Category Archives: Nature

Santee Residents Brave Rain for SanTree Fest

Cold, wind and the threat of rain couldn’t stop over 200 enthusiastic residents from coming out on Saturday, March 17, for the seventh annual SanTree Fest, held this year at Town Center Community Park. Nearly two dozen businesses and community groups manned booths with everything from health and nutrition to environmental awareness. While the weather forced the cancellation of some events and activities, there was still plenty for people to enjoy.

SanTree Fest is part Arbor Day, part Earth Day and a tribute to Santee’s continued status as a Tree City USA for the city’s commitment to having a well-planted community. In previous years the celebration has done landscaping at Cajon Park School and done planting and cleanup in Mast Park. This year’s projects included planting 40 trees in the green spaces around the Cameron Family YMCA and the creation of a “rock creek” to enhance the visual appeal of the area.

With the looming threat of heavy rain, tree planting was done immediately, with volunteers grabbing shovels and potted trees and heading out to pre-determined locations. In no time at all the trees were in the ground and volunteers were moving on to other activities. Many chose to help lay rocks for the new landscape feature, a sinuous pathway of large river rocks dotted with several small plants.

“It was super fun,” said one young participant from Pride Academy who helped with both the planting and the rock projects. “I’m in a group at school called Club Live, and this was a project we could work on.”

For those willing to get even more “down and dirty,” the Friends of Santee’s River Park and the city of Santee Community Services Department organized a cleanup of the nearby Woodglen Vista Creek which runs through a section of the park. This small tributary to the San Diego River received a much-needed clearing to prevent debris from being washed down into the river and then to the ocean. Among the hundreds of pieces of trash removed were an old tire and a shopping cart. Storm water will now flow more easily with less flooding.

Shannon Quigley-Raymond of the Friends of Santee’s River Park was on hand to share the group’s message with visitors to SanTree Fest and to encourage participation in future events. The Friends of Santee’s River Park is a chapter of the larger San Diego River Park Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the county’s namesake waterway. April will feature RiverBlitz – a survey of the San Diego River through Santee to identify problem areas – and an Earth Day clean up at Big Rock Park on the west side of the city. More information about the groups is available on their websites (see links above).

Another environmental group on hand was the San Diego Regional Urban Forest Council, an organization made up of a variety of public and private entities. The SDRUFC advocates for a variety of projects such as San Diego County’s Cool Communities Shade Tree Program and provides information about grants and public education initiatives. SDRUFC members Delia Juncal and Mike Palat were there to answer questions and provide information, including a handout on Water-Wise Tree Care for the San Diego Region.

While the turnout was not as large as previous years, Santee’s Special Events Supervisor Cherie Meek was still pleased with the results. “We probably had at least 200 people out here,” she said, “even with the weather.”

For more information about events in Santee, visit the City of Santee website.

1 Comment

Filed under Community, Nature, Weather

Lions Club Sensory Garden Opens at Santee Lakes

It was the culmination of nearly seven years of planning, fundraising, and hard work when Arthur “Ike” Enzenauer, Lions Club Past District Governor, stood in front of friends and fellow Lions to dedicate the new Sensory Garden at Santee Lakes on Saturday, April 16, 2011. On hand for the ceremony were members of the community, and representatives from the Santee Chamber of Commerce and local politicians. Also present were a number of visually-impaired visitors who now could experience the beauty of a garden by touch and scent. All of the plants will have identification plaques giving both common and scientific names in English and Braille. At the east entrance to the garden there are two large plaques, one in English and the other in Braille, which detail Past Lions International Director Bill Moody’s thoughts on “Planting a Lions Garden.”

The Sensory Garden project began in 2004, shortly after the Lions Club dedicated the disabled-access fishing pier on Lake 4, next to the Kiwanis Disabled Access Playground. The new garden is in the same area, on the west side of the playground. Together the Lions and Kiwanis have worked hard to provide opportunities for disabled visitors to enjoy as much of the fun at the Lakes as possible. The Lions also have a number of project ideas in the planning stages, including possibly putting in concrete pads at points along lake shorelines to allow anglers in wheelchairs to fish from the shore as well as on the pier. They also would like to create concrete walkways with raised curbs around the lakes to provide a safe place for both vision-impaired visitors and those in wheelchairs to enjoy strolls. As Enzenauer explained, this is all part of the Lions Club’s efforts, with Santee Lakes and Padre Dam, “to make the lakes accessible to everyone, regardless of handicap.”

