For the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians, adventure begins with San Dieguito Engineering

Adventure can take many different forms. But few adventures capture the imagination quite like the La Jolla Adventure Park (LJAP) in Pauma Valley, CA. Owned and operated by the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Indians, the LJAP offers camping, zip lining, tubing, bike rental, and a host of exhilarating activities. And there is history, too. President Ulysses S. Grant established the 10,000-acre La Jolla Indian Reservation—where the LJAP is located—on December 27, 1875, though the native Luiseno People had lived there for centuries before that. In the 1930s, the tribe created the storied La Jolla Indian Campground, which later became the LJAP. It’s a hugely popular destination. But the park faced a potentially catastrophic problem. To solve it, the tribe turned to San Dieguito Engineering (SDE), HGW Architecture, and their team for help.

“The existing site had potentially very serious flooding issues that had to be addressed. But this project was also an amazing opportunity for improvements, like a new welcome center, dining hall, and retail store. Obviously, we were also extremely aware of the cultural significance of the location and its history and people, so any potential solution had to include that as part of its framework,” explains SDE Senior Associate Engineer and LJAP Project Manager Joshua Reeves.

“When we walked the site we discovered that we could take great advantage of the natural topographical contours and mitigate the flooding with minimal impact to the natural beauty of the existing landscape. For example, by simply moving the operations building/lodge to a meadow at the end of a large stand of oak trees, we could not only address resilience without tremendous land reconfiguration, but also provide a secluded location with extraordinary vistas of Mount Palomar and the upper valley, as well as unique and beautiful trailheads. Our fundamental goal for this project was to tread lightly on the land and create a beautifully sustainable design that would inform each and every guest about the importance of this special place.”

And that’s exactly what Reeves and the SDE team are doing. Working closely with San Diego-based HGW architect Matt Wells, Reeves and SDE have set out to reconfigure and redesign the LJAP while sensitively maintaining the feeling and esthetics of the tribe’s culture and objectives with the original facility. It’s no small order, but it’s the only way to do justice to the tribe’s history while achieving its present goals with the LJAP.

Beginning with a grant from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA), the project request for proposal (RFP) required the winning team to “construct disaster resilient infrastructure improvements” to the LJAP. More specifically, the infrastructure improvements must include:

  • Demolition of two existing buildings
  • Construction of a new two-story building (approximately 10,000 sq ft)
  • Underground utilities (including a 3,000 gallon septic system)
  • Asphalt-paved parking (10,100 sq ft, 52 parking spaces)
  • Gravel parking improvements (for 82 parking spaces)

In addition, Reeves explains that the RFP called for project solutions to provide for safe two-way emergency evacuation of the campground, as well as replacing the two flood-plain-located buildings with an “Adventure Park lodge that will serve as an entry as well as headquarters for Tribal enterprises including the La Jolla Indian Campground, Zoom Zip Line, Food Services, and Emergency Operations.”

Finally, the RFP also stated that the “exterior design of the Lodge will reflect both modern and Native American architectural styles” and that the “interior spaces must be designed to be flexible in their use and include inclusive and universal design features” and that the open space surrounding the facility should offer “attractive areas for casual meetings, pedestrian and bike access, and light recreation.” Though challenging, Reeves and the SDE team are working diligently to exceed the RFP’s requirements and the tribe’s expectations.

“In addition to minimizing the impact of construction and taking advantage of the natural topography, we also wanted to enhance the efficiency of the tribe’s operations and improve traffic flow to reduce backups onto the state highway. Basically, we’re helping the tribe better the visitor experience and operations, while mitigating potential flooding and improving the overall resilience of the facility. It’s an integrative approach, but it’s the one that makes the most sense in satisfying all of the technical challenges of the project along with the cultural and operational aspects as well.”

Reeves and the project team expect to complete the project in 2024.

Adventure can take many forms. But the La Jolla Adventure Park presents exceptional adventures along with the unique history of the La Jolla Band of the Luiseno Indians, an intriguing experience that cannot be duplicated anywhere. But to ensure the success of the LJAP, the tribe turned to San Dieguito Engineering to provide efficient, effective, culturally sensitive technical solutions.

The following team members were integral to bringing this project to fruition:

Owner – Tribal Chairwoman Norma Contreras, Tribal COO Gary Murrey

Architect – HGW Architecture; Matt Wells, Joel Manalili

Landscape Architect – Neri Landscape Architecture; Jim Neri, Jennifer Stahlhammer

Geotechnical Engineer – Group Delta Consultants; Matthew Fagan, James Sanders

Structural Engineer – TKJ Structural Engineering; Bo Jaquess, Tayna Wei

MEP – H+W Engineering; Tom Harmon

Food Service – Orness Design Group; George Orness, Lily Way