Even though three major streets cross over Rose Creek in Pacific Beach, many drivers barely know it’s there.
They may catch a glimpse of water and wild greenery from the bridges on Grand or Garnet avenues or Mission Bay Drive, but unless they live near the creek or use the adjacent bike path, they leave it behind in their rear view mirrors.
After decades of being unseen and untended, the creek increasingly attracts trash and debris, invasive plants and homeless encampments. All these pollute the water, harming native plants and animals, and the marsh and bay into which the creek flows.
Several local organizations are working diligently to turn this around, especially Friends of Rose Creek. Founded 15 years ago by Pacific Beach resident Karin Zirk, the group of volunteers meets regularly to clean up the creek, replace non-native plants with native ones, review environmental impact reports and appear at endless government meetings to advocate for the creek.
“It’s too bad people didn’t make better decisions about the area 50 years ago, but we can still make them now,” said Zirk, explaining the role of Friends of Rose Creek. The group’s tagline is “Connecting our Communities.”
As part of the 36-square-mile Rose Creek watershed, the creek winds its way south through Scripps Ranch, Mira Mesa, Kearny Mesa, University City, Clairemont and Marian Bear Park in San Clemente Canyon before entering Rose Canyon and Pacific Beach.
The creek also connects several issues affecting future development and the environment in Pacific Beach. The southernmost portion of the creek, from northeast PB to Mission Bay, is referred to as Lower Rose Creek. Unlike northern sections, which are managed by San Diego’s Parks & Recreation Department, the lower section is currently managed by the City’s Transportation & Storm Water Department.
“We are an orphan stretch,” Zirk told PB Monthly, walking along the path next to creek near Garnet Avenue. “It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg situation. If the area is neglected, people don’t want to care for it and if it’s not cared for, it gets neglected.”
Zirk would like to see Rose Creek adopted by Parks & Recreation and turned into parkland, with open space for nearby residents to enjoy. This will be especially important in coming years, as development increases in the area surrounding the upcoming Balboa Avenue Trolley Station. The redevelopment plan calls for approximately 3,500 new condos and apartments, increasing residents from 1,000 to 7,000.
The current managers are engineers, Zirk explained. They are concerned with water quality, but don’t engage with the community. Parks & Recreation, on the other hand, sees “the big picture,” she said. “We need park rangers to address residential issues, engage, work on collaborate projects such as habitat restoration, volunteers, teaching.”
She thinks some of the businesses backed up against the creek near Mission Bay Drive could consider opening up to it, for example, restaurants with views of the creek.
Environmental issues are also important to Friends of Rose Creek, advocating with several other groups under the umbrella of the Rose Creek Watershed Alliance. “The creek and the marsh work together,” Zirk explained.
The Kendall-Frost Marsh near the creek’s exit into Mission Bay needs the creek’s freshwater flow to keep it viable. If it dies, so will the area’s plants and wildlife. Flooding and sea-level rise could endanger the whole area. Mission Bay water and beaches could also deteriorate.
Zirk, who was born in New York City, said she moved to San Francisco at age 3, and San Diego at age 10. She lived near the creek for years — even biking to school and work at UCSD on the bike path — before getting involved in its care. One day, 15 years ago, she noticed a group of people picking up trash and asked for information.
“It was led by Robert La Rosa of the Nature School in Ocean Beach,” she recalled. “Before long, he called to say, ‘I’m moving to Santa Cruz and I have a creek for you.’
“I told him I had to think about it because I was working full-time and had full-time care of my mother, but the creek and I had some conversations ... the creek told me ‘you are the right person.’ It was a challenge, I didn’t know any of the history.”
Zirk said she earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from UCSD and spent much of her 20s traveling the country in a camper van. She published a book of poetry about her experiences, “Notes from the Road.”
She returned to Pacific Beach in the early ‘90s to help out her sister, who had a baby, and her mother, who had suffered a stroke. Working as a database administrator, she also earned a Ph.D. in mythological studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Currently she is finishing a novel and has been teaching humanities at San Diego Miramar College.
Advocating for the creek continues to be a challenge and is sometimes discouraging, Zirk admitted. “But I live in this neighborhood and my neighbors love the creek.” She credits many community groups and a newer volunteer, Laurie Carlock, with an “infusion of enthusiasm.”
“I’m feeling a ground swell of support for Rose Creek, specifically, and wetlands restoration in general. With sea level rise, climate change, and the heat islands created by the built-up environment, now, more than ever, our children need nature playgrounds to discover themselves in the larger world. Rose Creek — and places like it — are perfect for children’s nature play.”
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Friends of Rose Creek
• Meets 6 p.m. first Wednesdays at the beautiful PB Learning Center, 940 Garnet Ave. Holds work parties 9 a.m. second Saturdays at the native plant garden behind Rose Creek Cottage, 2525 Garnet Ave. Also holds regular clean-up events. To donate funds or sign a petition, see saverosecreek.org
Rose Creek Watershed Alliance
• A group of organizations formed in 2005 to help plan the future of the Rose Creek Watershed. In 2008, the group prepared the Watershed Opportunities Assessment report, which was accepted by the San Diego City Council. To see the report and three films about the watershed, visit rosecreekwatershed.org
Rose Creek Bikeway
• A SANDAG project to create a two-mile Class I bike path between the Rose Canyon Bike Trail at the north end of Santa Fe Street (near Karl Strauss Brewery) and the Rose Creek Bike Path at Mission Bay Drive. Being built in connection with the Mid-Coast Trolley project, scheduled for completion in 2021. Sign up for updates at bit.ly/rosecreekbikeway
ReWild Mission Bay
• A project of San Diego Audubon to enhance and restore up to 170 acres of wetlands in the northeast corner of Mission Bay, including lower Rose Creek. For updates on workshops and other events, see rewildmissionbay.org