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Parkland along US - Mexico border gets spruced up

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In a unique collaboration between community members and state and federal agencies, Border Field State Park along the U.S. - Mexico border is undergoing improvements to make it more secure, inviting and beautiful.

Border Field State Park is situated on the very southwestern corner of the United States, just 15 miles south of downtown San Diego. It’s an area overseen by several government jurisdictions and is popular with visitors in warmer months for its wildlife habitat, coastal views, and as a gathering place for families. In rainy months, the park is prone to flooding, so access is limited.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation in late July completed a renovation of the park area atop Monument Mesa, which is in the southwest corner of Border Field State Park. Monument Mesa now has several picnic areas, including a large group picnic area with shade, new barbecues, interpretive panels, and landscaping of both turf and native-species plants.

The Monument Mesa project cost California State Parks roughly $400,000, according to Chris Peregrin, acting reserve manager for the state’s Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Monument Mesa leads into Friendship Park, a site that has drawn considerable community interest over the last several years. The Friends of Friendship Park coalition, with pro-bono design guidance from San Diego-based Public Architecture + Planning architect James Brown, has lobbied state and federal agencies to overhaul Friendship Park. They seek to make the fence-line more open and inviting for visitors on both sides of the border.

Brown said the Friends of Friendship Park’s biggest goal was achieved in recent months: As part of the installation of new, taller security fencing, a 60-foot rolling electronic gate was incorporated into the design. The Border Patrol can open the gate in increments.

“We’re still in negotiations about the hours of operation, but the important thing is there’s a gate to have an opening in the fence,” Brown said. “Whether it’s used right away or not, the potential for use is there.”

Jerry Conlin, a Border Patrol agent in the San Diego sector’s information and communication division, said the agency has been receptive to the community’s input about the aesthetics at Border Field State Park. Looks aside, the Border Patrol’s primary interest is always homeland security, he said.

The new, adjustable access gate at Friendship Park can be opened for special occasions, Conlin said.

John Fanestil, executive director with the nonprofit Foundation for Change and a leader of the Friends of Friendship Park coalition, said the community is still in discussions with the Border Patrol about affording greater public access and additional modifications at Friendship Park.

A previous draft of the Friendship Park renovation included an awning over a monument that commemorates the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, but the awning was ultimately deemed unnecessary.

“We tried to influence the design, but in the end they didn’t build it anyway,” Brown said.

Brown said the next phase of improvements at Friendship Park will include new plants, trees and benches. While the Border Patrol has footed the bill for security-related improvements at the park, it will be up to community groups to fund new landscaping.

“We’ll do as we can do,” Brown said. “So far, we’ve been able to achieve some positive results.”

Brown said he ultimately expects Border Field State Park will one day serve as a “bi-national city … where the two countries could merge.”

“Our best security lies in the friendships between our countries,” he said.

-McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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