Southeast San Diego residents lament Chollas Lake Park closures
After his father died five years ago, Ellsworth Hicks Jr. needed an outlet. He found it at Chollas Lake Park in his Southeast San Diego neighborhood.
“I come here just so me and my mom get out of the house,” he said. “I have a lot of memories here in Chollas Lake.”
They come a few times each week to the park situated near the community of Oak Park. He likes to sit by the little free library and look out over the duck-covered lake. He likes that it lets him meet people.
“This is like my social interaction, especially since COVID,” he said.
But lately, when he cruises by with his mother, they’re often met with closed gates.
The park has been closed a total of four weeks so far this year, according to Ranger Najja Lyon. The primary reason has been unusually frequent rainfall. But residents have noticed that it’s been closed on some days when there’s just a drizzle, and sometimes even when it’s sunny.
Lyon said that’s because the wet ground lingers long after the rain stops, and it’s a safety concern. Emergency vehicles can’t access the more hazardous areas of the park, he said. The saturated ground can also cause eucalyptus trees to fall. The trails aren’t safe for walking.
Chollas Lake Park doesn’t have paved roads, and unlike most San Diego parks, it lacks indoor facilities that community members could use in the rain or shine.
Historically, Southeast San Diego has been park poor compared to San Diego’s higher-income neighborhoods. A 2021 city recreation audit found that parks in Southeast San Diego had half the number of programs as parks in the wealthier areas to the north and west.
That audit had a bigger picture in mind — it linked recreation not just to personal physical and mental health but to community benefits, including: better social bonds, increased cultural sensitivity, support for seniors and individuals with disabilities and a sense of public pride and economic contribution.
Lyon says they do plan to improve the walking trail at Chollas Lake Park, and they’re currently installing some lighting.
For now, Hicks and his neighbors hope for sunnier days and gates that stay open.