By Eric Bowlby and Carmen Aurrecoechea
Maple Canyon in Bankers Hill: What comes to mind when you read those words? An escape to nature? Trails? Or maybe the unique pedestrian bridge connecting the Quince Street cul-de-sacs between Third and Fourth avenues?
When San Diego Canyonlands looks at an urban canyon, we see the opportunity for filtering stormwater through native vegetation, re-establishing San Diego’s rich flora and fauna including endangered species, visual and physical access to nature, community connections, passive recreation and nature classrooms for urban youth. Of course none of this is possible without purposeful collaboration with the city’s Open Space Division, the canyon neighbors and a community of businesses, youth, and faith-based and civic groups. Bankers Hill has shown it has both the ingredients and the energy.
In the midst of relocating his business from Seattle to Bankers Hill, and building a home on the rim of Maple Canyon with his partner Michael Jacobs, artist/furniture maker Roy McMakin noticed that Maple Canyon “could use a bit more love.” He Googled the nonprofit San Diego Canyonlands, met with executive director Eric Bowlby, and began cooking up interest.
In May 2003, working as the Canyons campaign manager for the local chapter of the Sierra Club, Bowlby had established the Friends of Maple Canyon. Over the years, the city’s Open Space Division worked to engage the volunteer group, and an environmental consultant company, RECON Environmental, adopted the canyon as part of an I Love a Clean San Diego program. Still, it was time to “stir the pot again and re-energize local stewardship,” Bowlby said.
Via email, McMakin introduced Bowlby to a list of Maple Canyon neighbors and community leaders, and they helped SD Canyonlands with door-to-door outreach to over 1,500 Bankers Hill residents — inviting them to a free, guided tour of the canyon. On Feb. 7, over 40 residents turned out for the canyon tour led by city open space Ranger Jason Allen and SD Canyonlands president Carrie Schneider (former president of the California Native Plant Society, San Diego Chapter).
The flyer also promoted a Feb. 22 stewardship event and Bankers Hill responded with a turn out of 20 new Maple Canyon friends. With guidance from Ranger Mika Shimada, they installed new steps on the steep trail entrance off of Quince Street and Third Avenue. They also filled a walk-in dumpster with litter, palm fronds, dumped furniture and soggy piles of clothing left behind in abandoned camps.
McMakin urged Bowlby to make a presentation at the monthly Bankers Hill Community Group meeting. At their March 16 meeting, Bowlby outlined the challenges for restoring Maple Canyon, and discussed his Canyon Enhancement Planning (CEP) program that is methodically planning rehabilitating of urban canyons throughout San Diego.
CEP includes a partnership with San Diego State University’s Geography Department. The SDSU students and interns go afoot and afield to map the existing conditions in the canyons, including social trails, erosion, viewpoints and vegetation conditions. These new GIS maps are used by community stakeholders to assess enhancements such as what trails to close and which to improve and what connections can be made for trail users to link to Balboa Park, Little Italy or even San Diego Bay.
The maps were completed in May, and SD Canyonlands will assemble the stakeholders to begin the Maple Canyon enhancement planning process this fall. Visit sdcanyonlands.org/cep and scroll down to view these new maps.
Maple Canyon sits on the fringes of Downtown San Diego. It has all the daunting urban canyon challenges such as widespread invasive plant species, severe erosion, illegal dumping, encampments and trail blazing. But now it has McMakin’s leadership and a newly organized Friends of Bankers Hill who are enthusiastically rolling up their sleeves. Bankers Hill residents have donated to support SD Canyonlands planning and stewardship programs. With support from the City Open Space Division and biological expertise from RECON Environmental, the recipe is place to address the challenges in Maple Canyon and showcase the incredible resource values of San Diego’s wonderful urban canyons.
To join the Friends of Maple Canyon group or for further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 619-284-9399.
—Eric Bowlby is the executive director of San Diego Canyonlands. Carmen Aurrecoechea is a San Diego Canyonlands intern and graduate from San Diego State University, majoring in geography.