staff to patrol and service it, said Dorothy Leanord, chair of the Mission Trails Regional Park Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), a group that worked closely on developing the MPU.
The MPU lays out recommendations throughout the park for planning, management, funding, facilities, habitat/species conservation and recreation. Once the updated plan is ready to be implemented, park staff and the MTRP CAC will work together to prioritize what specific projects are worked on first.
“I anticipate at future CAC meetings asking for input from the public regarding their priorities,” Leanord said.
Some of the general planning recommendations in the MPU include designing neighborhood or community parks on the perimeter of MTRP to be compatible in design and look and incorporating trail linkages and recreation into developments adjacent to the park; removing the extension of Clairemont Mesa Boulevard and the addition of Jackson Drive within the park boundaries as part of next Tierrasanta community plan update; coordinating with cities and SANDAG to determine the feasibility of locating a bus stop at one or more locations in park; and supporting implementation of the River Park Master Plan within the park.
Management recommendations include developing a fire response plan; conducting paleontological monitoring; and working with tribal councils, educational institutions, etc. to develop strategies for protecting the park and developing park programs.
The funding recommendations direct the park to pursue grants to fund projects in the MPU.
Recommendations for facilities are to keep signs and buildings consistent in design.
The habitat/species recommendations provide guidance on fencing in the park, monitoring of plants and animals, dealing with invasive species and specific plans to protect various endangered or sensitive species.
The recreation recommendations set standards on how trails should look and where and how they should be built.
In addition to the planned improvements to the new sections of the park — East Elliott and Sycamore West — the MPU also lays out specific recommendation for the other sections of the park.
For Lake Murray, the MPU includes a plan for the Mission Trails Golf Course property in the case that running the golf course is no longer viable for the city. If that were to happen, the plan calls for the city-owned turf sections of the golf course between Jackson Drive and Navajo Road to be used for active and passive recreation, family and group picnicking and to build meandering trails and a linear open play area that connects Lake Murray to Cowles Mountain. Also, the city-owned land southwest of Jackson Drive and north of the lake would be turned into a tree-canopied area for picnicking and small group day use.
Another area slated for improvements in Lake Murray is the undeveloped area south of the ballfields between Del Cerro Bay and Cowles Bay, which would be developed with a group picnic area with small shade structures, tables and benches.
The Lake Murray plan also calls for building a new trail connection from Del Cerro to the western shoreline of Lake Murray utilizing an existing utility access road and creating an improved trail connection to Sunset Park in La Mesa.
For MTRP’s most popular hiking area, Cowles Mountain, the MPU recommends designing and building an off-street gravel parking area at the Barker Way entrance and another in the area just north of Golfcrest Drive off Mission Gorge Road adjacent to the San Diego County Water Authority pipeline access portal to provide northerly access to the Pyles Peak trail and a potential rock climbing area. The MPU also proposes relocating parking at the south end of Mesa Road and revegetating the existing parking area while keeping the existing trailhead kiosk and gate.
Proposed changes to the Cowles Mountain trails include building a more formal trailhead entrance; restoring trails and closing off user-created paths; and constructing a new trail connection from the Padre Dam water tank to Big Rock to create a portion of a large loop on the east side of Pyles Peak and north of Cowles Mountain.
For the Mission Gorge area of the park, the MPU recommends MTRP consider acquiring the 200-plus acres of land owned by the city of San Diego’s Public Utility District on Kwaay Paay as dedicated parkland.
A major re-naturalization effort is also recommended where the park would coordinate with adjacent landowners to restore the perimeter around Kumeyaay Lake and redirect the San Diego River back to its former course to reduce sedimentation and spread of invasive species.
Facility and recreation upgrades for Mission Gorge include installing EV charging stations at the Visitor Center; operating Kumeyaay Lake as an overnight campground; expanding the bike skills area; constructing a parking lot on the eastern side of Father Junipero Serra Trail between Mission Gorge Road and Visitor Center; building a permanent restroom at the Old Mission Dam staging area; and constructing a Deerfield Canyon Nature Park in the 2 acres next to the bike skills area with picnic tables, fitness course and children’s play area.
The MPU also recommends building a path along the river in accordance with the San Diego River Park Master Plan and constructing a suspension or truss bridge for pedestrians and bikes to cross the river.
The Fortuna area of the park has the most recommendations in the MPU, almost all of which are to either assess new trails or close and restore existing ones.
“The trails in the Fortuna area were not created as recreational trails but for use by the military and other agencies with easements in the area,” explained Leanord on why the Fortuna area is in need of so much restoration work.
Now that the MPU has been passed by City Council, the final hurdle before any of the recommendations can be implemented is a vote by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, although a date has not yet been set.
“We are looking forward to support from the County Board of Supervisors and setting priorities so we can get started on some much-needed trail improvements,” Leanord said.
To view the MTRP master plan update, visit bit.ly/2MEGgDR.
— Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.