Forester Creek, one of the waterways of concern, runs adjacent to Parkway Plaza in El Cajon.
Forester Creek, one of the waterways of concern, runs adjacent to Parkway Plaza in El Cajon. Photo by Chris Stone

San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday voted 4-0 to spend up to $500,000 for a consultant who will seek out funding to complete the 52-mile San Diego River Park.

Along with purchasing land, money is also needed for creating trails.

The park runs from the Cuyamaca Mountains in Julian to the Pacific Ocean. Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher, who proposed the consultant hire, said there has been a lot of excitement about the park project, as part of the county’s “Framework for the Future,” which prioritizes previously marginalized communities.

“Let’s take a fresh look at what are the opportunities out there,” including the proper trail development, Fletcher said. County officials have not said how much the entire River Park project will cost.

Board Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas was absent during the vote.

The San Diego River is the region’s most populous watershed and home to over 500,000 residents.

The river park’s diverse watershed includes numerous animal species, including the arroyo toad and the Least Bell’s Viero bird. According to the county, around 122,000 acres in the watershed remains undeveloped, while 64,000 acres is open space or park land.

Last year, San Diego River Conservancy unveiled a recreational trail plan, which found there are multiple gaps in trail alignment.

According to the county, the conservancy also found “that there is a need for other activities such as open space protection, habitat enhancement, and public outreach and education to ensure that the San Diego River remains an ecological asset for generations to come.”

One of the conservancy’s roles is to encourage the county and non-profits to take on projects as funding becomes available.

Supervisor Joel Anderson, a member of the San Diego River Conservancy’s governing board, said he wants to ensure that the new consultant will also work on community outreach.

Anderson added that numerous business and property owners have donated money and time to the project, and “it would be foolish” to overlook them.

Fletcher later said that the board’s decision Wednesday  “is an important step in providing more park and play space to San Diego families by expanding community access to the San Diego River Park trail system.”

“There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but I am very pleased that in less than a year we have been able to make substantial progress on moving closer to achieving the vision for the San Diego River Park,” he added.

In his State of the County address in February, Fletcher highlighted creating a task force — of which he is a member — with regional and tribal leadership to help finish the park, a project that began 20 years ago.

Other task force members are Brian Albright, director, county Department of Parks and Recreation; Raul Campillo, San Diego City Council member; Aimee Cox, of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless; Johnny Eagle, of the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy; Lisa Haws, of Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy; Rob Hutsel, of the San Diego River Park Foundation; Julia Richards, of the San Diego River Conservancy; and Randy Wilde, policy advisor for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria.

Hutsel, who called during a public comment period Wednesday, said that exploring more funding options means more support for the San Diego River, which he called a “cultural treasure.”

Earlier this year, Fletcher and Anderson secured $6 million to restore the Kumeyaay Valley County Park in the El Monte River Valley, which sits along the San Diego River.

According to Fletcher’s office, the Kumeyaay park restoration will allow for future trail connections between existing county park facilities and the San Diego River Park Regional Trail, along with flume trails to the east.

City News Service contributed to this article.