With hundreds of canyons, parks and local habitats scattered throughout the region, San Diego is well-known for its abundance of natural open space. Yet many low-income, ethnically diverse communities have limited access to the outdoors.
Thanks to local nonprofit San Diego Canyonlands, that is changing.
San Diego Canyonlands engages local partners and residents to preserve and restore canyons and outdoor space throughout the region. And with grant funding from The San Diego Foundation Opening the Outdoors Program, its latest project is improving environmental access for thousands of San Diegans.
City Heights is one of San Diego’s most diverse communities but given its dense urban setting, there are few opportunities for its 65,000 residents to explore the outdoors.
To address this challenge, San Diego Canyonlands has built seven new trails to augment the degraded, inaccessible parkland in the neighborhood. The new trails are strategically located to link four urban canyons – Swan, Manzanita, Hollywood and 47th St./Olivia Canyons – across the urban streetscape in what are affectionately referred to as Canyon Corridors.
Canyon Corridors are streets leading from one canyon trail to another where amenities such as pocket parks, murals, native plant gardens and signage will contribute to the hiking experience.
As Executive Director Eric Bowlby described, “In addition to increasing access to nature trails, this project provides safe connections from the top of the canyon slopes to existing trails in the bottom of the canyons. These connections now create convenient links for pedestrians and bicyclists to schools, transit, other neighborhoods and activity centers.”
The efforts date all the way back to 2009, when San Diego Canyonlands first started mapping the area and engaging with community partners.
“Community building and collaboration has always been key to our work,” noted Eric. “Envisioned by the community over a decade ago, San Diego Canyonlands has partnered with residents and local groups to take ownership of the outdoor space and transform the canyons from neglected, dangerous locations, into healthy natural places with recreational, and environment-based educational opportunities.”
This project provides safe connections from the top of the canyon slopes to existing trails.”
For example, the Cesar Chavez Club from the Monroe Clark Middle School has volunteered on a monthly basis for nine years to help with everything from community outreach to wildlife habitat restoration.
In addition, countless other San Diego organizations, philanthropists and community members have joined the efforts to make this a true community-driven success.
This month, City Heights is now realizing the fruits of everyone’s labor as the project is complete and the trail system is open for residents to explore and enjoy.
Increasing Access to Nature
San Diego Canyonlands is fulfilling the mission of the Opening the Outdoors Program by bridging the gap in environmental access across the region.
“Access to nature plays an important role in our overall community wellness,” summarized Eric. “We are thankful for the work of the Opening the Outdoors program and its donors, and we attribute much of our growth and regional impact to the initial support and vision from The San Diego Foundation.”
Thanks to the City Heights project, as well as others throughout the region, more communities will be able to engage with the outdoors right from their front door.
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