[Comment Period CLOSED] Notice of Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment for the San Diego NWR Sweetwater River Trail Repair Project

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), San Diego National Wildlife Refuge (NWR, Refuge) that the following draft Environmental Assessment (EA) has been prepared for public review and comment:

Sweetwater River Trail Repair Project

Project Overview: The San Diego NWR proposes to repair and reroute a portion of the Sweetwater River Trail in an area known as the Interpretive Loop Trail. The proposed action includes repair of trail tread, reroute a section out of a wetland area, closure of user created trails and potential construction of an elevated boardwalk over Steele Canyon Creek to replace the current puncheon bridge. The purpose of all trail work is to minimize impacts to sensitive resources and improve accessibility. Under the no action alternative, trail repairs, reroutes, and closures would not occur.

Project Location: The project site is located east of the Sweetwater River and south of State Route 94 on the San Diego NWR between the communities of Spring Valley, Rancho San Diego and Jamul in San Diego County, California, in the Refuge’s Sweetwater River Management Area (Figures 1 and 2). The trail improvements would occur from the existing public parking lot off of Millar Ranch Road, across Steele Canyon Creek and on the lower slopes along the Sweetwater River in an area referred to as the Interpretive Loop Trail. 

Project Description: The proposed action’s purpose is to improve existing trail conditions and to reroute portions of the trail out of sensitive habitats. Trail widening and unauthorized user-created trails in the general area have further encroached into these habitats. Additionally, the current trail conditions do not meet the United States Access Board’s Accessibility Standards for Federal Outdoor Developed Areas. The project proposes to reroute and repair an approximately 6,000-foot-long portion of the Sweetwater River Trail (Figure 3), in accordance with the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). The project will reroute a section of the trail to avoid a wetland area and to minimize impacts to sensitive resources and improve accessibility. Repairs will also include closure of a portion of the existing trail after the reroute is completed, closure of some user created trails to reduce trail redundancy and minimize impacts to Refuge resources, and repair of some existing trail segments. As part of the proposed action, the puncheon crossing Steele Canyon Creek would be replaced by an elevated boardwalk.

A proposed action is an initial proposal and may evolve during the development of alternatives, the impact analysis and public involvement. This environmental assessment may determine that there are other, better or less impactful ways to address the purpose and need and may become the preferred alternative. The proposed action and alternatives may evolve during the NEPA process as the agency refines its proposal and gathers feedback from the public, federally recognized tribes and tribal entities and other agencies or organizations. Therefore, the final action may be different from the originally identified preferred alternative and will be finalized at the conclusion of the public comment period after the incorporation of substantive comments. A decision to implement a proposed action will not be made until the environmental review process is complete.

Review and Comment Period: The Service as the Lead Agency pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has made this draft EA available for public review and comment for a period of 30 days. The public comment period begins on Wednesday April 10, 2024, and comments must be received no later than Friday, May 17, 2024

Providing Comments: Comments on the adequacy of the draft EA should be provided in writing to Deputy Project Leader, USFWS, San Diego NWR Complex, 1080 Gunpowder Point Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910; faxed to (619) 476-9149or emailed to fw8plancomments@fws.gov. Please include “Sweetwater Trail EA” in the subject line. 

All comments received from the public will be placed in the Service’s record for this action. As part of the record, comments will be made available for inspection by the general public, and copies may be provided to the public. For persons who do not wish to have their names and other identifying information made available, anonymous comments will be accepted.

Report Availability: Review and/or download the draft EA.

A hard copy of the Draft EA is available for public review at the following locations:

Rancho San Diego County Library
11555 Via Rancho San Diego
El Cajon, CA 92019
(619) 660-5370

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex
1080 Gunpowder Point Drive 
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Call for hours/access information: (619) 221-3473

For more information: Jill Terp at 619-719-8579.

Figure 1. Location of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, San Diego County, California.
Figure 2.  Location of the proposed project at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge.
Figure 3. Features of the proposed Sweetwater River Trail Repair Project.