In 1997, I recall the atmosphere around the Park was optimistic. In the Park’s rear view mirror were the peaks and valleys associated with forming a new government agency, and the Park was confident with the success of important completed projects like the North Shore Trail I-15 Undercrossing and Highland Valley Trail. I was a newly hired ranger, the Park’s 3rd full time ranger, and excited to have been issued a beeper. I relied on volunteers like Max Kiltz and Dave Leigh, and we were busy with the finishing touches on the Piedras Pintadas Interpretive Trail construction project. There was one SDRP truck: a used Ford F-150. When the truck was in use, Max would drive his Crown Victoria on the trail to haul volunteers, tools, and even dirt and rock.
The rangers utilized a field office which was located in our current office location. The main SDRP office was on State Street in Little Italy. Dianne Coombs was at the helm along with Susan Carter. Park planner and mentor Vicki Touchstone was the expert, and office manager Cassy Larson kept everything running smooth.
The field office consisted of a wood shed with a desk and two separate sheds for tools and supplies. An extension cord ran from the tool shed to the office for a light and heater, and the bathroom was portable. The historic house on site was rented to Mike Thacker who is a long time Park supporter and docent. The garage on site was rented to custom wood worker Chuck Masters who would take breaks to watch birds and give technical advice.
South of the field office site was land that was recently transferred to SDRP but contained several long-established homeless camps. In 1997, the County of San Diego and San Dieguito River Park teamed up to clean up the site, and I not so fondly remember poison oak on my face that I acquired while in a rush to trim the access road.
In addition to the trails at Lake Hodges, SDRP partnered with the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department to manage the Clevenger Canyon Trails. The River Park ran work crews, patrolled, did maintenance on the South Trail, and were starting to evaluate the North Trail. The City provided the funds for work crews, signs, and gates.
The other big project that occupied SDRP field staff in 1997 was the Fish and Wildlife Partners for Wildlife project. SDRP fenced 26 acres in the flood plain east of Lake Hodges and removed thousands of invasive tamarisk trees. The area had to be fenced because there were still cows grazing the inlet to the lake and area upstream. The eventual weed control legends Mike Kelly and Cindy Burrascano advised the park on tamarisk tree removal techniques.
In 1997, the stage was set to move the Park forward. We had active trail maintenance volunteers, smart administrative volunteers, dedicated volunteer patrol, and talented volunteer docents all working towards establishing a Park. The political winds were shifting and the Park was taking on interesting conservation and trail projects. It was a good time to be a Park supporter.
Resources and Trails Manager, San Dieguito River Park JPA