ENCINITAS — More than 20 years ago, a part of Encinitas’ history was slated to be paved over — turned into an expanded roadway, a parking lot and a handful of tennis and volleyball courts.That is, until a pair of women living in town at the time spoke out at a City Council meeting against the development.
Mary Renaker, who had lived in Encinitas for 17 years, and now lives in Santa Monica, credits her environmental “awakening” to one woman, Ida Lou Coley.
The way she explains it, hearing Coley speak at that City Council meeting changed her life.
“Hearing Ida Lou speak at my first City Council meeting, my first municipal meeting of any kind — I was terrified, and Ida Lou luckily got up to speak first. And when I heard her say that it was a historic creek — I just thought it was a little patch of green. I just saw it as I flew past in my car out of the corner of my eye. And something just snapped,” Renaker said.
“And I read this story in the paper that said that it was going to be developed and something just snapped inside me and I knew I had to go to the City Council and to speak out to oppose it. But when Ida Lou got up and said in her gentle, little way that it was a historic creek that she had gathered wild flowers at as a child, I was just completely captured. And the more I learned about the creek, the more captured I became.”
Renaker said that Ida Lou would talk about how people would share the creek for water wells, even washing their laundry down there.
The two women began doing the research that would eventually lead to establishing the creek as a historical point of interest, and forming the Cottonwood Creek Conservancy in the process. The year was 1989 when they started.
Since then the Cottonwood Creek Conservancy has been caring for the habitat and last Friday, the site received an official plaque designating the location as a historical point of interest.
Coley passed away in 2005, but Renaker said she would be so happy to see all of the people who had worked so hard and so long to preserve the site, and the work that continues to re-establish the habitat.
Brad Roth is the project manager with the Conservancy and has volunteered his time with the group since 1993.
The historical importance of Cottonwood Creek begins with the railroads in the early 1880s when a water stop was put in, near where Vulcan Avenue is today, he explained.
“And it was the only water stop between Oceanside and National City, I believe,” he said. “All the other major streams had lagoons and they were brackish water, part salt water, so they couldn’t use that for the steam locomotives. So that meant that the train would stop here and establish commerce. So people started developing agriculture here, and that was really the beginning of the town of Encinitas.”
He added that around 1920, Cottonwood Creek was the source of water for the whole town.
With the site free from threats of development, future generations will be able to benefit from the Conservancy’s work.
“It’s part of our cultural heritage; the natural landscape that we have here,” Roth said. “It’s part of our history and if everything gets altered and paved over, we lose a real important part of our history and our natural history.”
As part of the ceremony, Roth and Renaker received proclamations from Encinitas Mayor Teresa Barth.