Club spotlight: Friends of Rose Creek is dedicated to restoring natural area in Pacific Beach

Friends of Rose Creek volunteers during a monthly cleanup on March 11.
(Flora Coden)

On a cloud-covered misty Saturday morning in March, 12 volunteers met at Rose Creek Cottage in Pacific Beach.

The group was armed with grabbers, weeders, loppers, buckets and gardening gloves. Their task for the next two hours was straightforward — restore this section of Rose Creek to its natural state.

Karin Zirk founded Friends of Rose Creek in 2004 and serves as its executive director. The group has had many accomplishments since then, but something Zirk is most proud of is how much awareness they’ve raised about Rose Creek.

“When I first got involved, everyone would be like ‘where’s Rose Creek?’ Now Rose Creek is part of the conversation,” Zirk said.

Friends of Rose Creek cares for the portion of the creek beginning south of Marian Bear Park, winding through Pacific Beach, continuing under Garnet and Grand avenues, and ultimately opening into the Fiesta Bay portion of Mission Bay.

Want to join?

Friends of Rose Creek

Monthly meeting: 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday, currently held virtually. See calendar on website for link.

Native plant gardening: Monthly at 9 a.m. on the second Saturday behind Rose Creek Cottage, 2525 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach


While the creek may be easily overlooked by those who don’t know where it is, it plays a large role in the Pacific Beach community.

“It’s of course a place to go for a nature walk … but also a place that is protecting us from sea level rise and storm surges,” Zirk said. “Indeed, many residents noticed just how destructive these flooding events can be during this past January, when king tides combined with heavy rains to flood coastal areas in Pacific and Mission Beach.”

Friends of Rose Creek protects and improves the creek with boots-on-the-ground labor, but also with community outreach and local political involvement. San Diego adopted a climate action plan in 2022 that commits the city to create 700 acres of marshland.

Marshland, sometimes called wetlands, have the capability to sequester carbon and act as a sponge to counteract sea-level rise.

The Rewild Mission Bay project, spearheaded by San Diego Audubon and supported by Friends of Rose Creek, aims to direct officials on how to restore wetlands in the northeast section of Mission Bay to achieve this mandate. The city has its own plan called De Anza Natural that many local environmental organizations don’t find sufficient.

“Depending on how the mouth of Rose Creek plays out is going to influence a lot of things that can happen upstream,” Zirk said.

Friends of Rose Creek volunteers doing a cleanup on March 11.
(Flora Coden)

Friends of Rose Creek works closely with other local environmental groups, such as San Diego Audubon, to provide community volunteer opportunities and lobby local politicians on behalf of the natural environment.

“We’re so lucky because we have this great synergy with all these different groups, we’re all collaborating … there is power in that,” Zirk said.

The organization also joins forces with other groups to offer volunteer opportunities related to habitat restoration and events geared towards simply enjoying nature in San Diego.

On April 22, Friends of Rose Creek and I Love a Clean San Diego will partner on the Creek to Bay Cleanup. Participants will meet at Mission Bay High School and spend the morning cleaning up along the creek. In previous years 50 to 100 people have volunteered at this event and the sponsors are hoping for a similarly impressive turnout this year.

Friends of Rose Creek offers regular volunteer opportunities as well. There is a monthly native plant garden party, which consists of planting and maintaining native plants along the creek bed. It also offers regular guided bird walks along the creek led by bird aficionados. The two events go hand-in-hand, because as more native habitat is restored and nurtured at the creek more pollinators and birds will use the area.

“If you’re going to volunteer your time, it should be something that you’re passionate about,” Zirk said.

When asked about her favorite part of the organization, she said, “since the era of colonization, there’s been so much destruction to the land in San Diego … (we’re) getting people excited about what once was and could be again and how it connects to our own mental health by having a place to get out in nature, especially close by.”

Since 2004, Friends of Rose Creek has catalyzed huge restorative success for the creek, but it has taken time and effort. Restoration of this scale requires collaborating with other like-minded organizations, political leaders implementing good environmental policy and volunteers willing to spend their time doing the sometimes unglamorous, but necessary work.

Though it doesn’t happen all at once, when it all comes together it can be very rewarding.

“It doesn’t seem that impressive at the time you do it, but as the plants grow and evolve it becomes a thing of beauty in your community,” Zirk said.