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A Dose Of Nature Comes To One Of San Diego’s Densest Neighborhoods

A newly constructed foot bridge can be seen from the top of the 47th Street C...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker / KPBS

Above: A newly constructed foot bridge can be seen from the top of the 47th Street Canyon in San Diego's City Heights neighborhood, April 14, 2017.

San Diego's City Heights neighborhood is now home to a vast network of canyon trails that offer recreational, educational and environmental benefits.

San Diego County is known for its natural attractions and hiking excursions. Now for residents of one San Diego neighborhood, those environmental experiences are in their backyard.

Organizers on Saturday will cut the ribbon on newly constructed canyon trails in City Heights, one of the most populated communities in the city.

San Diego Canyonlands Executive Director Eric Bowlby said a goal of the more than $1 million project, which launched in 2005, was to bring open spaces to a region that is lacking green areas. A 2013 report showed City Heights was among 15 community planning areas that did not provide enough parks for its population.

"We saw an opportunity to transform degraded, sometimes dangerous open spaces into havens for wildlife and a community asset where people can hike and enjoy nature," Bowlby said.

San Diego's City Heights neighborhood is now home to a vast network of canyon trails that offer recreational, educational and environmental benefits.

Bowlby said the seven new trails and 19 acres of restoration work will provide more than just recreational opportunities in City Heights. He said enhanced access to the canyons creates outdoor learning opportunities for nearby school children. One of the ravines, Manzanita Canyon, is the future site of Ocean Discovery Institute's Living Lab, a hands-on science education space that is expected to serve more than 20,000 City Heights students each year.

Plus, Bowlby added, the group’s restoration efforts will serve greater San Diego by cleaning rainwater before it reaches the ocean.

“And to the degree that we can slow down and absorb urban runoff, filter it before it gets to the coast, maybe we won’t have to close the beaches for 72 hours every time it rains,” he said.

Landscape architect John Holloway, who assisted on the canyon overhaul, said it was also a transportation project. He said the trail upgrades give community members a safe passageway through an otherwise treacherous short cut.

“We’ve got really steep grades, and there’s been quite of a bit of erosion where people have walked down steep grades so it’s pretty slippery. It’s just not a really good situation. It’s not very sustainable either," said Holloway of KTUA Planning and Landscape Architecture.

Holloway said he will ensure the improvements will last; the firm signed on to help Canyonlands maintain the trails for the next two decades. The state grant that Canyonlands received requires a long-term maintenance commitment, and Holloway said KTUA is providing its services for the bargain price of $11,000.

Although Bowlby admitted there is more work to be done — partly due to setbacks from this season's rains — a ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for Saturday morning. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, District 9 City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez, former Councilwoman Marti Emerald, California Assemblyman Todd Gloria and State Senator Toni Atkins are scheduled to attend.

Funding Sources

Price Charities/Philanthropies: $101,000

Strategic Growth Council (Urban Greening Grant): $364,860

REI: $40,000

US Fish and Wildlife Service: $8,000

CalFire (with SD County Urban Corps): $1,500

The San Diego Foundation: $28,835

Colwell Family Distributable Fund: $10,000

Patagonia: $3,000

Steps to Sustainable Stewardship (anonymous): $54,112

Ocean Discovery Institute (CCC Grant): $187,000

California Dept. of Parks and Recreation: $209,252

Total: $ 1,007,559

Source: San Diego Canyonlands

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