By Don Greene
Friendship Park is located at the end of a part asphalt, part dirt road. During the summer months, when there is a distinct lack of rain, the road is open to vehicle traffic. During the winter months, the road is closed and all too often, it’s flooded. The Tijuana River floods the valley and runs down into the wetlands that surround Friendship Park.
Naturally, the flooded road stops any from trying to get to Friendship Park and sometimes the only way to get there is via the beach. For some, the beach route is easy. But for many – families that are comprised of mothers and children, or the elderly – the walk is too much.
At what is seemingly the saddest place on Earth at the best of times, the winter months bring heartache of prolonged separation from family and loved ones. And it seems that no one is in a hurry to fix the problem.
The park is an amalgamation of federal and state bureaucracies. The land was originally owned by the State of California. Border Field State Park extended to the primary border fence until, around 2006, the federal government annexed a portion of the land to build the secondary fence. Complicating things further is the influence of state Fish and Game. As was stated before, the land surrounding Friendship Park is wetlands and is also a preserve for two protected species of birds. Needless to say, when something wants to get done, it doesn’t.
There are new talks beginning to “fix” the road, and all agree that it does need to be fixed. The devil, as usual, is in the details. With concerns about habitat, hydrology and nesting for the birds, Fish and Game has their ideas, and they aren’t very pro road. State Parks are concerned that if the road is “fixed” then they will have to staff the park and that will cut into budgets. And Border Patrol would prefer that the border continue to look like a demilitarized zone.
The victim here continues to be the families torn apart. It seems that even in the hardships of deporttion, the mere possibility of touching a finger tip of a loved one is too much. Yet, families persevere and trudge through the mud and the water – both potentially contaminated – so that they might have some connection to their family member.
We can do better for these families. And we should.