Art, Nature Blend Along Rail Trail: UT San Diego

Posted by on Feb 25, 2013 in News | No Comments

Solana Beach segment of coastal path offers little surprises

By Priscilla Lister Special to the U-T, FEB. 22, 2013

Two arches by Del Mar artist Betsy Schulz at the southern end of the Solana Beach Coastal Rail Trail depict the city’s history. Priscilla Lister

Two arches by Del Mar artist Betsy Schulz at the southern end of the Solana Beach Coastal Rail Trail depict the city’s history. Priscilla Lister

Solana Beach’s Coastal Rail Trail offers an easy walk between Pacific Coast Highway and the railroad tracks that features some fun public art along the meandering paved path.

It’s part of the planned 44-mile walking and bike path from Oceanside to San Diego that will one day extend next to the rail corridor.

So far, only a few segments of the Coastal Rail Trail exist, and they are not yet connected.

Oceanside has a 1-mile segment from Morse Street to Vista Way; Carlsbad has a 0.75-mile segment from Oak Street to Tamarack Avenue; and Solana Beach has this 1.7-mile segment from Via de la Valle to Ocean Street.

A small segment just north of Wisconsin Boulevard in Oceanside opened last year, with a second phase of that project —from Wisconsin to Oceanside Boulevard — expected to begin construction this spring, according to SANDAG staff.

Carlsbad will also soon see another segment of the trail constructed from Eaton Street in Oceanside into Carlsbad on State Street down to Oak Street.

The Coastal Rail Trail is part of a large network of bicycle facilities planned throughout San Diego County, outlined in “Riding to 2050: the San Diego Regional Bike Plan,” a SANDAG project, available online for review.

The Coastal Rail Trail is considered a high-priority project in this bicycle plan, which calls for it to be put in place within 10 years.

The plan “envisions a diverse regional bicycle system of interconnected bike corridors, support facilities and programs to make cycling more practical and desirable to a broader range of people in our region,” says SANDAG staff.

Hikers are also welcome to use the rail trail, as are dogs on leashes.

The Coastal Rail Trail will eventually connect with the Inland Rail Trail to Escondido, the San Diego River Trail to Santee and the Bayshore Bikeway from downtown through Chula Vista and Imperial Beach to Coronado.

It’s also one of hundreds of rails-to-trails projects supported by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, based in Washington, D.C., a nonprofit dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines “to build healthier places for healthier people.”

But meanwhile, take a walk along the 1.7-mile Solana Beach segment, which has been cited for going above and beyond just a concrete path.

At the southern end at Via de la Valle, the Solana Beach Coastal Rail Trail begins through two fanciful arches by Del Mar artist Betsy Schulz that she says depict 8,500 years of local history in more than 1,000 handmade clay tiles.

The arches show wildlife common here before development, including deer and rabbit; a variety of plants and flowers; the wave of Mexican immigrants who settled in Eden Gardens; the arrival of Ed Fletcher, community leader and developer; and the introduction of irrigation to the region, bringing agricultural development.

Schulz’s arches won an orchid at the annual Orchids and Onions Awards in 2006, a year after Solana Beach’s Coastal Rail Trail was completed. Schmidt Design Group, designers of the trail segment, also won an orchid in 2006 for its landscape architecture.

Other public art along this path includes “Sunburst of Color,” a stained-glass mosaic by Amber Irwin, a Solana Beach resident and a founding member of the Solana Beach Art Association.

Eleven concrete benches also have been enhanced by mosaic tiles depicting sea creatures by tile artist Michelle Griffoul.

For the last few years, Solana Beach’s Coastal Rail Trail has been the site of the city’s annual Arts Alive on the Coastal Rail Trail, which installs public pieces to create urban gardens along the fence, usually in early October.

While you’re strolling on the flat, easy pathway, look for moon-shaped crescents of sparkling concrete embedded in the concrete path; I spotted three.

These crescents feature poems about the moon, including this one by Emily Dickinson: “The moon is distant from the sea, and yet with amber hands, she leads him, docile as a boy, along appointed sand.”

Go up on one of the ramps that take pedestrians over the train tracks to find a few words translated from English into Spanish, including “sunny spot — solana.”

At the top of that ramp is a short verse by Lord Byron: “By the deep sea, and music in his roar, I love not man the less, but Nature more.”

The Solana Beach segment extends north to Ocean Street, where Cardiff — and ocean views — begin.

At this northern end, a small grove of Torrey pines and a commemorative plaque are dedicated to Wenetta Childs, president in the 1950s and ’60s of the Solana Beach Women’s Civic Club, the predecessor of today’s Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society.

Childs, with support from that era’s County Supervisor Bill Craven, succeeded in removing billboards along this stretch of historical highway and in planting Torrey pines, Aleppo pines and coast live oaks.

Many of those original trees were removed when the railroad tracks were lowered here, but several were replanted in this memorial grove.

Priscilla Lister is a freelance writer from San Diego.