Maryruth Cox | Via Grimaldi
|Lee La Grange 1968.
Photo Jessie La Grange
Del Mar Terrace residents were dismayed in April when the entrance to Los Peñasquitos Lagoon closed, and the living estuary at their doorsteps became a stagnant pond with annoying mosquitos. Why did this happen?
For thousands of years the slough generally stayed open to the sea. We know this is true because Native Americans camped along its shores and left evidence in their middens of fish and clams from the lagoon. In the early 1900s the railroad and the coast highway were built across the lagoon. Their massive causeways blocked the free flow of tidal waters, and the slough entrance was generally closed.
When Lee La Grange first came to the Terrace, the slough had been closed for seven years (1958-1965). In his words, it was a “pitiable, stinking stagnant memory of what it was and what it should be.” He became passionately concerned with the health of the lagoon. We often saw him in his big hip boots, striding across the waters at the slough entrance, poking with his long pole to measure the depth of the channel.
In the fall of 1965 heavy rains flushed out the slough entrance. For a few months sea water flowed freely in and out, and the lagoon again became a safe nursery for tiny fish. Lee observed, however, that the pilings from an old wooden bridge caught sea weed to form a partial dam that obstructed water flow. He chopped down 100 pilings. Still the slough entrance closed as more sand came in with the ‘turbulent surf’ than was washed out.
|1968 dig-in. Photos Jessie La Grange
Next, Lee and his wife Jessie organized “dig-ins,” prevailing upon friends and relatives to dig ditches to drain the lagoon. Once Linda (Lee’s daughter-in-law) and I were shoveling heavy wet sand when Linda remarked with her sardonic grin, “How did I ever get involved with this family?” In April, 1968, the Torrey Pines Wildlife Association had a picnic dig-in. Jessie recorded the event:
- Guests invited to deepen channels and clean beach -- over 50 participants worked on this project. Free lunch! Very successful picnic
- Complete scramble of shovels and towels
- 40 hamburgers
- 50 hot dogs
- Gallons of drinks
- Quarts of beans
- Potato salad
With big enough ditches and a full lagoon, a ‘dig-in’ just after the highest high tide would let the waters gush out carrying tons of sand to sea. Government agencies noticed Lee’s work as the lagoon became healthy again. Money was found for big machines to dig out the clogged entrance quickly. A new bridge with fewer supports replaced the 1932 bridge with its many piles. Recently the slough has been open most of the year with only a few ‘digs’ necessary to maintain tidal flow. There are little fish darting in the shallows and “clams and cockles” burrowing in the mud. Lee’s work has paid off.
Editor’s Note: At 6:30 a.m. on May 13 the big machines moved in and cleared the lagoon mouth once again, but not before at least two groups had tried to do it the Lee La Grange way: by organizing friends with muscle and shovels.
photos of the the May2013 lagoon opening here