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Looking for Better Stewards 

Ann Gardner | Via Latina

Photos Jacqueline Winterer


Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley is asking the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Agency to get permission from the State to manage those portions of the Fairgrounds property currently identified as officially established, or delineated, wetlands.

A volunteer advocacy group for the River Valley since 1986, the Friends has repeatedly questioned both the Fairgrounds and the California Coastal Commission about the Fairgrounds use of two areas; the south and east overflow parking lots off Jimmy Durante Blvd. Both areas were identified as delineated wetlands by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1993 and come under the jurisdiction of the State Lands Commission and the Coastal Commission.

The Friends is specifically concerned with the Fairgrounds practice of placing boxcars on the wetlands closest to I-5 for advertising and storage, as well as use of both lots for parking throughout the year. According to Friends President Jacqueline Winterer, use for parking is permitted by the Coastal Commission during the Fair and Racing seasons only, and Federal Law prohibits advertising along the I-5 corridor.
The Friends believe the River Park would be better “long-term stewards” of the wetland areas because the Park’s reason for being is to maintain, restore and protect the natural resources of the River Valley.

The entire Fairgrounds property west of I-5 was created by the in filling of tidal wetlands beginning in the 1920s. During the heyday of our country’s “swamp reclamation” program for irrigation and agricultural projects, the South Coast Land Company was able to purchase 184 acres of the property in 1926. The Company built a golf course on the property but the project was abandoned in 1930 due to continual salt-water tides that killed the greens and fairways.

In 1935 the State 22nd Ag District bought the golf course property and an additional 57 acres, qualifying for a Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant to construct facilities for a permanent County Fairground and Racetrack. Construction involved additional in filling, grading and “drainage ditches to take care of the …old course of the river and the flow of Stevens Creek into it….” (Ewing, Del Mar Looking Back)
By the 1960s and 70s reclamations work began to change significantly with an awareness that the quickly vanishing wetlands were, in fact, valuable areas that provide important environmental functions and should be acquired and restored not filled in.

The Friends feel protection of the wetlands is critical given that the 22nd Agricultural Districts plans to expand facilities adjacent to the newly restored San Dieguito Lagoon and reinvigorated River environment and habitat. According to a Coastal Commission report, the Agricultural District has challenged the 1993 delineation.

Trailers lined up along the walking trail

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