Students from Mission Bay High School tend to the Rose Creek Native Plant Garden in 2010. COURTESY PHOTO
Friends of Rose Creek volunteer Billy Paul walks through trash near where the creek crosses under Santa Fe Street during a previous cleanup campaign. COURTESY PHOTO
Renewed commitment and dedicated hard work is what it takes to clean coastal watersheds and keep them that way.
That’s the message being delivered by Friends of Rose Creek, a grass-roots environmental group overseeing the lower Rose Creek area between Interstate 5 and Mission Bay.
Named for San Diego Pioneer Louis Rose, Rose Creek is an urban stream that drains through Rose and San Clemente canyons south through Pacific Beach, emptying into Mission Bay.
One of 18 member groups of a larger umbrella organization, The Rose Creek Watershed Alliance, Friends of Rose Creek has a plan for how it would like to see lower Rose Creek evolve.
“Our vision is for lower Rose Creek to be an open-space park, providing recreational and learning opportunities and a clean, healthy, aesthetically pleasing environment for residents, visitors, businesses and native plants and animals, while serving as an accessible link for bicyclists and pedestrians to move between Rose Canyon Park, Marian Bear Park, Mission Bay Park and surrounding communities,” according to the mission statement for Friends of Rose Creek at saverosecreek.org.
“We decided to adopt the orphan stretch of Rose Creek, [which is] not considered parkland, from Mission Bay Park to Rose Canyon Open Space Park and the southern end of Marian Bear Park north of Highway 52,” said Karen Zirk, who spearheaded the Friends of Rose Creek organization in 2004. “We decided to take that on since nobody else would, linking the communities of University City, Clairemont and Pacific Beach, which the creek flows through.”
Zirk said the organization’s tagline is “connecting our communities.”
How Zirk came to create the Friends of Rose Creek organization is an interesting tale. She said she “inherited” the task of starting a creek environmental support group from a colleague.
“He handed me this creek and I said, ‘I’m not sure what to do,’ ” Zirk said. “I’d taken in stray dogs before — but never a stray creek.”
The idea behind the organization, said Zirk, is to have a working group that not only safeguards and enhances Rose Creek watershed, but also strives to further the interests of recreationalists and other user groups.
“This is a major bicycling corridor and we’re concerned about bicyclists being able to ride safely and legally,” said Zirk. “We’re also involved in environmental issues like preserving native plants, and in protecting the salt-marsh estuary in the lower portion of Rose Creek, which is a very critical fish-spawning area for Mission Bay.”
Friends’ sponsors a native-plant garden near Rose Creek Cottage and recently unveiled an environmental mural painted by community members near the Mike Gotch Memorial bike and pedestrian bridge that spans Rose Creek and connects with North Mission Bay Drive and Pacific Beach Drive.
“We decided early on that we needed to have some regular events to ground us and keep us focused on what we’re doing within the watershed,” said Zirk. “So we have our monthly meetings every first Wednesday at 6 p.m. at La Jolla Rec Center, where we discuss upcoming events and planning efforts and review environmental documents.”
The organization also sponsors regular cleanups of Rose Creek. The next cleanup is scheduled Saturday, April 26 at 9 a.m. at Mission Bay High School.
One of the organization’s small core group, Billy Paul of Clairemont, is a lifelong canyon hiker who became environmentally active after discovering wildlife was being killed by motor oil released illegally into storm drains.
“I became interested in trying to save our canyons from being destroyed by people who would dump stuff in them trying to get rid of it,” he said.
He said he adopted Rose Creek because “it’s a nice little canyon creek that’s been ignored and considered a flood-control channel.”
Concerning best practices in watersheds, Paul said that “by not littering and throwing things away in it, you’re making it not only a really nice place for us, but for other animals … a place where you can really get away from the urban environment.”
The task of managing and helping to plan the future of the 23,427-acre, 36-square-mile Rose Creek watershed, which includes the 467-acre Marion Bear Park, falls to the Rose Creek Watershed Alliance.
In 2005, the alliance was established to help create a plan to help improve the watershed. After nearly five years of consideration and public input, the San Diego City Council accepted the “Rose Creek Watershed Opportunities Assessment” plan.
“We’re dedicated to planning the future of the Rose Creek watershed,” said alliance coordinator Kelly Makley, who said the group was created to allow public participation in creation of a master planning document for managing the watershed.
Armed with grant funding, Makley said the alliance is involved in practical projects, like replacing non-native species with those that are native, to restore the wetlands environment of Rose Creek.
“We try to raise awareness that what people are doing upstream in the watershed is flowing all the way down and impacting Mission Bay, one of the most valuable parts of San Diego’s economy, drawing more than five million visitors a year,” Makley said.
For more information, visit www.rosecreekwatershed.org.