State Park Officials Studying Where to Rebuild Horse Camp at Ah-ha Kwe-ah-mac

01/16/2005 - SAN DIEGO CA
Edited by Roy Cook

This review is obliged to credit a recent article by Anne Krueger in the San Diego Union. At issue is American Indian Rights head to head against public use of State park facilities. State park officials are studying whether to rebuild the campground at its present location or move it to a nearby meadow. When the Los Caballos horse camp was built more than 50 years ago, there were few regulations protecting the environment or American Indian artifacts. But after the camp at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park burned in the October 2003 wildfires, representatives of Indian tribes raised concerns about rebuilding on land that is the site of an American Indian village and burial ground.

"When the campground went in, it was a time when there was no awareness for archaeology or Native American cultural issues," said Carol Gaubatz, an analyst with the state Native American Heritage Commission. "If we went in there today, the likelihood that the campground would be put in is very slim."

Local equestrians, eager to have the popular camp reopened, want the camp rebuilt at its present spot. Mat Fuzie, Park District Superintendent, told a group of horse lovers who packed the Descanso Town Hall last week that he must consider moving the campground as part of a process to get federal money to pay for the rebuilding. Fuzie said the camp could be rebuilt on its existing site by fall at a cost of about $500,000. If the camp is built on another site, it will cost $1 million to $2 million, depending on which location is selected, and could take much longer. "The pessimist in me says two years," he said. "The optimist in me says one." With 17 campsites, Los Caballos is booked up to six months ahead and is considered a model for equestrian camps around the state, Fuzie said.

Peggy Martin, a Descanso resident who with her husband, Bernie, organized the meeting, said the camp suffered relatively little damage during the fire. Its bathroom burned down, and some fences need repair, but the horse corrals are still in good condition, she said. "It looked to us like you could do some cleanup and the camp could be open," she said. "Why are we moving it and why spend a lot of money and why take a lot of time? We started asking questions."

Gaubatz said the land where the horse camp is located was one of the largest American Indian village sites in the area. After American Indian remains were found near a bathroom being reconstructed, commission officials asked that the work stop until a decision could be made about moving the camp, she said. The village at the site was known by its Indian name of Ah-ha Kwe-ah-mac, and it was a gathering place for four tribes: Santa Ysabel, Ewiiaapaayp, Manzanita and the Laguna band of the Kwaaymii tribe, said attorney Courtney Coyle. Coyle represents Carmen Lucas, an elder with the Kwaaymii tribe.

Land use patterns for a bandís territory extends anywhere from 10 to 30 miles along a stream and tributaries. It includes trails for all members, general hunting, religious, ceremonial and common areas for democratic useage. Generally peaceful by nature, the Kwaamii custom and tradition is distinguished by tolerance and individual freedom.
Further, Coyle said, "Out of respect, we have an opportunity with the fire to undo an old wrong. The question we need to be asking ourselves, given today's environmental laws, is this the right location for this type of recreational use?"

Fuzie said that after the wildfires, the state parks department developed a schizophrenic attitude about Los Caballos. Some department employees said the horse camp should not be located on the American Indian village site, while others wanted to reopen the popular camp. He said Los Caballos is a top priority for rebuilding in the park. More than $5.5 million has been set aside to pay for park rebuilding expenses that aren't covered by funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Two rare plants also are located on the horse campsite, and moving the camp would restore their habitat, Fuzie said. He added that a series of public hearings must be held in order to obtain FEMA money to rebuild the park. He emphasized that the meeting in Descanso was not part of the public review, only to provide information to the equestrians.