San Diego County, California

Reveal Escondido Creek

Within the City of Escondido there is a seven mile section of Escondido Creek that is in a concrete flood control channel, referred to by many as “the ditch.” The channel was constructed in the 1960s with the objective of moving storm waters through developed community areas as quickly as possible. Although this effort successfully controlled flooding and enhanced the economic value of creek side development, the project also resulted in adverse unintended consequences. In addition to the degraded aesthetic quality of the formerly natural watercourse, the channel also became the equivalent of an alleyway, littered with trash and more prone to crime.

However, what had been designed as a one purpose engineering solution is now being reimagined as a recreational and environmental asset for the City of Escondido.

Brief Historical Overview

Following a significant 15 year drought, San Diego City fathers hired a local rainmaker, Charles Hatfield, and offered to pay him the sum of $10,000 to cause enough rain to fill Morena reservoir. On January 14, 1916 a massive winter storm rolled in from the Pacific Ocean. This was followed by a second major storm that brought a total of 24.1 inches of rain falling in the Escondido watershed in an 18 day period. The deluge caused Escondido Creek to become a raging torrent and overflow its banks, destroying homes and businesses, twisting railway tracks, and ruining crops; the economic impact was severe. The magnitude of this event, combined with continued flooding in subsequent years, substantially influenced public policy, ultimately resulting in the straightening and channelization of Escondido Creek in the late 1960’s. When the project was completed, the City had exchanged riparian habitat, ecological systems, and a natural creek for seven miles of concrete. While the channel continues to provide a means of flood control, the aesthetics, water quality, and wildlife habitat have been greatly compromised. As a result, residents have recently begun questioning whether in addition to flood control, the creek channel can be improved provide social, recreational, and environmental opportunities, as well. Mr. Hatfield by the way, was held responsible for the flooding and was never paid.

Vision for the Escondido Creek and Trail

In 2010 a study entitled “Revealing Escondido Creek Vision Plan” was prepared by students of Studio 606 at the landscape architecture department at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. The vision plan explores opportunities for all portions of the creek that fall within City limits. From this vision, the City of Escondido created a Trail Master Plan for Escondido Creek that incorporates strategies to help and encourage safe and healthy lifestyles and recommends a variety of improvements, such as themed rest points, community gardens, enhanced fencing, landscape improvements, seating, video surveillance, and lighting. A group of concerned individuals and organizations also formed the Reveal Escondido Creek committee to facilitate this new vision, based on the Cal Poly Pomona study.

In 2011, the City of Escondido recognized the Reveal Escondido Creek committee as the primary collaborative organization with regard to revitalization of the Escondido Creek trail, which runs along the channel. That same year a portion of Escondido Creek was staged in conjunction with the Grand Opening Celebration of the Juniper Senior Village Grand Opening Celebration, demonstrating how the potential beauty of well-maintained bicycle and pedestrian path. Based on the success of this event, the improvements were made permanent.

In 2011, the City of Escondido recognized the Reveal Escondido Creek committee as the primary collaborative organization with regard to revitalization of the Escondido Creek trail, which runs along the channel. That same year a portion of Escondido Creek was staged in conjunction with the Grand Opening Celebration of the Juniper Senior Village Grand Opening Celebration, demonstrating how the potential beauty of well-maintained bicycle and pedestrian path. Based on the success of this event, the improvements were made permanent.

The City of Escondido installed 88 new security lights in February 2014, spanning a reach of the creek extending from the Broadway entrance to the creek trail to the Juniper crossing, making the area safer and more attractive to bicyclists and pedestrians. Escondido invested $576,000 to pay for the lights from a variety of funding sources: $410,000 from federal funds the City receives to improve low-income areas; $10,000 from the City’s utilities fund; and a $156,000 grant from the County’s regional planning agency — the San Diego Association of Governments.

In 2014, TECC assumed oversight of the Reveal the Creek committee. Working with other partners and the City of Escondido, TECC and Reveal the Creek have created improvements along Escondido Creek such as the recently installed Plaza Del Arroyo pocket park, partly funded by the Escondido Charitable Foundation. The pocket park is the first of many such improvements that will help transform the Escondido Creek trail into a vibrant 100-acre linear park linking natural open spaces around the city and improving pedestrian access and safety. If you would like to participate in these ongoing efforts to implement a new vision for Escondido Creek, please contact information@escondidocreek.org.