The Coast News Group

Del Dios Gorge restoration interrupts Del Dios Highway traffic

RANCHO SANTA FE — The San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority and the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy announced that riparian restoration work resumed in September in Del Dios Gorge. Periodic closure of the eastbound lane of Del Dios Highway is anticipated in late October from Camino de Estrellas to the trail bridge 0.7 miles to the east, in order to fell and remove trees adjacent to the road. Lane closure on those days will occur between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.The work is funded through the California Natural Resources Agency’s River Parkways program to enhance the River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail and restore the San Dieguito River in the scenic gorge below the Lake Hodges dam. Work will consist of removing the eucalyptus, palms and other non-native species, that heavily impact fire safety and wildlife habitat in this reach of the river. Due to the difficult terrain, trees will be removed using helicopters and large equipment. The restoration began last fall and this phase is expected to conclude by March 2013, to avoid bird breeding season.

While the project will attempt to minimize inconveniences to the community, residents and commuters are advised to select an alternate route when lane closures occur. A helicopter will be used for 5 to 7 days over the course of the fall to move tree trunks out of the narrow river channel to an area where the biomass can be processed and moved off site, typically every other Thursday. The River Park Santa Fe trailhead below the Lemon Twist stand provides a safe viewing spot for families to park, but the trail to the east will also be closed during flight hours.

The removal of Eucalyptus is vital, as it represents a significant fire hazard. Eucalyptus displaces native riparian vegetation, like willow, sycamore and oak, known for their fire protective qualities. This work will improve fire safety in the narrow gorge, which is a primary traffic and evacuation route, and significantly enhance the scenic value of the area for trail users as the native species mature.

The restoration work is expected to benefit several listed bird species, including least Bell’s vireo, yellow warbler and yellow-breasted chat. The San Dieguito River Park and San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy are partnering with the County of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District and Rincon Consultants on the project.

The grant’s recreational element is also funding trail improvements along this portion of the Coast to Crest Trail, including the artistic, stone viewing platform in the shape of a rattlesnake overlooking the Lake Hodges dam that was completed last fall.