Rare geese pay a visit to the valley


Greater White-fronted Geese breakfasting in the San Dieguito River Valley

The Greater White-fronted Goose was a frequent winter visitor to the salt marshes and lakes of southern California until its Pacific coast population was decimated by uncontrolled hunting in the early 20th century. Small flocks still migrate in early fall from western Alaska to winter in northwestern mainland Mexico, using San Diego County as their route to the Pacific coast. But the elegant brown birds with their distinctive orange legs and white rump are rarely seen here, and never more than a few at a time – that is, until this week when a flock of 62 Greater White-fronted geese (including a lone Snow Goose) was seen – and heard – just after sunrise, flying over the San Dieguito River Valley. The honking geese cautiously circled several times before touching down in a vacant horse paddock near San Dieguito Road. The largest previous sighting of the Greater White-fronted Goose in San Diego County was 17 at Sweetwater Reservoir in December 1997.

Update 11/4/22 Since the October 25, 2022 post (above), the local flock of Greater White-fronted geese has increased to over 100 birds with the lone Snow Goose still in the mix. They appear to be commuting between the Del Mar Lagoon (where they spend the late afternoon and night) and the horse farm in Rancho Santa Fe where they land just after dawn.

Lone Snow Goose with 62 close friends
Geese increase: The flock of Greater White-fronted geese flying toward the Del Mar Lagoon on the afternoon of November 4, 2002. Note the Snow Goose in the bottom line of the formation

Friends spur fresh look at delayed trail restoration

The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has asked the City of San Diego to establish a deadline for restoring a section of the Coast to Crest Trail that Surf Cup Sports committed to do when they signed the lease for the former Del Mar polo fields in 2016. The Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley were instrumental in the recent effort to jumpstart this process.

Surf Cup’s April 2022 $6 million purchase and grading of a parcel just north of the fields (that includes protected wetlands) generated renewed scrutiny of Surf’s activities – and raised questions about the holdup in restoring the trail segment along the south side of the soccer fields. Surf Cup has cited cost as the reason for the six-year delay.

The JPA manages the San Dieguito River Park as “a landmark project in land preservation, habitat restoration, and construction of the regional Coast to Crest Trail.” Its members include representatives from the relevant jurisdictions including Joe LaCava, District 1, City of San Diego that includes Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley; Kelly Harless, Solana Beach; and Dwight Worden, Del Mar.

“The unfinished gap promised by Surf Cup to correct [the] previous lessee’s damage and improving public access for pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, and bird watchers,” Dave Grosch, JPA chairman wrote in his September 26 letter to the City, “is preventing completion of this key part of the CTC Trail.”

Update: On October 6, 2023, the City of San Diego issued a Civil Penalty Notice and Order to Surf Cup Sports for unpermitted grading on their newly acquired lot adjacent to the fields. This included unpermitted placement and compacting of gravel into native substrate by driving and parking activities, grubbing and removal of native vegetation on property considered Environmental Sensitive Lands, and use of a vacant lot for storage of multiple soccer goalposts. The Notice sets deadlines from immediate compliance to a March 31, 2023 deadline to correct the issues or face assessments of $1,000 a day for each violation until corrected.

Getting closer and closer to the beach

A small but vital piece of land sandwiched between the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the mouth of the San Dieguito River represents one of the last links in the Reach-the-Beach campaign.

The parcel, already acquired by the San Dieguito River Valley Joint Powers Authority (JPA), was the focus of a recent site visit by the Trails Committee of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the JPA Board.

Click on map to enlarge

Because this trail segment currently is unused, JPA staff would like the area to serve as a placeholder park demonstrating the River Park’s intentions to complete the trail while in the meantime allowing public use of the land. The tail end of this trail segment will eventually form the western gateway of the C2C Trail, similar to the eastern gateway at Vulcan Mountain defined by an art installation by James Hubbell, the distinguished San Diego artist, sculptor, and architect. A similar marker is being considered for the western terminus that will form an interim turnaround point for trail users until a rail bridge and platform are built allowing passage to the beach.

The trail segment will be accessed from Jimmy Durante Drive on the east (currently through a locked gate requiring special permission from the Fairgrounds) and follow the river bank toward the ocean. The west end now is blocked by the railroad. Eventually the tracks will be elevated to accommodate a seasonal platform for fair-bound passengers while allowing the C2C Trail to connect to the beach. For the time being, there is a crude 20-foot-wide path alongside the fairgrounds bordered by a low, split-rail fence. It’s unclear when the public will actually be able to enjoy this temporary park, so stay tuned.