Speaking at the dedication, Bill Pommerling, President of the Padre Dam Municipal Water District Board of Directors, thanked the Lions for their efforts. As he pointed out, “Projects like this don’t happen just because of money; projects like this happen because of heart.” Pommerling specifically mentioned Enzenauer as one of those whose “heart” helped to make the garden possible. Santee Lakes Director of Parks and Recreation Allen Carlisle, who was also instrumental in the creation of the garden, thanked the Lions for their dedication to the project and to making it possible for more people to experience the Lakes. He even pointed out that, as the ceremony was taking place, a man in a wheelchair was fishing from the nearby disabled-access pier – something that would not have been possible without the Lions Club.

Of course, even with plenty of “heart,” a project of this magnitude does not happen without money, and the Lions worked hard through a difficult recession to bring in the $78,000 needed to get the garden to near-completion.

This included $25,000 from Santee Lakes– money that comes from user fees, not the Padre Dam MWD which created the Lakes – as well as from a number of local businesses. Perhaps one of the greatest single monetary gifts, however, was $10,000 donated by Lions Club member John Errickson, who is not only member locally but also in Florida where he spends part of the year. Errickson and a friend drove cross-country from Florida, leaving on the previous Tuesday, in order to be at the ceremony. That is the kind of dedication to a cause that is the hallmark of the Lions Clubs. However, as Enzenauer explained, the Lions Club still needs about $4000 to cover the final expenses of the garden. Anyone interested in helping can contact the Rancho Santee Lions Association.

One other person who deserves special recognition is landscape architect George Mercer, who designed and planned the garden pro bono. Mercer, who has an office in La Mesa and has worked on several Santee schools, put in countless hours on the project to help it become a reality. He explained after the ceremony that the feeling of satisfaction at making the garden possible was all the reward he needed.

The Rancho Santee Lions Association Sensory Garden is open to all who want to enjoy the beauty of nature. It is located between Lakes 3 and 4, immediately to the west of the Kiwanis Disabled-Access Playground. Padre Dam’s Santee Lakes recreation area can be reached from Fanita Parkway between Mast Blvd. and Carlton Hills Blvd. and is open daily. Vehicle parking fees for day use are $3 on weekdays and $5 on weekends and holidays. For more information, visit the Santee Lakes website. For more pictures of the day, check out my stories on Demotix and Santee Examiner.


Filed under Community, Nature

Rains Cause Problems along San Diego River

The week of rains that passed through San Diego County left quite a mark in Santee. One of the hardest-hit areas was the Carlton Oaks Country Club, which became Carlton Oaks Lake for several days. In addition to flooding out the golf course, the storms damaged a Padre Dam sewage pumping station near the golf course, caused 1.2 million gallons of sewage to spill into the river. It took several hours for workers to stop the flow and to install temporary lines to bypass the break.  Because of the contamination from this spill and other pollutants washed into the ocean over the past week, officials are recommending that people stay out of the water for at least the next 3 days. Currently there is no estimate on when the lake will return to its normal golf course conditions.

Egrets check out the fairway

Coots on Carlton Oaks "Lake"

Flooding from the swollen San Diego River

Rushing water on the golf course

1 Comment

Filed under Nature, Weather

The Week Ahead – August 24-30


With the end of Summer nearing, many activities and events are dropping off the radar.  No more Summer Concerts or Movies by the Lake.  But there are still a few things to do around Santee.

Santee Senior Club: This is sponsored by the City of Santee.  The Senior Club meets every Wednesday morning from 9:00-11:30 am at the Teen Center at Santee Lakes.  This week they are having an Ice Cream Social, so if you are a Senior or know a Senior who might be interested, this is the place to be.

Santee City Council Meeting: The City Council meets on Wednesday, August 26, at 7:00 pm in the Council Chamber at 10601 N. Magnolia Ave.  For a copy of the Agenda, click on the link above.

Mission Trails Regional Park: There will be Guided Nature Walks on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday starting at 9:30 am.  There is also a Twilight Walk on Saturday, starting at 6:30 pm.

Grand Opening: Desert Rose Studios will be having its official Grand Opening on Saturday, August 29, beginning at 10:00 am.  Desert Rose Studios is located at 9225 Carlton Hills Blvd., #29, in the Carlton Oaks Center.

Frubble: Karaoke Night is Thursday, August 27, at Frubble, starting at 8:00 pm.

If you know of anything else happening around Santee, send me a message and I’ll get it up.


