By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
New, enhanced trails will provide recreation, greater connectivity
A grant from the California Coastal Conservancy has enabled San Diego Canyonlands (SDCL) to begin the process of expanding trails throughout several local canyon areas. The first on the list is a trail through Ruffin Canyon that will eventually link up with the San Diego River Park.
“Ruffin Canyon has the potential of linking the Serra Mesa community to … Mission Valley and eventually linking to the San Diego River Trail system,” SDCL director Eric Bowlby said. “People could, theoretically, link into this trail all the way up in Serra Mesa and bike all the way to the beach; or go the other way towards the mountains because eventually there’s going to be a coast-to-crest trail that follows the San Diego River both east and west to the beach.”
SDCL was awarded the California Coastal Conservancy grant to plan canyon enhancement in 12 canyons in the city of San Diego. Other canyons on the list include Maple Canyon, Manzanita Canyon, Mission Hills Canyon and Chollas Creek Oak Park Branch.
As of now, the Ruffin Canyon trail is only in the pre-planning stage. The grant is funding the conceptual trail design and also the process of gathering input from all the various neighbors along the proposed trail.
“All the stakeholders — people from Serra Mesa, Mission Valley and Escala — will be involved in a discussion about linking trails and trying to fulfill a vision to connect down to the San Diego River,” Bowlby said. “We want to be as open and have as much involvement with the stakeholders as we can; that’s the idea.”
Other stakeholders that own nearby properties include SDG&E and San Diego Unified School District.
Neighbors and interested parties will have an opportunity to hear first-hand about SDCL’s trail plans on June 25 when the group will lead a guided tour through Ruffin Canyon. The tour is free and runs from 9 to 11:30 a.m. The tour starts at the trail head off the 9300 block of Shawn Avenue near the intersection of Amulet Street in Serra Mesa.
“We’ll hike in the canyon to look at all kinds of natural resources and our incredibly unique habitats we have in San Diego and we’ll also talk about the need for trails and trail alignments and we’ll talk about the vision of connecting all the way down to the coast,” Bowlby said.
The tour will use the existing trail through Ruffin, which is at the bottom of the canyon and is perpetually damaged by rainfall.
“People should wear dirty, ankle-supporting shoes because it is rocky in the bottom of that canyon and there’s no real comfortable trail at this point in time,” he said.
The vision for the proposed trail has two possible routes right now, Bowlby said, but they are subject to change depending on the outcome of the stakeholder process. One route goes through Sandrock Canyon area and the other starts at the end of Shawn Avenue in Serra Mesa. The trail might then go south along Ruffin Canyon before connecting to an easement through the Escala neighborhood in Mission Valley. That easement connects to the pedestrian tunnel under Friars Road and then to a sidewalk along Fenton Parkway and ending at the San Diego River near the Mission Valley Library. Going north, the trail may end at either Taft Middle School if the Shawn Avenue route is used, or Sandrock Road if the Sandrock Canyon route is picked.
Whichever route is used, the trail will be built into the slope and above the flood plain. It will be roughly 4 feet wide and may include small parks and informational signage, but those details won’t be worked on until after the stakeholders get together.
“Once there is community agreement and a comprehensive enhancement plan for the entire Ruffin Canyon, then SDCL can spend money on designing the trails,” Bowlby said.
Coming to agreement has already had some difficulty. Some homeowners along Walker Drive in Serra Mesa have already voiced opposition to a trail running behind their backyards. They expressed concern over possible issues with transients. Bowlby thinks a trail will actually improve transient issues.
“Well, there are transients using the canyon now, and the trails are pretty rough,” he said. “They usually like isolation and choose places to camp where it is difficult to be seen or found. Trails with lots of user activity can thus be a deterrent.”
Other issues neighbors may have include the possibility of destabilizing the slope and damage to important ecosystems.
“There are endangered species in Ruffin Canyon, the California Gnat Catcher, and so we would choose routes that cause as little impact to habitat as we could for this,” Bowlby said.
Once the plan has community support, he said, the next step is to secure funding to complete a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study, which is required before permits to build the trail can be issued. The city has development services funds “waiting to be spent” on a trail through Ruffin Canyon but the money can’t be released until it is shovel-ready, after the CEQA report is completed and the project is approved.
“At that point, they are willing to reimburse anyone that has spent that money to go through the process,” he said.
After that, it will just be a matter of building the trail.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.