Coastal cleanup often begins six miles inland in the canyons of City Heights. There, San Diego Canyonlands and local residents clear debris that pose problems for the region’s network of waterways and, ultimately, its beaches.
“We really want to bring it back to what it was maybe a couple hundred years ago,” said John Hanley, a resident near 47th Street Canyon.
Trash that collects in urban areas like City Heights finds its way into the nearby canyons, which connect to waterways that flow into the ocean.
Landscaping also poses a threat to the city’s canyon system. Arundo, a bamboo species often planted for privacy around homes, is an invasive plant that presents a fire hazard to San Diego canyons.
“We’ve had several fires here in the canyon and once the fire gets going it can just spread very quickly,” said Hanley.
More than 70 people showed up to 47th Street Canyon on César Chávez Day to help trim the arundo and pull pollutants from the canyon’s creek bed. The project was a way for residents to get outdoors and meet one another.
City Heights lacks public green spaces, but interest in its multiple canyons are providing residents with new opportunities for recreation.
San Diego Canyonlands recently received a grant from Price Charities to collaborate with the various neighborhood canyon groups in City Heights to emphasize canyon restoration and map geographic information of the canyons.
John Hanley: The unique part of San Diego, and especially City Heights are our canyons. And they’re really a great place that hasn’t been developed. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a resident here on this canyon for eleven years. And the reason I moved here is because of the canyon. I just saw it as such a great place to live. This a very urban area. City Heights is a concentrated area. We live in such closed, confined areas and you can come down here and kind of lose yourself. So it’s really a good place to do that. We get a lot of activity down here right now. We get a lot of people from the neighborhood that come down here, they take walks, they bring their dogs down here. There’s just so many things to point out, as far as the natives, the plants, the birds, it’s just a great place.
We really want to bring it back to what it was maybe a couple hundred years ago. San Diego Canyonlands actually just got a grant from Price Charities. And they’ve hired five people to work in City Heights canyons. We got people doing restoration, we have people doing GIS mapping, so we’re really concentrating in this City Heights area to really bring these canyons back. People have a hard time really understanding how can you possibly be working on a coastal cleanup six miles inland. But all these canyons feed into other waterways that eventually end up in the ocean. So it’s really important that we pull out anything that could very well end up in the ocean.
Today we just finished up an event that was recognizing César Chávez Day as a service day and we had over 70 people come here, mostly kids. We pulled a lot of stuff out of the creek bed, we did a lot of chipping of arundo, which is a bamboo that grows down here, in abundance. It’s an invasive plant, so it grows all over the place and it doesn’t allow the natives to grow. It’s also a very big fire hazard. We’ve had several fires here in the canyon and once the fire gets going it can just spread very quickly. And it also creates a lot of embers that float in the air and that creates more fires that we have down here. Now you look out here today and it’s in the Spring time, there’s a lot of green and it hard to imagine a fire could even start down here. You come here in the Fall and everything is dried out, all the grasses are dried out, it’s very susceptible to fires.
It’s really all about having the neighbors come together and really work on a very difficult task. What working on these canyons has really allowed us to do was really get to know people that live next door, that live down the street, that even live across the canyon. You know, I can see people from my deck that live across the canyon, but I’ve never met them. But this has been a really good opportunity to say, “Hey, we’re down here, if you want to come down, we’d really love to see you.” And we really met a lot of good people that way.