On the morning of March 9, 2018, my mother-in-law and I decided to take a trip to the Buena Vista Lagoon in Oceanside, California.
I had been here once before but never took the quarter-mile hike just outside of the Buena Vista Lagoon Audubon’s Nature Center.
I have been intrigued ever since, so we are back!
Come and join me for a tour!
Buena Vista Means “Good-View” In Spanish
# Please click on each photo to see a larger version size.
Let us now go over a few things before we take our hike.
The Buena Vista Lagoon is 223 acres of freshwater wetland that serves as a natural barrier between two cities- Oceanside and Carlsbad.
I think it is also important to mention that there are no other freshwater lagoons in Southern California.
So needless to say, we have a unique coastal ecosystem here!
You may fish from shore and hiking is allowed on designated trails only.
I have always wondered about this lagoon/ coastal wetland ever since I moved down here over 30 years ago.
Not only do you notice it when driving on Interstate 5, but you can see it as well on Hwy 78 which runs east.
In fact, this waterway (Buena Vista Creek) runs parallel with Hwy 78 for almost 10 miles inland.
Who is in Charge of the Buena Vista Lagoon?
The lagoon is owned and maintained by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
There are also two non-profit organizations that help support and preserve this site: The Buena Vista Audubon Society and the Buena Vista Lagoon Foundation.
Buena Vista Lagoon History
The history of the Buena Vista Lagoon is fascinating.
Back in 1939, an ordinance was passed stating that firearms were not allowed to be discharged within the adjacent areas around the lagoon. Ultimately this is what turned this location into a bird sanctuary.
In 1968, the Buena Vista Lagoon became the very first ecological reserve to be designated in California.
Initially, this body of water was a salt marsh. The inlet once connected to the Pacific, so the lagoon relied heavily on the tidal action to help with the water circulation.
Placing of the Weir
In the 1940s a weir was put up to stop this connection and as a result, created a freshwater lagoon.
A weir is a small dam used to raise the level of a stream, or in this case, a small lagoon.
A group of private homeowners at Saint Malo Beach damned up the lagoon to keep it freshwater only.
Saint Malo is a unique private gated community of multimillion-dollar homes built in a French Normandy style situated right on the coast. With the adding of the weir, they now had their private lake as well.
There has been significant controversy over weir ever since.
More on that later.
Do you like birds?
Did you know that the Buena Vista Lagoon is a part of the Pacific Flyway?
Can you believe that millions of birds pass by this area during their annual migrations in the Winter and Summer?
Needless to say, but this is an excellent spot to go bird watching!
The Four Basins of Buena Vista Lagoon
Referring to the aerial shot of the Buena Vista Lagoon above, you can see that it is broken up into four separate basins.
The last one is hard to see in this photo, but it is right before you get to the beach, where a weir is set up.
A group of private community homeowners at Saint Malo Beach own the last of the four basins.
Their primary objective is the keep the Buena Vista Lagoon as a freshwater lagoon.
The Buena Vista Lagoon has been in a state of decline due to excess sedimentation and the uncontrolled spread of cattails and mosquitos because of this weir.
As of today, there has been no dredging of the sediment since 1982! Whenever something is about to be done, another court case is filed once again.
Talk about red-tape!
The Big Question-Saltwater Lagoon or Fresh Water Lagoon?
I can not tell you how many headaches this small little dam has given to this community
There have been four options:
- Restore the lagoon to saltwater marsh flushed by the ocean.
- Create a hybrid lagoon with eastern half freshwater and the western half salt water.
- Dredge and improve the existing freshwater lagoon.
- Do nothing.
Pro Saltwater Lagoon
After several years of environmental impact studies done by the city as well as the state, the conclusion was that the removal of the weir is in the best interests of the lagoon as well as the most economical.
Advocates for removing the weir site numerous studies showing how the infestation of the cattails and mosquitos would disappear and biological diversity would increase.
You see, the cattails have been growing out of control. Many of the waterways have been chocked off thus making the water stagnant and in turn, making for a natural breeding ground for mosquitos.
Opening up the lagoon to the Ocean would also help improve the circulation of the waterways.
