By JEFF CLEMETSON | Mission Times Courier
As a coastal city, San Diego is best known abroad for its beaches. But locals know it is also full of wonderful urban and suburban neighborhoods intertwined between mountains, foothills and canyons.
For outdoor nature enthusiasts, the Navajo area is best known for its proximity to the expansive Mission trails Regional Park. But there is another, more niche, local outdoor space that is about to get some long overdue attention — Navajo Canyon.
Navajo Canyon Enhancement Plan
A plan is currently underway to enhance trails and restore habitat in Navajo Canyon, which runs north eastward from its main entrance along Adobe Falls Road. It is part of a project led by San Diego Canyonlands and funded by the Coastal Conservancy to create enhancement plans for 12 canyons in the city of San Diego, said SD Canyonlands director Eric Bowlby.
Right now, the Navajo Canyon Enhancement Plan is wrapping up gathering input from various stakeholders along the canyon on what can be done to improve the area.
“Do we need any trails, do we need any signage, are there danger points, do we need a bridge — various things like that and the community provides the input,” Bowlby said.
Prior to the stakeholder meetings, SD Canyonlands went door-to-door in surrounding neighborhoods to invite residents on a guided tour of Navajo Canyon.
“We do that for a number of reasons,” he said. “Sometimes we do that just to build a friends group to support the city in stewardship. This year we did that and also went door-to-door to discuss a need for enhancements, restoration and improvements in the canyon. So it’s a real grassroots community outreach effort that we make to create a list of stakeholders.”
So far there have been three meetings with stakeholders to gather input for the plan. At the next meeting, which Bowlby predicts will be held in mid to late February, the draft plan will be presented. But, he said, residents shouldn’t expect drastic changes like BMX courses or suspension bridges. Because Navajo Canyon is located in a habitat species conservation area and is protected, uses in the area are limited.
“We’re allowed to have access to the canyon, reasonable access, so if we were to propose a new trail somewhere in Navajo Canyon, the maximum impact would be 4 foot wide and anything that would be impacted outside of that would need to [be] restored back to natural habitat,” Bowlby said.
However, the plan also does not include any new trails at the moment.
“Some constituents that live on the top end of the north ridge of Navajo Canyon had indicated they would like to have a trail, but the ranger said it is super steep and would be super difficult to maintain if we built one on such a steep slope,” Bowlby said. “Navajo doesn’t have any new trails in the plan right now, but improvements to existing trails is definitely on the agenda.”
Bowlby added that new trails could be considered if stakeholders come to a consensus to build them. “It is the Navajo community’s plan in the end,” he said.
However, SD Canyonlands does have some control on what it seeks funding for and is not obligated to fulfill the plan. “We are just creating a conceptual plan based on community stakeholder input.”
Besides improving the existing trails, the plan will include minor improvements like signage and major improvements like restoration of habitat.
“There are somewhere around 500 palm trees in the canyon, which are not native, and have taken over the stream corridor and one of the things we’ll do to restore the canyon would be to remove those palm trees.”
Returning Navajo Canyon to its natural state will have many positive effects.
“Rehabilitating native habitats at Navajo Canyon, which are within the city’s Multiple Habitat Planning Area (MHPA), will attract more native wildlife,” said Carey Goldstein, a senior ranger with the Parks and Recreation Service. “This includes some species covered by the Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) such as the Least Bell’s Vireo. These birds enjoy the native willow trees that are often displaced by invasive palm trees. Another bird which may benefit from the project is the California Gnatcatcher, an endangered species which only lives in [San] Diegan coastal sage scrub plant communities like those found in the canyon.”
Goldstein added that beautifying the canyon by removing invasive trees and plants will provide a more aesthetically pleasing experience for canyon users, which he estimates is currently about 100 people a day — a mix of hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers.
Once a date is set for the next meeting where the draft plan will be introduced, SD Canyonlands will make an outreach effort to share the plan with neighbors, local planning groups and other outlets to inform residents about the meeting. If there is a consensus on the plan, the next step will be to go after funding to implement the plan — which SD Canyonlands and the city have had some success in getting.
Another canyon enhancement project is currently underway in nearby Ruffin Canyon, where SD Canyonlands developed the plan and construction on rehabbing trails and the natural habitat is now ongoing. Most recently, 300 palm trees were removed from Ruffin Canyon by helicopter.
For more information on San Diego Canyonlands, visit sdcanyonlands.org.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.