Tree Balboa Park is a massive reforestation project to plant 500 trees within Balboa Park over two years, helping restore the park’s depleted tree canopy. The project launched in summer 2017 after the Conservancy secured a $378,297 state grant from CAL FIRE, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which selected Tree Balboa Park as part of its urban forest expansion and improvement initiative through the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF). Tree Balboa Park’s primary partner, the City of San Diego’s Park and Recreation Department, is making significant in-kind contributions valued at $337,702 for a project total of $715,999.

Tree Balboa Park helps reestablish Balboa Park’s historic tree canopy, which lost more than 1,500 trees due to recent drought conditions. Drought-tolerant trees are being planted throughout the park’s 1,200-acre campus to maximize greenhouse gas reduction and provide improved air quality and reduced stormwater runoff. Energy-efficient, water-saving irrigation is also being installed to support the new trees as part of Park and Recreation’s in-kind contribution. The state-of-the-art systems replace older, outmoded systems in the park, thus meeting deferred maintenance needs.

With the City of San Diego’s tree canopy estimated at 20 percent of what it should be to sustain the health and well-being of its residents, Tree Balboa Park will help expand and diversify the city’s overall tree canopy and fulfill state-mandated urban reforestation and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. The project also makes a significant contribution to the city’s Climate Action Plan, a core component of which is its Urban Tree Canopy Plan to boost the tree canopy to 35 percent by 2035.

Another project partner, Urban Corps of San Diego is providing part-time youth workers from disadvantaged communities to help with the tree planting. The youth workers from Urban Corps are certified by the California Conservation Corps and receive additional training from the Tree Balboa Park project arborist and are educated about urban reforestation.

A Data-Driven Collaborative Process

Tree Balboa Park represents an unprecedented collaboration among state, municipal, and nonprofit agencies from various sectors to address an urgent environmental need within the park, and the city as a whole. The combined resources and expertise of all partners ensures the latest best practices, technologies, and techniques in horticulture, reforestation, environmental sustainability, landscape design, and volunteer training are brought to bear to optimize the significant state funding that’s been granted to restore and enhance Balboa Park’s iconic landscape.

The list of 500 trees to be planted is being developed through a rigorous process involving multiple experts: trained horticultural staff with Park and Recreation who are highly familiar with the park; the Tree San Diego Executive Director/President and board members, including a certified arborist; and the Conservancy’s CEO with the Director of Planning, Design, and Programs (who serves as the project manager), both credentialed landscape architect professionals and planners.

The data-driven tree planting plan is based on results of a comprehensive tree inventory of the park—the first of its kind to be undertaken in decades, funded in part by the San Diego Foundation and the Johanna A. Favrot Fund. All tree species and locations are being selected with Park and Recreation’s cooperation to ensure the highest level of environmental benefits (greenhouse gas reduction, stormwater runoff protection, drought tolerance, shade benefits, etc.) while improving the overall health and beauty of the park’s landscape.

Ongoing community participation in Tree Balboa Park is facilitated through regular interface with and input from city departments and officials, including the Balboa Park Committee, representing city residents and park users; the Tree Balboa Park advisory committee of park stakeholders; and the Conservancy Board of Trustees, including liaisons from the San Diego Mayor’s Office, the Director of Park and Recreation, the City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, and the State Assembly.

One of Tree Balboa Park’s goals is to develop a model urban reforestation program based on public-private partnerships and collaborative resource allocation, advancing Balboa Park as a nationally recognized innovator in urban environmental sustainability.

Tree Planting Progress Update

Through January 2018, approximately 100 trees have already been planted or are in the process of being planted along Morley Field Drive (between Park Boulevard and Florida Drive) and in the Cypress Grove Picnic Area on the West Mesa. An additional 40 trees are scheduled to be planted in the West Mesa and near the Juniper Street comfort station during the month of February.