Celebrate East County: Heartland Foundation and East County Magazine are hosting a wine and food tasting event to highlight some of East County’s “Best Kept Secrets.”  See the post on the event for more information.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chamber Activities, Community, Nature

Santee Lakes Named “Best Campground”

 Santee Lakes

The votes are in and Santee Lakes Regional Park and Campground has been named Best Campground in the 2009 San Diego’s Best contest through the San Diego Union Tribune.  Congratulations to Santee Lakes!

1 Comment

Filed under Community, Nature

The Week Ahead – July 13-19


No promises, but I am going to try to start giving a heads up on activities and events for the week.  Of course, this will be a lot easier if you let me know of any important dates coming up – so feel free to email me ( or leave a message if you have something you think others should know about things in and around Santee.

Santee Chamber of Commerce After-5 Mixer: Thursday, July 16, from 5:30-7:00 pm at PakMail, 9890 N Magnolia Ave.

Santee Summer Concert Series: Thursday, July 16, from 6:30-8:00 pm at Santee Trolley Square – featuring Spectrum.

Simply Spa Santana Special: This week Simply Spa is giving members of the Santana Class of ’89 a $20 discount on either a 50-minute spa treatment or a 50-minute facial treatment in preparation for their upcoming Class Reunion.  For more info you can check out their Facebook page or call them at 619-258-5810.

Frubble Presents: Saturday night, July 18, the teen band The Mayors of Sexy Town will play at Frubble from 7:00 pm to whenever.  Frubble is located in the Pathways center at Mast Blvd. and Carlton Hills Blvd.

Night Fishing at Santee Lakes: Thursday night (a big night, apparently), July 16, Santee Lakes #1, 2, 3, and 4 will be open for night fishing from 5:00-11:30 pm.  You don’t need a state fishing license, but you do need a Night Fishing Permit – $8 for Adults, $6 for Juniors, $3 for a second pole – and a lantern.  No radios – you don’t want to scare the fish!

Mission Trails Regional Park: Multiple events all week, culminating in their Summer Twilight Walk starting at 7:15 pm on Saturday, July 18.  Call ahead for reservations if you want to attend.

Again, if you know of something else going on that you think is worthwhile, let me know and I’ll try to get it up.

Leave a comment

Filed under Business, Chamber Activities, Community, Entertainment, Nature

Twilight Walks at Mission Trails Regional Park

Twilight Walk at Mission Trails Regional Park

This summer, why not try an evening walk at Mission Trails Regional Park?  The park, located just across the line in San Diego, encompasses some magnificent scenery, including riparian woods, meadowlands, and much more.  Walks begin around dusk, starting at the Kumeyaay Lake Campground entry (just off Mission Gorge Rd. on the west side of Santee), and last about an hour and a half.  The walks are free, but the number of people is limited, so you need to call ahead to reserve space.

On walks in previous summers I have seen bats, birds, tarantulas, and a rattlesnake.  Well-trained guides lead the walk, explaining the ins and outs of the park and its inhabitants.  They will also give you some background on the human history of the area, usually including a stop at some grinding stones.  This is a fun way to spend a Saturday evening.

Upcoming walks are July 18, August 1, August 15, August 29, and September 19.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nature

San Diego River Days

Mast Park Tamarisk Removal

This Saturday, May 9, San Diego River Days will kick off with events stretching from the river mouth at Dog Beach, through Old Town and Mission Valley, to Santee and finally Barona Reservation.  River Days continues with more events on Sunday, May 10, and the following weekend (May 16 & 17).  In Santee the Friends of Santee’s River Park will be coordinating a salt cedar (tamarisk) and trash removal project.  If you have read some of my earlier posts on the river, you know that salt cedar is a dangerously invasive tree that causes severe habitat damage.  If you are interested in helping out our local river, this is a good way to start.  The local activities start at 9:00 am at Mast Park and run until noon.  Other activities along the river have various times and locations, which you can find at the San Diego River Days site.

1 Comment

Filed under Community, Nature


San Diego River Park Foundation

Saturday, April 11, was the San Diego River Park Foundation’s RiverBlitz – an effort to identify and map problems along the river for later clean up/removal.  The Foundation held one in the Mission Valley section of the river in October of 2008, and through that effort over 24,000 pounds of trash was cleaned out, several invasive plants were removed, and a corroded storm drain was identified and repaired.  This time the focus was on Santee’s section of the river, with several groups splitting the effort.

