A popular and vital connector trail in the Sweetwater Regional Park that was closed in December by the unexpected arrival of endangered fairy shrimp may be open again soon.
"Everything is going the way we hoped it would," said Diane Carter, president of the Bonita Valley Horsemen Association. "We don't have the final permit yet, but U.S. Fish & Wildlife tells us we're on the fast track."
County supervisor Greg Cox led the Bonita Valley Horsemen's charge to find a solution that lets the Fish & Wildlife Service protect the endangered species while allowing public access: county funds — earnest money in the amount of $30,000 — will go toward building low bridges over the critters' new habitat.
In December, water provider Sweetwater Authority, which owns the land where the fairy shrimp showed up, announced it would have to close the portion of the South Side trail. The fairy shrimp in Sweetwater have been protected residents for more than a decade in vernal pools near the trail, according to federal documents. They apparently moved to ponds that formed in ruts in the trail.
Equestrians, mountain bikers, and hikers have long enjoyed the trail, which connects to areas as far as Jamul, and hundreds showed up at a hastily scheduled meeting on December 3 to voice their concern over losing the trail.
Cox attended the meeting and began negotiating with both the Sweetwater Authority, which has an agreement to let the park use its land, and with Fish & Wildlife. Following its procedures, the federal agency has drafted a permit for the temporary solution of building low boardwalks over the new habitat.
The permit was posted for comments on March 17, and the comment period closed on April 16 — with just one comment received — in favor. A final decision on the permit should come next week, Fish & Wildlife staff said. There's no date yet for construction to start, but the county and park users are optimistic it will be soon. Meanwhile, Cox will ask the county Board of Supervisors to approve $30,000 for the boardwalk on Tuesday. He noted that they still need to come up with a long-term solution, like rerouting the trail.
“This would provide a temporary solution that is acceptable to all the agencies involved," he said. "For the short term, it’s a win-win.”