Murals depict Santee’s history at Walker Preserve Trail

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It was another history-making weekend in Santee from April 22 through April 25. Volunteers had the unique opportunity of painting a panel of six murals on the Magnolia Street bridge underpass next to the Walker Preserve Trail along the San Diego River. Renowned mural artist Lori Escalera oversaw the work of the volunteers. 

“This is cool,” said Maya Clark, a Santee resident. She was painting berries on one of the panels. 

It was another history-making weekend in Santee from April 22 through April 25. Volunteers had the unique opportunity of painting a panel of six murals on the Magnolia Street bridge underpass next to the Walker Preserve Trail along the San Diego River. Renowned mural artist Lori Escalera oversaw the work of the volunteers. 

“This is cool,” said Maya Clark, a Santee resident. She was painting berries on one of the panels. 

Ten-year-old Sam Sobka had similar sentiments. “I like to paint and draw but I’ve never done anything to this scale,” she said.

Her mother Stephanie Sobka smiled at her daughter’s use of big words. Sobka put her arms around her mother, Taffy Jones.

“I love living in Santee, so anything we can do to help improve the community means a lot to me,” Sobka said. 

Jones agreed. “I am thrilled to help do work around the river here,” she said.

“This is a great way to celebrate the official Earth Day weekend,” said Sue Richardson, Recreation Services Manager for the City of Santee.

Richardson said that the Recreation Services Department had been working on the concept of having a mural for more than a year.

“This is the first commissioned mural we have had. So we are making history,” she said.

In 2011, a Boy Scout troop painted a mural under the direction of Tom Guerra on the bridge supports underneath Carlton Hills Boulevard, beautifying the access trail between the main park and the recently opened Mast Park West Hiking Trail.

“After we opened the Walker Preserve Trail to the public in April 2015, we knew we wanted a similar mural. This trail will connect further to the west in the future,” Richardson said.

The city of Santee had put out a request for proposals in February 2015 for an artist to facilitate the project. Escalera was chosen for her 22 years of professional experience. She has assisted in community mural installations throughout Southern California, including three murals along the San Diego River with the San Diego River Park Foundation. 

“One of my strong suits is my ability to communicate with people. Not all artists can do that very well, especially in a situation like this, where I’m having to direct a lot of volunteers,” Escalera said.

When she was chosen for the project, Escalera researched the history of Santee. 

“It was my vision to connect the history of area with today. My passion is to see what other people have done, what their legacies are.

“For instance, when I started researching Harriet Wade, I resonated with her love for the community. So I created a mural panel featuring her,” she said. 

George A. Cowles, considered the founder of Santee, owned two ranches, Woodside and Magnolia, where he grew fruit trees, grapevines, olives, grains and potatoes. The community surrounding his Woodside ranch was known as Cowlestown, later changed to Santee when his widow remarried Milton Santee.

Of course, Escalera wanted to incorporate into the mural the legacy of Fred and Marie Walker, who owned the farm where the Walker preserve is today. A panel is dedicated to the Walkers showing them in a horse-drawn carriage with their craftsman bungalow home in the background.

Santee’s history as a hut of dairy farming is depicted in one panel, featuring the Edgemoor dairy barn.

The Kumeyaay are also an important part of Santee’s history, so a panel is dedicated to them as well. The panel illustrates the Kumeyaay people who inhabited the region and the San Diego River basin before Europeans arrived

Another panel features the natural history of Santee and the flora and fauna of the river.

This mural project will increase awareness of Santee’s history and beautify the underpass, making it a destination as part of the trail. In addition, it is intended to defer graffiti and tagging,” Richardson said.

Funding for the mural project was made possible through a grant from the State Coastal Conservancy and San Diego River Conservancy through the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 (Proposition 84). Proceeds from the Santee Park and Recreation Committee’s annual Bluegrass Festival also funded the project.

For more information and photographs of the mural painting, go to https://www.facebook.com/Walker-Preserve-Trail-Santee.

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