RiverBlitz Volunteers

Nearly two dozen eager volunteers gathered at Mast Park on a cloudy day, perfect weather for tramping around along the river.  After some required paperwork and guidelines from Blitz leader Shannon Quigley, Field Operations Associate for the San Diego River Park Foundation, we broke up into smaller groups and headed out to our areas.  My group, which included Gary Strawn,  our team leader, Paul Hormick, Eric Jones, and yours truly, was assigned to the south side of the river between Cuyamaca St. and Cottonwood Ave.  After dropping off two of our cars at the softball fields by Rio Seco School, we headed over to an off-street parking area near RCP Block and Brick.  Once there we doled out team assignments – Gary and Eric took lists, Paul took the global positioner, and I took the camera (naturally).  The goal was to identify, locate on GPS, and photograph accumulations of trash, transient camps, and invasive vegetation.  This last can be surprising, since many of what we think of as normal San Diego vegetation is actually non-native, invasive, and harmful to the river environment.

At our starting point we came across our first stand of invasive vegetation – a large grove of eucalyptus.  Even though the eucalyptus is ubiquitous in San Diego County, it is an import from Australia and poses a fire danger, as we saw recently in its homeland and back in 2003 when the Cedar Fire reached Scripps Ranch.  Here Eric, Paul, and Gary (l-r)plot and measure the grove.

Mapping a Eucalyptus Grove

Another problem tree is the tamarisk, or salt cedar.  This invasive not only crowds out local trees because of its rapid reproduction rate, it draws more water and can degrade the soil with its saline excretions.  One area we christened “Tamarisk Flats” because of the enormous number of these trees.  A third tree, or group of trees, is the palm.  Again, a tree we see all around, but not one native to the San Diego River ecosystem.  The most commonly found species are the Mexican fan palm and the Canary Island palm – both of which are very difficult to remove once established.  Other major problem plants are arundo reed and pampas grass, which we did find but I did not photograph with my camera.  Here you can see the rest of the team checking an area with tamarisk and palm trees.

Tamarisk and Palm

Believe it or not, these delicate flowers belong to the invasive tamarisk

Tamarisk Flowers

Trash is a constant problem along the river, whether from casual littering, illegal dumping, or transient camps.  There were some areas that were almost pristine, while other areas just yards away looked like something you would find at the Sycamore Canyon Landfill.  Part of this problem can be solved just by people taking responsibility for their own garbage, but the majority will have to be cleaned out by groups such as the Foundation and the Conservation Corps.  We came across just about everything you could imagine, from bottles and cans to concrete and wire, to broken furniture.  Here is a sample of the trash we came across.

Miscellaneous Trash

Abandoned Transient Camp

Yes, that is a most likely a bathtub that has been dumped in the water.

Dumped Bathtub

This picturesque scene is much more sinister than you would think.  The trees at left of center are tamarisk, and you can see palms in the distance.  There are also some eucalyptus that are harder to pick out, but they are there.  Grove of Invasives

But the real shock comes when you go down into the grove and look around at what was at one time – and could become again – a transient encampment.

Abandoned Transient Camp Area

Transient Encampment

But there is hope – here is an area where native vegetation has been planted in an effort to repair some of the damage that has been done over the years.


You can find traces of local wildlife, such as these raccoon tracks.

Raccoon Tracks

And it is still possible to find a quiet spot to drop your fishing line.  I hear the bluegill and crappie hit well and the bass are starting to pick up.

Fishing on the River

If you are interested in getting involved with the protection and rehabilitation of the San Diego River, you can check out the following groups:

San Diego River Park Foundation (Go to the “Resources” section for many more links)

Project Clean Water

Lakeside’s River Park Conservancy


Filed under Community, Nature

SanTree Fest 2009 Report

Santee - Tree City USA 2008

Last Saturday (March 14) was the fourth annual SanTree Fest celebrating Earth Day and Santee’s sixth straight year being named a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation.  This year the event was held at Mast Park, which runs along the San Diego River just north of Mission Gorge Road.  The celebration included tree planting, non-native vegetation removal, and trash clean up.  There were also information booths from several local and state organizations and local companies, booths from a number of local restaurants, and music.  The 2009 Miss Santee and Miss Santee Teen were on hand, along with several of the runners up (look for a post on them soon).

