Alpine looking into its park needs
Alpine residents have been clamoring for a park for more than a dozen years. Now the community’s planning group says it has an idea of how to use thousands of dollars in San Diego County-held park funds.
The Alpine Community Planning Group is recommending to the county a plan to refurbish several athletic areas at the town’s lone middle school. But not everyone is on the same playing field.
With no off-leash park for dogs in the vicinity, Alpine resident Mary Harris says she has spent hundreds of dollars in gas money driving out of the area so her dog can frolic freely with other hounds. Harris says Alpine needs a dedicated dog park and for the past two years has been lobbying for one to the planning group. Planning group members have pointed Harris to the 230-acre open space at Wright’s Field, an ecological preserve used by wildlife enthusiasts, hikers, joggers and equestrians. But the preserve doesn’t allow for off-leash use, and Harris says she is concerned about weed killers sprayed on the land.
Other residents say they are looking for more than a dog park — they want an inclusive park for the entire Alpine community with grassy areas, shade structures, playground equipment and other amenities. Thirty-year Alpine resident Yolaine Stout said she looks at other county areas with large community parks like Flinn Springs, Lakeside and Pine Valley, and wonders why Alpine doesn’t measure up. Stout’s neighbors, Egor and Cynthia Bonsignore say Alpine residents deserve more than the handful of small “pocket” parks in the area. The part-time availability of parks on six school grounds are also not not enough for the community, they say.
The planning group says that it has been working for nearly 20 years to get a major community park for Alpine, but that available open space is hard to find in the 27-square-mile town, and that land in the area is expensive.
Planning group member George Barnett in July brought forth an idea of how to spend nearly $900,000 of money the county has earmarked for park land use in Alpine: Upgrade athletic fields at Joan MacQueen Middle School. Barnett, an officer and director with the Alpine Education Foundation — a nonprofit that supports the town’s schools — says that money would best be used for renovating the school’s outdoor sports sites, turning them into a 9-acre “professional sports complex.”
In the past 15 years, the county has banked money to go toward a park in Alpine through the Park Lands Dedication Ordinance fund. The fund is fed by developers who pay into a parkland fund whenever residential buildings are added. The park fund money is permissible used in partnership with school districts for parks and recreational uses, with the stipulation that when the school is not in session, the parks must be open to the public.
Barnett says the plan includes re-sodding of grass at the school’s upper field and a “stunning transformation” of an undeveloped decomposed 2.1-acre dirt field. That dirt field, sometimes used by a softball league, may be turned into a regulation-sized multi-use softball, soccer and football field using artificial turf. Barnett said that would draw youth football, soccer and softball leagues that now leave the area to play.
Several community members have railed against Barnett’s plan, including Harris, Stout and the Bonsignores. Dogs are not allowed on school campuses, Harris notes. Stout and the Bonsignores live on White Oak Drive, the street running parallel to the athletic fields at the middle school. All say the use of athletic fields is not what they envision for a park for Alpine. They also say they are concerned about an increase in noise and traffic. The Bonsignores said the sun’s rays will bounce off the artificial turf and increase heat.
Stout said she is considering hiring an attorney to stop the plan from gaining traction. She and her late husband, Dr. Charles David Stout, sued in the 1990s to stop development at Wright’s Field — and won.
Alpine planning group member Lou Russo has also questioned the middle school field upgrades, calling the endeavor “a poorly thought out plan.” He says he has more questions than answers. “How does a private citizen get to use the field and when?” Russo asked. “Can dogs be on the facility for things like chasing Frisbee? If there is a schedule conflict between an entity that is paying, for example Pop Warner, and a non paying entity, say a family reunion, who decides who gets to use this public facility?”
But Russo is in the minority, according to planning group Chairman Travis Lyon. Lyon said Barnett’s idea is the group’s top priority. “We have to look at how can we make the most difference with the limited funds we would have to work with,” Lyon said. The sports field project has received backing the Alpine Union School District school board, on which Lyon serves.
The Alpine Education Foundation expects to make a presentation soon about the plan for the middle school to County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. Jacob has already said that creating a sports complex in the community is a top priority for her. She said she has been working with residents for recreational opportunities for children. “This project sits right at that sweet spot,” she said. “It would be a big hit with families and putting it at a middle school might be a great fit.”