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The River Park History

The San Diego River is California’s first river.  It has always played an integral role in the lives of San Diegans from its importance to our Kumeyaay people, and all of the immigrant groups that followed. For many years, until the advent of El Capitan and San Vicente Dams, the annual flooding allowed for dry land farming along the river valley.  With the advent of the dams, and the loss of ground water recharge, farming faded and sand mining became the staple economic activity along the river.


Photo taken by Pete Nelson

In the 1980’s Lakeside started to envision a role for the river that was more than a mining site. The community wanted a river park. After many false starts, the river park planning effort began in earnest in the late 1990’s. Great ideas do not happen in a vacuum; the idea of creating a river park caught the imagination of Santee and the City of San Diego as well. 


In 2001, Lakeside’s River Park Conservancy was incorporated as a nonprofit in an effort to purchase reclaimed sand mined property before it could be developed as industrial property. We purchased our first 100 acres in 2003 and began an ambitious restoration program that saw the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of fill to establish a restored flood plain and remove a water constriction. During this first phase we created a mile of the San Diego River trail with an overlook, constructed a wetland to treat urban runoff from Los Coches Creek, and restored the site with the planting of over 30,000 plants and the removal of over 200,000 cubic yards of invasive plants including Arundo donax.  


Our partner organization, the San Diego River Conservancy, was established in 2002 as a State chartered conservancy with the goal of bringing State funds to the restoration of the San Diego River. This ambitious project involved acquiring and managing public lands within the San Diego River area, as well as providing recreational opportunities, open space, and wildlife habitat. Other components of our mission involve species and wetland restoration and protection, protection of historical and cultural resources, (such as the historic flume) and improvements to the quality of the waters in the San Diego River and its watershed. A critical focus of our project has been to restore a natural conveyance for floodwaters, in a manner consistent with the protection of the land and natural and economic resources in the area.


Below are images of our first restoration project.

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