Additionally, a brackish (salt/fresh) water environment would be ideal for many marine species as a nursery ground.
Is Freshwater Really Best?
Opponents of the measure (the private homeowners) claim that if they agree to remove the weir, then sooner or later a 100 ft wide channel would be made on the beach.
Because of this, it would be impossible to walk between the two city beaches over 37% of the year.
They also fear that the lagoon would end up decreasing in size and would result in a stinky mud flat. The bottom line is the homeowners do not want to see a decrease in home value.
On the other hand, many inland residents feel as if they are being held ‘hostage” by the few who own the weir.
Their main complaint is the evergrowing mosquito problem overtaking adjacent areas around the lagoon. Everything can be resolved by just getting rid of the weir.
Mosquitos cannot live in salt water!
Are you interested in more information?
Check this video out!
What do you think?
Walking On the Trail At Buena Vista Lagoon
Now let’s get back to the main reason that we came here in the first place, to take that walk around the Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center Trail.
We started just outside of the Visitor Center and proceeded to follow the path to the left.
I would like to add that the local Eagle Scouts have posted classifications placards for many of the plant species all along the trail (see map above.), which I appreciated so much!
The lagoon edges are taken over by narrow and broadleaf cattails, spiny rush and bulrush.
It is evident here that the lagoons water level is rather low.
Do you see how tall these cattails are?
A Look at a Few Native Species
I was pleasantly surprised to see two Torrey Pine trees while we were making our way back to the Nature Center.
If you are not familiar, the Torrey Pine is the rarest pine tree in the country.
The Torrey Pine tree is only found in North County San Diego. There is one exception though- a small grove is located on one of the Channel Island off of the coast of Santa Barbara in Central California.
Would you like to see a grove of Torrey Pine trees up close? A hike at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is just 20 minutes south of here! I highly recommend it!
Buena Vista Audobon Nature Center Native Species Garden
A mini-looped trail with smaller sized versions of the vegetation seen here at the lagoon is located in front of the Nature Center.
I have to say that the Eagle Scouts did an excellent job of classifying the plants.
Let’s take a look!
Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center
Let’s now take a look inside of the Nature Center!
The Audubon Chapter of Oceanside is responsible for this facility. In fact, they built this Nature Center, along with having members and fellow volunteers on staff.
There are many free activities offered here.
For example, every Monday from 10 am-12 pm, volunteers meet to do a little maintenance work around the native plant garden and trails.
Other activities include nature led walks as well as a monthly bird census which takes place on the 4th Saturday of each month.
Interested in any more activities offered? Click on the photo above.
According to the Buena Vista Audubon’s official website, the lagoon accommodates 103 bird species, 18 mammal species, and 14 reptile and amphibian species.
Also, because of the Pacific Flyway, there have been over 200 bird species, observed and recorded here!
Let’s have a look at a few of them now.
Let’s go upstairs to the observation deck!
Many guest speakers lecture here and the public is always free to join.
The End of the Road
So there you have it, Buena Vista Lagoon in all of its glory! Did you enjoy the tour?
Which ecological option do you think would be best?
In my opinion, restoring the lagoon to its original saltwater state would be the best option.
It is important to realize that at this point, something needs to happen sooner than later.
So far it has been decades since any dredging has taken place, which means more sedimentation by the day, month, year.
On Jan 25, 2018, a court ruling was set back once again, due to the fact that so many more public comments came in at the last minute.
If you would like more information regarding the Saltwater vs. Freshwater debate, please go here.
Thank you once again for joining me on a mini-tour to the Buena Vista Lagoon Nature Center and trail! I sincerely hope that you too can come here one day!
Please check back later as I will be showcasing the owners of the weir- the mysterious Saint Malo Beach!
Until next time!
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I have always had a deep-seated passion for the Ocean Environment which ultimately led me to receive a degree in Marine Biology. Living in the San Diego area for over 30 years, I have extensively explored the 70 miles of San Diego’s coastline, and I am here to share! Please use my website to your advantage and have a look around at all the wonders that the beaches of San Diego can offer you!