The main trailhead leading to the peak of 1591-foot-high Cowles Mountain is scheduled to reopen May 18, a date coinciding with Explore Mission Trails Regional Park Day, a celebration for the park that includes Cowles Mountain and Lake Murray.
On March 18, the city closed the mountain trail at the intersection of Golfcrest Drive and Navajo Road for restoration.
Senior park ranger Matt Sanford elaborated on the work in a May 13 interview. He said that the trail is probably the busiest in the city, and it had been five to six years since the last restoration work. City employees and Urban Corps of San Diego members were among those working on the approximately 1.5-mile-long trail. Sanford said they started at the bottom and worked to the top of the mountain, making improvements that included installing rock stairs and improving drainage.
Helicopters on April 22 and 29 dropped off 2000-pound bags containing pea gravel and brown decomposed granite, he said. Flights were planned around the nesting schedules of the California gnatcatcher and least Bell's vireo. Sanford said uses of the dropped-off material included filling in trail sections that were "highly traveled" and "where erosion was deep."
Workers also closed many unauthorized trails, using material such as rock walls and native brush. Sanford said "inexperienced users" sometimes followed others onto unauthorized trails. He said that improved signage provides information about the "importance of staying on the trail" and "a sense of habitat."
The subject of water for thirsty trail-users came up during a Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation report at the May 1 San Carlos Area Council meeting.
Resident Pete Guglielmini asked foundation executive director Jay Wilson, "Could a little water fountain be installed at the top of the mountain?" Wilson's expression conveyed the unlikelihood of that occurring. He replied that a vending machine selling water would be installed near the trailhead. "It takes credit cards so people won't break in and steal money.”
While researching this story, I found out that community stewards and advocates of San Diego’s tallest peak pronounce the mountain's name the way that George Cowles reputedly did: although Cowles’s name appears to rhyme with "towels,” he’s said to have pronounced it "coals."
Cowles was a rancher who lived in the East County from 1877 until his death in 1887, according to the book San Diego Trivia, by Evelyn Kooperman. His land became known as "Cowlestown," and his name might be better known if an election had turned out differently. Cowles’s widow, Jennie, married Milton Santee, and residents in 1893 voted to name the town after him.