Arroyo Preserve open space receives upgrades


Since joining the staff of the Rancho Santa Fe Association in 2016, Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Caitlin Kreutz has worked to enhance the natural beauty of the Association’s Arroyo Preserve open space.

“This is such a great place,” Kreutz said on a recent visit to the scenic Arroyo, located on the southeastern boundary of the Covenant along the San Dieguito River.

Home to 68 acres of undeveloped natural habitat in a canyon with mature trees, a creek and pond, the property is open to Covenant residents for hiking and horseback riding on the trails, fishing and camping.

“A lot of people love to come here because it’s so quiet,” Kreutz said.

The new bridge at the Arroyo Preserve.
(Caitlin Kreutz)

On a Wednesday morning, a walker headed out on the trail that circles the pond with her dogs and a man meandered down the slope with his horse while dedicated Association crews continued worked on Arroyo improvements, made possible from a $7,300 grant Kreutz secured from the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club.

The grant has been used to create a demonstration garden with about 50 new native trees and shrubs and to enhance the entrance to the preserve’s campground area. Near the area with fire pits, benches and picnic tables, the Association has created a turn-around for trailers and cars, and installed railroad ties to create marked parking spaces. They also added four new horse-tying posts with quick release ties for equestrian visitors.

To further improve accessibility for members, the Association has also regraded the main road onto the property and replaced the two bridges, adding rail guards to provide enhanced safety.

The Arroyo Preserve, located on El Vuelo, has been owned by the Rancho Santa Fe Association since 2000. The RSF Association identified the land, then known as the McMorrow property, as a valuable open space purchase as it would allow the Association to create a permanent buffer from possible county road expansion and development. It was purchased for just over $1 million from the Association’s open space fund. At the time, the property had a home on it, which was later torn down.

In addition to the work being completed with funds from the RSF Garden Club grant, the property is also part of San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy’s 181-acre invasive plant removal and stream enhancement project.

The project is a partnership between the Conservancy, the California Native Plant Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the Fairbanks Ranch Association, the Rancho Santa Fe Association, Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department and local homeowners.

With grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project and the Patagonia Cardiff-by-the-Sea, the goal is to remove substantial stands of invasive species in the area for fire safety and to rehab the area with native plantings.

Kreutz, who serves as a project liaison for the Association and local homeowners, said the plan for the Arroyo is to remove all invasive palm trees, eucalyptus, pampas grass and Arundo donax (giant cane).

“We will restore the area with locally-occurring native plants that match the chaparral found down here,” Kreutz said.

The removal work is scheduled to stop on March 15 due to the bird nesting season and won’t resume again until September.

Improving the site with native plants will enhance the existing habitat for native pollinators and animals, which Kreutz said is important as the Arroyo is part of the Pacific Flyway, providing habitats for migratory birds and sensitive species like least Bell’s vireos, southwestern willow flycatchers, coastal California gnatcatchers and monarch butterflies.

Kreutz was down on the preserve last week with a wildlife biologist when the pair was thrilled to spot an endangered California gnatcatcher.

“Part of what we’re doing is restoring the area for native animals and birds, so it was really encouraging to see,” Kreutz said.

Kreutz said she plans to apply for another grant this year to expand on her work at the Arroyo. The property has been used for past events such as Celebrate Arroyo and Kreutz’s hope is to make the open space a part of this fall’s Rancho Days.

“We want to show off what we’ve done,” Kreutz said.

Residents can get permits to camp on the Arroyo Preserve or to hold gatherings. To learn more visit