The San Diego River Improvement Project has garnered a prestigious award from the American Society of Landscape Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Landmark Award recognizes work completed 15 to 50 years ago that has retained “design excellence over time” and “significantly contributes to the public realm.”

Designed by San Diego landscape architects Wimmer Yamada and Caughey, the first phase of the river project was completed in the 1980s. It features constructed wetland habitats, wildlife preserves, picnic areas, bikeways and pedestrian paths in Mission Valley. Most importantly, proponents said the project reduced seasonal flooding.

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“This was among the first cities to make the leap of letting our rivers be visible. It pointed to the future and because it succeeded, others have followed. Now it’s much more common for cities to do this,” said the awards jury. “People think this occurred naturally, which is the beauty of the project. We hope they’ll expand this project and continue its success.”

The award ceremony will be at the San Diego Convention Center on Nov. 2 during the annual meeting of the landscape architects group.

Rob Hutsel, head of the umbrella group San Diego River Park Foundation, said the improvement project was cutting edge for its time and the recognition is good for ongoing efforts to extend riverside paths and parks. Today, he said, it’s clear that open areas for trails should be wider than initially designed to reduce safety threats for walkers and runners in the thick riparian vegetation.

San Diego’s namesake river received more attention Monday with the announcement of a $150,000 grant. It’s targeted at developing an interpretive plan for new exhibitions and programs intended to rejuvenate the Junípero Serra Museum in Presidio Park.

The state’s Coastal Conservancy awarded the money to a partnership between the San Diego History Center and the San Diego River Conservancy. It will allow the history center to consult with several local partners to synthesize the historical, cultural, archaeological, biological and historic ecology of the Serra museum area.

The goal is to examine the many land-use decisions that have affected that spot and produce an interactive experience for students, scholars and the general public.

Connections between people and the river are expected to play an important role in the initiative.

“The location of the San Diego River was one of the primary factors involved in selecting the site for the Presidio and mission” said Bill Lawrence, chairman of history center’s Serra Museum Committee. “These forthcoming exhibitions at the Serra will inform people that human culture and the environment are in continuous dialogue.”

At the San Diego River Conservancy, executive director Mike Nelson said the historical efforts will contribute to environmental goals. “Creating a better connection between the river’s past uses will aid us in building support for its future conservation,” he said.