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Grape Day Park

30% Design

Not all of our work is in the wild lands of North County. Bringing natural beauty and vibrancy to urban areas along Escondido Creek in the city  is also important. In fact, greening up urban areas in Escondido increases the chances that the natural areas we protect will successfully support wildlife for decades to come. With that in mind, the Conservancy has been seeking funds to green the city and the Conservancy was recently awarded a grant of $355,000 to develop preliminary designs (30% design level) to restore Escondido Creek through Grape Day Park. This project will illustrate how the 6+-mile concrete flood control channel could look and function if restored. The 30% design level is considered a significant engineering milestone, as it enables the larger project costs to be estimated once a design is rendered to 30%. The project is being conducted in partnership with Escondido Education COMPACT and the City of Escondido. Ultimate project outcomes could include increased parkland, recreational opportunities, economic opportunities, and improved real estate values. Similar projects elsewhere have improved the quality of life and provided economic opportunities for residents, and one key component of this project is an analysis to evaluate the economic benefit of a restored Escondido Creek in its natural state.

Much of the work is technical in nature, as we must first fully understand how a restored channel will function (convey flow, water quality, ecological processes, etc.) within a watershed context. Consultants are reviewing currently available studies and data, filling data gaps as needed with additional research, mapping, and data collection. Engineers and hydrologists are then developing hydrologic, hydraulic, sediment transport, and geomorphic models or analytic tools, which will be used to assess different design scenarios. Alternate scenarios will be refined through a public process in coordination with the City of Escondido’s Neighborhood Services program to tap its network of residents participating in neighborhood groups.

Unique to this project, the Conservancy has partnered with Escondido Education COMPACT to implement a program of Conservation Fellowships where young people from central Escondido will shadow the project from start to finish to learn STEM education methodologies from professionals working in the real world. Fellows will attend technical meetings, accompany professionals in fieldwork, and participate in project activities.

It may seem odd for a conservation group to be promoting economic development, but the Conservancy is doing just that in its recently proposed preliminary design to build a new park along Escondido Creek within Grape Day Park. The proposed project will spark economic development while creating new green space for the enjoyment of Escondido residents and visitors.  Enhancing economic development is key to kick-starting restoration of the creek in Escondido, and new development along a restored creek will provide new opportunities for people to live in a safe, vibrant, healthy, and walkable Escondido.

In 2017, the Conservancy won a planning grant from the State of California, the goal of which was to develop a preliminary design for a project in Grape Day Park that would reduce pollution in Escondido Creek while enhancing the quality of life in communities adjacent to the creek.  A preliminary project design was recently completed by the Conservancy’s engineering consultant CBEC. The design maximizes the project’s ecological benefits, such as improvements to water quality and creation of enhanced park and outdoor space, while also maximizing economic spin-off benefits that come with improved amenities in public spaces.

The design was created after review of pending plans proposed for Grape Day Park including the draft Grape Day Park Master Plan and the People to the Park Plan. It includes many people-friendly elements such as an amphitheater that could also serve as a wedding/special event venue and a boardwalk that will allow the public to meander over the water, which will be slowly moving through a newly created wetland before rejoining Escondido Creek downstream. As the water flows through the new park, it will be cleansed of contaminants that would otherwise pollute the creek and ocean.

The Conservancy also contracted with the economic firm London Moeder to analyze the economic benefits that would occur as a result of the proposed enhancement project. London Moeder’s analysis found that similar waterway restoration projects have had positive effects on communities throughout the nation.  These projects spark economic development as the restored waterways attract residential and associated commercial development. Data show that land near dynamic parks has a greater value than land further away, as people like to live and work near parkland. London Moeder found that the Conservancy’s proposed ‘Park within a Park’ could generate annual revenues from $1.9 million to $7 million, depending on which of two zoning scenarios the City of Escondido pursued. The scenario recommended by London Moeder would involve the city building more housing around Grape Day Park than current zoning laws allow. This would bring more people into Central Escondido, providing more customers for downtown businesses, and also help to address San Diego County’s housing crisis.

The site of the proposed Park within the Park is currently functioning as a parking lot, and the Conservancy is committed to working with the city and community to find alternative parking areas.

The Conservancy is seeking input on the proposed Park with a Park project; watch the video above to see an overview of the preliminary design. The economic study is still being finalized and will be posted when complete.  Please send comments to information@escondidocreek.org.