San Diego River Park Foundation

A major partner in the festivities was the San Diego River Park Foundation, which coordinated the vegetation and trash removal activities.  The day started out cool, overcast, and a little damp – perfect weather for digging holes to Trash removal along the trailplant trees or cutting down unwanted invasive vegetation.  The main clean up work went on at the east end of the park, just north of Wal-Mart.  If you have never taken a close look, there is an entrance to a walking trail at the northwest corner of the parking lot, just north of the store entrance.  If you wander down the trail you will come to a small bridge over the river.  Just beyond that, the Foundation had set up shop for the clean up activities.  On the trail I passed several families out with their trash pickers and bags, pulling junk out of the brush along the way.  Then at the river several groups were involved in cutting out and removing non-native trees and brush.  The goal is to help return the river to as close to a natural state as possible – taking in to account that it runs through the middle of the city.

Non-native vegetation removal

 The main activity, tree planting, took place in an open area near the center of the park.  Dozens of volunteers were involved, including a large group from Hartford Insurance – easily distinguished by their maroon T-shirts.  I’m not sure how many trees were planted, but one section of the park was a mass of people digging, planting, and filling. 

SanTree Fest Information BoothsMeanwhile, others were taking advantage of the information and food booths.  There was a great deal of good information available on everything from waste and recycling t0 water pollution and smart planting choices.  Organizations as varied as the California Center for Sustainable Energy, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), and the San Diego River Conservancy.  Local restaurants sharing their goodies included Rubio’s, Cafe 67, Hungry Howie’s and Souplantation.  Below are some photos of the different booths, along with links to the various websites in case you want more information.

The California Center for Sustainable Energy had information about renewable energy sources and their EcoBuild San Diego workshop on April 4 – check their website for more details.

California Center for Sustainable Energy

The Urban Corps of San Diego had information on utility-friendly and shade trees

Urban Corps, San Diego

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had information on the Urban Forestry Program, as well as information from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Cal Fire

The San Diego Regional Urban Forest Council (part of the California Urban Forests Council) and the Natural Resources Conservation Services shared a booth with their information on resources, workshops, and events.  Sarah Marino (l) and Danielle Hirsch (r) from the local Escondido office of NRCS talked about the brush removal and modification programs and the federal money available for the programs.


Another urban tree organization on hand was United Voices for Healthier Communities, also allied with the California Urban Forest Council.

United Voices for Healthier Communities

Along with the San Diego River Park Foundation, one of its branches – Friends of Santee’s River Park – had information on activities and upcoming events.  One of their projects, the RiverBlitz, surveys the river to identify and map problems for later clean ups.  The next RiverBlitz will be on April 4 in Mission Valley and April 11 in Santee.

Friends of Santee's River Park

The San Diego River Conservancy, a state agency within the Resources Agency of the State of California, was there to present information on its activities in support of the river.  Exectutive Officer Michael Nelson (in the green hat) explained about the agency’s work to eliminate 14 acres of invasive plants from along the river near Ward Road. 

San Diego River Conservancy

Tom Walters and Connie Wood, Trail Guides at the Mission Trails Regional Park, were on hand to share information about events, activities, and more.

Mission Trails Regional Park

County of San Diego Vector Control and San Diego County Libraries were there to share information along with the County of San Diego Vector Controlother groups and organizations.  Also on hand were several companies, including event sponsor Waste Management, SDG&E, and West Coast Arborists.SDG&E

San Diego County LibraryWaste ManagementWest Coast Arborists

Of course there were the restaurant booths as well:



Cafe 67 (The sub clubs were especially popular)

Cafe 67

Smoothie King

Smoothie King

Souplantation (love those blueberry muffins)


Hungry Howie’s

Hungry Howie's

Henry’s Marketplace

Henry's Marketplace

Just to make sure everyone had a good time, SanTree Fest also included a few other activities…

Lowe’s sponsored a “Pot a Plant” booth.

Lowe's "Pot a Plant"

The City of Santee sponsored a craft booth, with help from the Santana High School cheerleaders.


The County Parks and Recreation Department gave people an up-close look at local wildlife.

County Parks and RecreationLocal wildlife


Meeting a tarantula

Music for SanTree Fest was provided by the Virtual Strangers, a top local bluegrass band.

Virtual Strangers

Santana Cheerleaders passed out avacado cutters.

Santana Cheerleaders

2009 Miss Santee, Sierra Billock, and Miss Santee Teen, Nicole Ehlke, greeted visitors.

2009 Miss Santee & Miss Santee Teen

West Coast Arborists presented a tree climbing demonstration.

WCA Tree Climbing Demonstration

You can check out the websites of any of the organizations involved if you want information about getting involved in conservation and community activities.


Filed under Community, Nature