Zooming down Interstate 5, it’s easy to miss one of the last great open lands along the I-5 corridor, the San Dieguito Lagoon.
“It’s a dream to restore habitat to what it was decades ago: tidal wetlands that open up to the tides and provide habitat and recreation opportunities,” said Shawna Anderson, executive director of the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority. group oversees the lands of the San Dieguito lagoon.
The first phase of the lagoon restoration was completed years ago. Now comes the much bigger piece, phase two, which started this week.
Eighty-four acres, the equivalent of 64 football fields, are returned to their natural state. SANDAG is partnering with CalTrans to complete the $87 million project. It’s a kind of exchange. The agencies have just completed a HOV lane project that has had an impact on wetlands.
“And now we’re going to compensate for that by creating a swamp habitat here,” said Kim Smith, regional planner at SANDAG.
One million three hundred thousand cubic feet of material will eventually be moved from the northern part of the land to a hill on the southern side where it will be replanted.
“We’ll revegetate that with coastal sage brush and then they’ll cut it down so they can then create the wetland habitat,” Smith said. “We’re creating transitional habitat that will help with sea level rise, we’re improving water quality — so that’s really exciting.”
Major wetland and habitat restoration project underway in San Dieguito Lagoon
But this project goes beyond the restoration of the environment. Not only will the lagoon area trails be expanded and improved, but a park trail will also connect to the Coast to Crest Trail, a mammoth multi-year undertaking that will eventually connect the coast to Volcan Mountain near Julian.
“The whole course is planned for 71 miles and we have 49 miles on the ground today and right now we are working on the 50th mile,” Anderson said.
Restoration of the lagoon is expected to be complete by mid-2024, a place surrounded by the “hustle and bustle” of life where people and animals will find an oasis of natural beauty.