The Escondido Creek Conservancy (Conservancy) has begun a study to reimagine the concrete flood control channel in Grape Day Park in central Escondido as a more natural creek. CIties and states all over the country have undertaken creek and river restoration projects and found them to be a boon for economic development and improved quality of life in otherwise urban areas. To enrich this process with the perspectives of Escondido’s future, the Conservancy has recruited students—most of whom live near the channel in Escondido—to join the Conservancy as Conservation Fellows (Fellows) to lend their voices to the project. Fellows have been exploring nature throughout the Escondido Creek watershed and working alongside experts as they help plan a more vibrant creek that benefits people and wildlife.
“I’ve come to learn that just one person can make a difference in their community and it’s been great to meet other people my age who are also willing to make an impact.” says Mayra, a student from Escondido High School and Conservation Fellow. During the program, each student has taken on their own research project in relation to the Grape Day Park restoration project and will present them to the community later this year.
The Conservancy has joined with the City of Escondido, the Escondido Chamber of Commerce, and other community partners working together to help transform the six-mile Escondido Creek concrete flood control corridor into a place where people socialize at creekside restaurants and safely recreate along lush plant-filled parks. Sadly, areas along the Escondido Creek flood control channel currently have some of the highest crime rates in the city. To make this happen, the Conservancy realized it needs to give a voice to the people it will affect most: the next generation.
Along with going to Grape Day project meetings and doing individual conservation research projects on a subject they choose, Fellows have gone on field trips throughout the Escondido Creek watershed—from Bottle Peak Preserve near Lake Wohlford to the San Elijo Lagoon in Encinitas. Most recently, the Fellows participated in an overnight camping trip at Dixon Lake in Daley Ranch and got to connect with nature through rock climbing, yoga, and pedal boating. The Fellows have also represented the creek and Conservancy at street fairs, most recently at an Earth Day event in Washington Park.
As part of their overnight at Dixon Lake, the Fellows also participated in an imagineering session with the Friends of Daley Ranch to help conceptualize the potential re-use of a historic building at Daley Ranch. “Part of the experience of being a Fellow is meeting conservation professionals and learning more about careers in the outdoors,” said Ann Van Leer, Executive Director of the Conservancy. At the imagineering session, Fellows met a Daley Ranch ranger and a landscape architect and got to better understand their roles in conservation, and how to break into those careers. The Fellows have also engaged with engineers and other technical conservation specialists as part of the Grape Day Park project.
It’s through a multitude of experiences in the outdoors that people develop a deeper appreciation for local wildlife and become lifelong stewards of Escondido Creek. “It has been really rewarding to watch these students grow into knowledgeable and confident advocates for the environment and their community,” said the Conservancy’s Education Coordinator, Jennifer Imm.
Restoring the Escondido Creek flood control channel into a lively and vibrant place for people and nature will take time. People of all ages, especially young people and families residing near the creek, must be engaged to make this a reality. The Conservancy hopes to continue the Conservation Fellows program in the years ahead so that additional young people from Escondido can have an experience in nature that could spark a career and life in science or conservation. The Conservation Fellows program has been funded by a state grant from the IRWM program and by a grant from the private Malk Family Foundation.
Those interested in the Conservation Fellowship should contact the Conservancy’s Volunteer and Marketing Manager, Nathan Serrato; firstname.lastname@example.org, 760-703-3393.
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Nathan Serrato | Volunteer and Marketing Manager