Monday, April 11, 2005 | For five years the Sierra Club Canyons Campaign has been fostering awareness, appreciation and community involvement in stewardship of San Diego’s unique open space canyons. The program has built 30 new “friends groups” for canyons and creeks throughout San Diego and is now working with other groups to increase the enrollment of San Diego’s youth.

On Feb. 28, more than sixty 10-year-old students got a fresh look at their own neighborhood canyon when they spent the morning in 32nd Street Canyon. They were able to walk to the canyon from Kimbrough Elementary in South Park to what we hope will remain their nearby “nature classroom.”

The students were shown a map with an aerial view of North Park and South Park – so they could see that the canyons are surrounded by a sea of urbanization – before they eagerly set off into the canyon carrying clipboards, pencils and binoculars.

A tour of the stream course focused on the jobs canyons do – filtering water and air, conserving energy and providing homes for local wildlife. They were fascinated with the flowing creek, the flowering plants, the insects, butterflies, worms, soaring hawks, and yes, a coyote that stepped out of the bushes to have a glimpse at the crowd before scurrying off to a distant part of the canyon.

Rebuilding the canyon floor

The students learned why native vegetation and habitat is critically important to the many endangered and threatened species we have in San Diego County. They learned that settlers used to tie their mules to the stream-side vegetation and the mules would eat it; thus the common name “mule fat” was born. They learned that Native American hunters used to rub the fragrant coastal sages on their bodies so that their prey would not catch their scent and flee.

Following the tour and the restoration work, the students gathered under a tree, where a red-tailed hawk often perches, to write their impressions of the experience.

The three-part curriculum helped teachers meet instructional content standards set forth by the state of California in the areas of life science, history-social science and English-language arts. This tie-in means that the rich outdoor adventure helped them reach their teaching objectives.

Aquatic Adventures provides wetlands instruction

With guidance from Aquatic Adventures, the curriculum was designed by the 32nd Street Canyon Task Force, the Canyons Coalition and Eco Expressions with the intention of developing an instructional program that will work in many San Diego canyons. The Sierra Club is introducing Aquatic Adventures to the established Canyon “friends” groups that can provide the on-the-ground coordination needed to pull off the field trips.

Aquatic Adventures hopes to bring kids from six different schools per year into their local neighborhood canyons. There they will learn that they live in a vast landmass called a watershed – and how urban pollutants are carried by the rain from our yards and streets and through the canyons before reaching the coast where we love to swim, surf and otherwise enjoy our aquatic environment. The hope is that the kids and their families will become part of their local canyon Friends group and continue a legacy of nurturing the wildlife oasis that San Diego canyons have become.

Aquatic Adventures has received funding from Sea World to build the Kids in Canyons program. The 32nd Street Canyon Task Force is creating a Canyonlands Water Education Toolkit.

Despite the efforts of the Friends of 32nd Street Canyon group to preserve the canyon and their local “nature classroom,” they are still faced with the threat that several acres of the canyon may be filled and leveled to provide a larger playing field for the elementary school under development on the canyon ridgeline.

Eric Bowlby is from the San Diego Chapter of the Sierra Club. Mary Ann Sandersfeld and Tershia d’Elgin are from the 32nd Street Canyon Task Force.


To learn more about the Kids in Canyons program and Aquatic Adventures, contact Shara Fisler, 858.488.3849,

To learn more about, contribute to or volunteer for the Sierra Club’s San Diego Canyons Campaign, contact Eric Bowlby at 619-284-9399, e-mail

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