By LIZ DOROSKI
How fortunate we are to have an urban oasis like Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) to call our “backyard.” Park users — including those who experience our Visitor and Interpretive Center — often marvel at how lucky we are that the park exists at all, in its beautiful natural state, and wonder how the park came to be.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of MTRP’s iconic Visitor and Interpretive Center, and we are celebrating the milestone by providing an overview of the history of the park in issues of the MTRP newsletter and here, in the Mission Times Courier. In this way, we can share the timeline of events that made the park a reality, and salute those dedicated individuals in our local community who were integral to ensuring Mission Trails’ existence.
It was 60 years ago that what is now Mission Trails Regional Park began as a glimmer of an idea. In 1960, the San Diego City Planning Department outlined a plan for an approximately 1,765- acre park to include the most dramatic areas of Mission Gorge, Old Mission Dam, and the entire Fortuna Mountain ridge.
Sparking this proposal was the federal government’s decision to release 1,220 acres of the proposed park land as surplus real property. This land had been added to the city as part of the Camp Elliott annexation and was purchased by the city at a nominal cost. In addition to this land that had served as a military training area, 375 city-owned acres and 140 acres controlled by the Cuyamaca Water Company would be included in the park. However, it would be more than a decade before the County of San Diego would release its first definitive plan of the proposed regional park’s land use and design.
In 1974, park promoters successfully formalized the acquisition of Cowles Mountain, which was under imminent threat of private development. The county provided $2.2 million to purchase Cowles Mountain and the city purchased a one-half undivided interest. This acquisition led to a jointly sponsored area consisting of Fortuna Mountain, Cowles Mountain, and Lake Murray, aligning with the “one diverse park” concept in the city’s 1960 proposal.
The next step was to enter into a master planning process that began in 1975 and culminated in the presentation of the final Master Plan in March 1977. Once the Master Plan was accepted, there was still one more bureaucratic hoop to jump through: an Environmental Impact Report, which was completed and certified by the City Council in March 1979. It truly reflected a process where both the land and the public were heard.
In 1979, what was originally called the Lake Murray, Cowles and Fortuna Mountain Regional Park was renamed Mission Trails Regional Park to better reflect the area’s historic connection to the San Diego Mission, the historic Old Mission Dam, and the flume. A ceremony to dedicate the park was held at the base of Cowles Mountain in May 1980, and a small Mission Trails Regional Park sign was placed on the site. An endowment fund with The San Diego Foundation was established in 1985 for the benefit of Mission Trails Regional Park, which still exists to generate education and outreach opportunities.
On Jan. 17, 1985, the MTRP Task Force, comprised of elected officials, unanimously approved the Master Development Plan 1985, and forwarded it to the City Council and Board of Supervisors for consideration and adoption. On April 29, 1985, the San Diego City Council adopted the Mission Trails Regional Park Master Development Plan by Resolution No. R-263065. On June 11, 1985, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the plan.
With the leadership, vision, and determination of so many individuals over the last 60 years, Mission Trails Regional Park has flourished, becoming a sanctuary for native plants and wildlife, as well as a much needed place for people to escape urban living for a moment, and reconnect to the nature that surrounds us. Thank you to all who have made Mission Trails Regional Park a reality.
— Liz Doroski is a Mission Trails Regional Park volunteer.