Cheryl Goddard tapped to lead Conservancy

The Friends are delighted to learn about the appointment of Cheryl Goddard as executive director of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy (SDRVC). The Conservancy, a sister organization, preserves and protects the river valley through land acquisition, trail work, habitat restoration, and educational programs.

Most recently Ms. Goddard was a senior planner with the City of Chula Vista’s Development Services Department. Previously she spent 16 years as an environmental planner and manager in the County of San Diego’s departments of Planning and Land Use and Recreation where she carried out land conservation programs, planned parks and trails, and secured grants for habitat restoration.

Ms. Goddard earned bachelor’s degrees in urban studies and planning and ethnic studies from the University of California, San Diego, and holds a master’s degree in public administration from San Diego State University. She is a member of the San Diego chapter of the Association of Environmental Professionals.

Del Mar Horsepark will ride again

The 22nd Agricultural District on June 6, 2022 awarded the contract to manage the historic equestrian facility to Tom Struzzieri, CEO of Struzzieri Ventures, Inc., after a previous show management company pulled out. The popular equestrian site was abruptly closed in December 2020 due to new water regulations requiring a $3 million-$4 million investment in infrastructure improvements. Some 35 horse show contracts were cancelled with the closure of the facility.

Mr. Struzzieri’s company, HITS (Horse Shows in the Sun), operates similar facilities nationwide and plans to bring back the Del Mar Horse Park as a world-class event facility in time for the 2023 show season. HITS will be working through the end of this year to install a new drainage system to filter storm and runoff water, as well as improve footing in the rings, adjust the layout to be more exhibitor friendly, and upgrade the stables.

Friends of Del Mar Horsepark collected over 17,000 signatures petitioning the 22 DAA, owner of Del Mar Fairgrounds and Horsepark, to find a way to reopen the 65-acre facility. They were aided by local city council members, the Fair Board and staff, and supported by the San Dieguito River Park Conservancy.

Additional wetlands restoration underway

The second phase of the W-19 Restoration Project has begun, adding 60 acres of new wetlands to the 160-acre San Dieguito Lagoon and wetlands restoration that started in 2012. The restoration is converting former agricultural fields to saltwater wetlands and, according to SANDAG, a partner agency with Caltrans and the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) will “enhance and maintain the natural flood control channel.” The project will include the planting of native species, maintenance of adjoining wetlands, and relocation of utility poles into an existing utility corridor.

–  Click on map to enlarge.

Preserve and protect the river valley

How you can help

The Friends’ Board of Directors has several openings. We are a 501(c)(4) organization that promotes and supports conservation, restoration, preservation, and enhancement of the natural scenic, ecological, and open-space resources of the San Dieguito River Valley. We achieve this through advocacy, study, monitoring, and education. Unlike our affiliates, the Friends’ 501(c)(4) status allows us to engage in political and lobbying activity.

The River Valley needs you. Send us an email if you would like to join the FSDRV.

River Path Del Mar

Coming soon, the missing half-mile link

A draft environmental study for extending River Path Del Mar beyond the Grand Avenue Overlook finds the project will not have a significant impact on the lagoon environment with only minor mitigation measures needed. The City of Del Mar may soon approve the study and begin plans to extend the existing trail southeast along the southern side of San Dieguito Drive for half a mile to the Crest Canyon Trailhead. This link will provide a continuous trail through Crest Canyon, across Del Mar Heights Road, through the Torrey Pines Extension, Carmel Valley Road, and across Torrey Pines Reserve to the Pacific Ocean. A remarkable link, made up of a single, five-foot-wide decomposed granite path and a six-foot-wide boardwalk path along the lagoon, completes the loop around Del Mar’s perimeter as envisioned in their 1976 Community Plan. “The project will enhance access to outdoor recreation opportunities such as walking, bicycling, bird watching, and photography,” according to the City. Construction is expected to begin in the summer of 2023.

El Camino Real bridge

Widening project to start in late 2022

Artist’s rendering of the new bridge and river trail beneath.

The El Camino Real and Bridge Widening Project will begin later this summer, 17 years after it was first proposed by the City of San Diego. Hikers, bicyclists, and riders will finally be able to follow a continuous trail along the northern shore of the San Dieguito River and safely pass under a new, wider bridge at El Camino Real. The project will include restoration of the currently eroded trail just west of El Camino Real. 

Community groups asked for changes in the original plan which included widening Via de la Valle, raised 24-foot-wide concrete medians, turnouts, and traffic signals. The new design changes all that and incorporates the communities’ recommendation to underground utility poles on the south side of Via de la Valle. The changes were made in an effort to retain the river valley’s pastoral character while raising the bridge above the 100-year flood plain level and implementing bike lanes, equestrian trails, and a crossing on the River Park’s multi-use trail.