By Karen Brainard
On a warm, sunny, slightly breezy Friday morning, June 3, hikers, equestrians, Ramona residents, county officials and staff, park rangers, and others gathered for the opening of the first trail in the Ramona Grasslands Preserve.
And there were many horses, too.
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob and Dave Van Cleve, senior project director of The Nature Conservancy, were among those cutting the ribbon for the event.
Speaking to a crowd in the new parking area at the trailhead on Highland Valley Road near Archie Moore Road, Jacob said, “This land represents our true rural heritage.”
“When we set aside lands like this for San Diegans to visit and enjoy wherever they live, we stay connected to that heritage,” said Jacob. “And I think that’s very, very important because that rural heritage is who we are and where we come from as a community.”
The figure-eight, four-mile loop trail in the southwestern portion of the 3,500-acre grasslands preserve meanders through a variety of landscapes and ecosystems, such as grasslands, chaparral and oak woodlands.
The trail, Jacob said, winds through a 480-acre part of the preserve that is called the Oak Country area. It passes an agricultural pond, and provides a panoramic viewpoint that looks out across the preserve and the Santa Maria Valley.
Brian Albright, director of San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department, said the trail is “a great example of how we can preserve the environment and protect sensitive species and still offer the public a quiet place to get away to enjoy nature and to get some healthy outdoor exercise.”
Albright noted that, when crews started construction on the trail about two years ago, they noticed the federally protected Stephens kangaroo rat (SKR). Construction was halted and an alternative home for the rats was created on three acres of the grasslands by the trailhead, Albright said. He pointed to an area he called the “checkerboard,” which consists of thin low grass interspersed with dirt. Albright said the rats, which burrow in the ground, were relocated from the trail to that spot.
“It will be a thriving habitat for the SKR,” he said.
According to Van Cleve, the grasslands are important to The Nature Conservancy because they connect nearby areas for wildlife.
The new trail is in an area of the preserve that was purchased jointly by The Nature Conservancy, which received $10 million in federal funds authorized by the Endangered Species Act, and the county, which contributed $1.6 million.
After the ribbon cutting, the gate was opened and horseback riders, hikers and bicyclists headed out on the new trail.