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Nearly 20 years in the making, South Lake Park opens in San Marcos

For years, South Lake sat behind a locked fence and was inaccessible to the public. Now it’s been turned into a beautiful 10-acre park filled with wildflowers and animals.

The park opened last month after being planned for nearly 20 years.

"This (is a) little oasis here tucked in the hills," said Chris Robbins, the conservation supervisor for the Vallecitos Water District.


The man-made South Lake, built in 1959, was used as a drinking water reservoir for the district for many years until it was decommissioned in 1984.

“It's been fenced off for years, and so there's a vast quantity of wildlife in the area," Robbins said. "We just had a vulture fly over us.”

Since being decommissioned, the lake served as an emergency water reserve to help fight wildfires. In 2005, San Marcos entered a 50-year lease with the water district for $1 a year to turn the lake into a park.

"The city had some big plans with their redevelopment funds to make a boat dock and make some real extensive amenities,” Robbins said.

But the state canceled the redevelopment funds in 2010 because of a budget deficit, stymying the project for years. Because of the cut in funding, the city had to scale back some of its plans.


“This is (the) first phase of it. So there is more to come at some point in time,” San Marcos Mayor Rebecca Jones said.

The park looks more like a nature preserve than a park. Jones said that's by design.

"There's a lot of wildlife that naturally occurs, and we do like to keep that as natural as possible," she said. "You can find a lot of different animals out here. There are lots of birds, road runners, probably geese that will end up being in the lake.”

And, of course, fish. The lake, while officially off-limits, has been popular with residents. Patrick Hannah, a resident of nearby Vista, learned about the spot from his friend who used to fish here as a kid.

Hannah has been coming here to fish since the park opened.

“I’ve caught one or two every time I came,” he said.

While the park could use some amenities, such as bathrooms, he said it's still a great place to bring the family.

"People should come and check it out," Hannah said. "Bring your kids, your family and walk your dog. It's a pretty cool place."

South Lake Park, 975 Sunstone Drive, is open from sunrise to sunset.

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