San Diego Canyonlands



In the summer of 1998, communities surrounding San Diego neighborhood canyons were informed about plans to build permanent sewer line maintenance roads in the floors of the canyons. The residents surrounding North Park’s Switzer Canyon came to the Sierra Club’s San Diego Chapter with concerns about the impacts these paved roads could have on their canyon. These neighbors expressed that the canyons were precious to them, that they provided an escape to nature in urban San Diego, and that they didn’t want to see roads paved through their local wild places.

In response, on a rainy Saturday morning in October 1998, the Sierra Club conducted a free, informative, guided tour of Switzer Canyon, and about 60 residents showed up- organizing the first canyon ‘Friends Group’ and launching the San Diego Canyons Campaign. The Sierra Club, recognizing that San Diegans love their neighborhood canyons, continued to develop Friends Groups for dozens of canyons throughout the city and county.

With the championship of City Council representative Christine Kehoe (who then became a State Senator) and the pressure of several organized canyon groups, united as a city-wide Canyons Coalition, the City Council passed a temporary moratorium on road building in canyons. They established a Task Force to research alternatives to the obtrusive access roads and develop policies for accessing the sewer system while minimizing impacts to canyon habitats. In January 2002, the City Council adopted the recommendations of the Task Force limiting the access to 8-foot wide, unpaved and vegetated roads.

In 2008, with the support of the Sierra Club, the Canyons Campaign leadership formed San Diego Canyonlands (SDCL), a new 501(c)3 nonprofit with a focused Board of Directors and agenda now dedicated to continuing and growing the movement to advocate for, and restore San Diego’s wonderful canyons and creeks.

Over a decade later and SDCL is still dedicated to protecting, promoting, and restoring canyons and creeks throughout San Diego.

Watch a video about the origins of San Diego Canyonlands (28 minutes). This video from UCTV explores the efforts of Richard Louv, Eric Bowlby, Shara Fisler, Tershia d'Elgin, Vicki Estrada and other passionate advocates to preserve and restore San Diego's network of canyons and to create a regional Canyonlands Park that will highlight one of the county's greatest natural assets. 

Below are some of SDCL’s large milestones throughout the years:

  • 1998: San Diego Canyons Campaign launched by the Sierra Club and first Friends Group created.

  • 2006: San Diego Civic Solutions Canyonlands Committee (including Sierra Club Canyons Campaign Coordinator Eric Bowlby) release the Canyonlands white paper to present strategies for Canyons preservation, enhanced access and promote the concept of a San Diego Regional Canyonlands Park.

  • 2007: Governor Schwarzenegger signs bill written by Senator Christine Kehoe dedicating 6,000 acres of canyon open space, saving the city $1 million in “Dedication” costs. The San Diego City Council ratifies this “Dedication” legislation. This was the culmination of the process started by a request from the Canyons Campaign and Civic Solutions to the City’s Natural Resource and Culture Committee, chaired by Donna Frye, to protect San Diego’s canyons.

  • 2008: SDCL receives 501(c)3 status and becomes independent nonprofit organization.

  • 2009: The Canyon Enhancement Planning (CEP) program was established to support community stakeholders and facilitate a systems approach for integrating our natural open spaces within the fabric of the urban environment.

  • 2012: SDCL successfully led an initiative, including 750 letters addressed to Mayor Jerry Sanders, and facilitated a city-wide public vetting process, to dedicate 13,100 acres (20 square miles) of city-owned canyons and open space preserving this land forever as open space and parkland.

  • 2015: The California Coastal Conservancy awards SDCL with funding to plan restoration and enhancements in 12 San Diego canyons and creeks.

  • 2017: The City Heights Canyons Loop Trail system was completed and a ribbon cutting event was held.

  • 2018: SDCL celebrates 10 years with an Anniversary Party at the La Jolla Historical Society which featured an exhibit on local canyons. To commemorate this event, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer proclaimed August 11, 2018 to be San Diego Canyonlands Day.

  • 2018: The City Heights Loop Trail received an Orchid Award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation.

  • 2018/2019: SDCL, with consultants West Coast Arborist, and funding from the San Diego River Conservancy, removed nearly 400 invasive palm trees from Rueda Canyon in Tierrasanta via helicopter lift.