LARGE EQUESTRIAN PARK APPROVED
ESCONDIDO COUNCIL APPROVES EL CABALLO PARK, BUT WARNS IT MAY TAKE YEARS TO BUILD
By David Garrick10:31 p.m.March 26, 2014
Miguel Bautista Jr., of Charros de Escondido, performs at the equestrian organization’s longtime facility. — Charlie Neuman / UT San Diego
ESCONDIDO — The Escondido City Council approved a master plan Wednesday for a 10.5-acre park focused on hiking and equestrian activities, but council members said the park might take years to build.
The park, which would cost an estimated $10.2 million, is envisioned as a public-private partnership with residents and community leaders required to raise the money needed for construction.
The city donated the land, located in northeast Escondido near the Escondido Humane Society, and paid an architect $50,000 to create the 113-page master plan.
The document will help supporters of the park, called El Caballo, secure grants and solicit donations, city officials said.
Steve Berrol, president of the El Caballo Park Conservancy, said a plan to build the park in six phases means construction can begin long before his group raises the $10 million needed for the entire project.
The idea for the park was hatched two years ago when a variety of community groups came together to protest city plans to build a water administration complex on the site.
Animal lovers, environmentalists, Latino equestrians and nearby homeowners said the water building would destroy the area’s rustic charm, while an equestrian and hiking park would enhance it.
The park is near the entrance to the 3,000-acre Daley Ranch recreation and the Mayflower Dog Park. And the site includes a rodeo arena where the Charros de Escondido have performed for more than four decades.
Council members and residents said Wednesday that the project, the city’ first new park in many years, would restore a little “country” to steadily urbanizing Escondido.
The master plan includes making significant upgrades to the Charros arena and building a second arena for equestrian therapy to help the wounded and disabled.
The plan also includes restrooms, children’s play areas, shade structures, picnic tables, public art, trails and, in the final phase, a community hall with a caretaker’s apartment.
Architect Tim Smith said he strived to make the park a rural venue that would appeal to a wide variety of people in Escondido, where 49 percent of the population is Latino.
“The goal is weaving the different cultures of the city together to make a stronger community,” he told council members Wednesday.
Councilwoman Olga Diaz praised the master plan for seamlessly blending the park into the existing trails in the area, the dog park and the Escondido Creek trail that runs through the site.
“It looks like it belongs there,” she said of the designs for the new park.
Mayor Sam Abed also praised the design, but said the city couldn’t afford to provide roughly $30,000 required for an environmental study needed before any construction can begin.
He said the city has many other parks in need of funding for upgrades and expansions.
“I don’t want to take money away from Grape Day Park and put it here, because I don’t think that would serve the community,” he said.
Councilman Mike Morasco, a longtime proponent of bringing a park to the area, also declined to support money for an environmental review.
Morasco said he was optimistic that completing the first phase of the park, which would cost an estimated $1.6 million, would create strong momentum for additional fundraising.
Berrol, leader of the park’s conservancy, said he’s had contact with interested donors and has researched an array of grant opportunities.
But he also said supporters have a long way to go.
“We do understand we have major challenges ahead of us,” he said.