New community park opens in Spring Valley neighborhood
County spent $1.4M to turn 6.6-acre vacant lot into Estrella County Park, unveiled Dec. 18
Josan Feathers and her dog, Andy, explore the newly opened Estrella County Park last week. (Karen Pearlman U-T)
By Karen Pearlman
A new community park in Casa de Oro is drawing people from across the county as well as close to home. Estrella County Park reopened on Dec. 18, with only a few San Diego County officials and local residents there to mark the improvements to a vacant 6.6-acre lot in the Spring Valley neighborhood. By midweek before Christmas, families with young children and dogs were filling the park from dusk till dawn, using the trails, picnic tables and play equipment. Jessica Cissel and her son, Fox, 6, heard about the grand opening and even though they live in North Park, they decided they needed to get on the road and make a visit. On Wednesday, the pair traipsed around the park trying out some of the equipment. Fox found his footing on a nearly 6-foot tall rock-climbing structure but still needed his mother to help him get down.
Locals Vanessa Alamillo with her dog, Jax, and Crystal Ramirez with her daughters Ellie and Remi, have been to the park a few times already and are still getting used to a long rope bridge that makes a lot of noise and movements when little feet race across. “I am very grateful to have this new park in our community, especially during this pandemic,” Ramirez said. “With schools being closed, this park gives neighborhood kids a safe place to enjoy some fresh air and nature. This park is so unique, I have not seen one quite like this. There is a sense of sustainability around the whole park, which helps children understand more on how we need to care for our Earth.”
Casa de Oro resident Josan Feathers brought her neighbor’s dog, Andy, a rescued Labrador retriever mix, to walk the park’s boundaries. Andy stayed busy sniffing around and gathering sticks to pick up and carry — and then drop. Feathers spent 12 years on the Valle de Oro Community Planning Group, which pushed for years to have the park for Casa de Oro, the unincorporated community nestled among the hills of Mount Helix.
“I worked with (Valle de Oro) Chair Jack Phillips and later with Chair Lori Myers fighting to get this designed and built,” Feathers said. “Grossmont Mt. Helix Improvement Association and other community members have been pushing for this for the past 45 years, and more recently the Casa de Oro Alliance added their voice. We’re glad that the neighborhood is already using it.”
The county spent $1.4 million to turn the hilly spot into a community park that fits in with the local landscape and mixes natural play areas of trees and boulders with two kid-friendly bridges, several climbing structures, slides, a picnic area, a sand beach with two empty canoes, a butterfly canyon, log benches, a dog walking path, trails and an amphitheater.
Parks officials said it took about a year to build the improvements, with construction starting in late 2019. Estrella Park’s features, including the amphitheater, were built into the land’s natural landscape and use the area’s rustic features to create unique play spaces, such as balance beams made out of eucalyptus trees, steppers made from tree stumps and logs stacked up a hill for children to climb.
New, native and drought-tolerant plants and trees were also added and the park features educational signs touting resource conservation, pointing out sustainable landscaping and local wildlife so visitors can learn about and appreciate the plants and animals in the park.
Last week, outgoing county Supervisor Dianne Jacob and a handful of socially distanced county officials gathered at Estrella Park, which Jacob called “incredible,” to celebrate the opening of the park. Jacob said the spot was a great example of the success of the “Green Light for Parks” initiative she and outgoing Supervisor Greg Cox introduced and the Board of Supervisors approved in 2017. The initiative led the board to approve the creation of a $13 million commitment in the county general fund to help overcome maintenance hurdles that stymied some park development — including Estrella. “Before those actions were in place, we didn’t have the resources we needed to build and maintain this park,” Jacob said. “Parks like Estrella benefit everyone — supporting regional health and safety, and a better quality of life.”
Estrella Park is scheduled to be open daily from sunrise to sunset and will be patrolled by county park rangers and local volunteers. Feathers said that the park is only partway there. While “phase one” is done, she said the county is already looking toward moving on the second phase, which Feathers said will include ADA parking and access.
For more information about County parks, visit: https://www.sdparks.org/content/sdparks/en/park-pages/EstrellaCountyPark.html
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