Nearly 30 different climate-friendly tree types have been planted to date. They include

African tulip tree, Spathodea campanulate
Arborvitae, Thuja orientalis
Atlas cedar, Cedrus alantica ‘Glauca’
Bald cypress, Taxodium distichum
Camphor, Cinnamomum camphora
Chinese juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Foemina’
Coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia
Deodor cedar, Cedrus deodora
Firewheel tree, Stenocarpus sinuatus
Gold medallion tree, Cassia leptophylla
Guadalupe cypress, Cupressus guadalupensis
Hollyleaf cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
Italian cypress ‘tiny towers,’ Cupressus sempervirens ‘Monshel’
Jacaranda mimosifolia
Kashmir cypress, Cupressus chasmeriana
Kauri pine, Agathis australe
Leyland cypress, Cupressocyparis leylandii
Monterey cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa
Montezuma bald cypress, Taxodium mucronatum
Norfolk Island pine, Araucaria heterophylla
One-seed juniper, Juniperus monosperma
Pink trumpet tree, Tabebuia impetiginosa
Red flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia
Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandifolia
Tecate cypress, Hesperocyparis forbesii
Tolleson’s blue weeping juniper, Juniperus scopulorum
Torrey pine, Pinus torreyana
Wollemia nobilis

Environmental Impact

Using the Center for Urban Forest Research’s Tree Carbon Calculator, it is estimated, based on the projected tree mix and planting locations for all 500 new trees at the time the grant proposal was submitted, there will be a greenhouse gas benefit of 1,745 metric tons of carbon stored in live project trees along with an additional 14-metric-ton CO2e greenhouse gas benefit from energy savings (based on a maintenance period of two years). With 88 metric tons of CO2e greenhouse gas emissions resulting from project implementation, the net greenhouse gas benefit from the proposed project is 1,672 metric tons of CO2e. It is also estimated that approximately 16.6 million gallons of stormwater runoff will be avoided as a result of this project. Note: actual environmental benefit numbers will vary depending on the final mix of trees planted and their locations.

Educational Outreach and Visitor Engagement

Tree Balboa Park includes outreach initiatives to educate schoolchildren, park visitors, and the public about the importance of healthy urban forests and the role of trees in environmental sustainability. Many of these educational outreach programs were funded as part of the CAL FIRE grant.

Young Tree Stewards in Balboa Park

Young Tree Stewards

The Tree Balboa Park project includes a Young Tree Stewards volunteer program, developed by local nonprofit Tree San Diego. The program kicked off on November 6, 2017, when 150 fifth graders from Porter Elementary descended on Balboa Park to receive a full school day of training from arborists and volunteer teachers with Tree San Diego. Building on their classroom lessons, the students took turns constructing berms, laying down mulch, and practicing different methods for watering trees, much to the benefit of trees recently planted along Morley Field Drive. This unique program was partially funded by the Outdoor Foundation and the San Diego Foundation.

OpenTreeMap: A Tree Tracking App for Your Phone

The public is invited to watch Tree Balboa Park’s progress and learn interesting facts about all the park’s trees by downloading the OpenTreeMap app at the Google Play or iTunes store and selecting “San Diego Tree Tracker” to begin exploring (or view in your web browser). After zooming in on the Balboa Park area of the map, tap on a specific tree location to learn the tree’s name, dimensions, condition, environmental benefits profile, and more. Deeper content and a full report on the park’s tree inventory will be available later in 2018.

Visitor Information and Tours

A permanent interpretive panel and additional temporary signage at primary visitor locations and at new tree-planting sites will introduce millions of visitors to Tree Balboa Park and the importance of urban reforestation. Closer to the project’s completion, a Tree Balboa Park brochure and self-guided walking tour will be available in the Conservancy-operated park Visitors Center. And Tree Balboa Park group tours will be led by trained volunteers and Park Rangers. 

Funding for this project has been provided by the California Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund through the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), Urban and Community Forestry Program.