A grand-slam opening: Encinitas celebrates park in Major League style

Retired baseball player Matt Nokes throws ceremonial first pitch for fields

Manny Lopez

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Hundreds attended the long-awaited grand opening celebration Jan. 10 for the 44-acre Encinitas Community Park, which sits west of Interstate 5 between Santa Fe and Birmingham drives.

Festivities for the opening of the $19.3 million project, which began construction in 2012, featured three ribbon-cutting ceremonies, a community picnic, children’s games, sports demonstrations and a Little League home-run derby.

In attendance for the event was former Encinitas City Councilman James Bond, who up until his retirement in 2012 was the longest-serving council member in Encinitas’ history. Bond recalled that he had been involved with the park project throughout his entire 20-year career on the council, which began in 1992.

“It was a long process and the biggest challenge was always that everyone wants a nice park, but few people want it in their own neighborhood,” Bond said.

The park is the largest in Encinitas and is the first to open in the seaside town since 2002, when Cottonwood Creek Park was christened. It features a 13,000-square-foot skate park facility, a more than 2-acre dog park, one soccer field, three multi-use fields, five paved parking lots and a playground with climbing structures, ropes, slides, swings and teeter-totters.

Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar said that she has been involved with the project since 2010. Gaspar was part of the team that put together the funding that made the endeavor possible.

Gaspar said that the challenge in getting the project completed was in striking the right balance and being able to make the deal affordable.

“Today is an exciting day for this entire community and I couldn’t be happier to welcome this new park in its home here in the city of Encinitas,” Gaspar said. “This was a very expensive project and it was a huge undertaking for Encinitas, but we’ve finally made it, and we’ve crossed the finish line.”

Gaspar added that the total cost on the park was financed with $7.8 million coming from existing funds, $7 million from reallocated funds and $4.5 million from gap financing.

County Supervisor Dave Roberts attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the opening of the new dog park, named after late former Encinitas Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan.

“This is just so special having this wonderful dog park. I think to perpetuate Maggie’s memory this way is phenomenal. I commend the city of Encinitas for doing this,” he said.

Retired Major League Baseball player Matt Nokes, a resident of Encinitas, threw the ceremonial first pitch marking the official opening of the park’s three fields.

“This takes me back to the times when I played Little League,” Nokes said. “The kids and their parents are excited. They’ve been waiting for this for a long time and here it is. It’s beautiful, it has character and I love it.”

Much of the excitement surrounding the opening of Encinitas Community Park came from skateboarders eager to use the new skate park, which resembles an authentic urban plaza. Lead designer Kanten Russell, a former pro skater who now designs skate parks for the Action Sports Group of Stantec, described the new amenity as perfect for users of all ages and skill levels.

“We designed it so that people will have room to grow with the park,” he said. “It’s a spread out design that is pedestrian and spectator friendly. It’s such an authentic plaza feel that it’s almost like you’re not supposed to be there.”

The next issue facing the City Council regarding the new park is whether to install lighting, making the facilities usable at night. Park lighting has been a source of neighborhood contention since the city bought what was known as the Hall Property, a longtime greenhouse operation, in 2001.

General park hours will be from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, with the exception of the skate park, dog park and athletic fields, which will be from 8 a.m. until dusk daily.

Encinitas Community Park is located at 425 Santa Fe Drive. More information can be found at www.ci.encinitas.ca.us or by calling 760-633-2600.

Manny Lopez is a North County freelance writer