Tag Archives: Escondido Creek Conservancy

The Escondido Creek Conservancy Education Director, Simon Breen, awarded Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s 2021 Educator of the Year.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy’s Education Director, Simon Breen, was awarded Olivenhain Municipal Water District’s 2021 Educator of the Year. “I’m so honored to receive the Olivenhain Municipal Water District award for Educator of the Year,” said Breen. OMWD’s award program recognizes individuals and businesses making a significant, positive impact in our communities, the San Diego region, or the water industry. Simon was recognized for service to Escondido students and Elfin Forest visitors, and for leadership in forging a strong, cooperative, and respectful relationship between the two organizations.

“I wholeheartedly believe that all the problems in the world can be solved through education, and with the serious environmental threats we’re facing, environmental education is essential,” said Breen. “Not to mention, there’s a large body of research demonstrating a wide variety of benefits people receive from outdoor learning—from physical, emotional, and mental health benefits, and even improved academic performance. It’s so rewarding to connect people to nature and help them access those benefits, knowing that fostering an appreciation for nature will pay dividends for our planet for generations to come.”

Last school year, the Conservancy’s education team adapted to the pandemic by creating virtual programming. This school year, they have resumed in-person field trips to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. “I’m very proud of the incredible team we have and the number of people—not just children but adults as well—we’ve been able to provide with outdoor opportunities over the years,” Breen continued. “When I first started, we were serving a few hundred students annually, but now it’s in the thousands, including every single third grader from all 18 elementary schools in the Escondido Union School District. Many of the kids we bring on field trips have never been to a nature preserve before. We’re also teaching kids to be curious and think like scientists. The more people understand the value of nature and the issues that confront it, the easier it’ll be to protect the habitats locally and everywhere.”

Simon Breen has been on staff at The Escondido Creek Conservancy for seven and a half years. He attained his undergraduate degree in anthropology from San Diego State University and has a master’s degree from Cornell University in nature resource management.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy currently has a Seed the Future fundraising campaign to sustain their education work. As part of the campaign, the Conservancy was recently challenged by the Parker Foundation to receive a matching grant of $75,000. The Conservancy exceeded their goals to connect with new donors! Details on donating to the Conservancy’s Education Fund can be found at their website www.escondidocreek.org/education-fund.

For more information contact Megan Williams, Development Associate directly at: meghan@escondidocreek.org


The Escondido Creek Conservancy Awarded Gerald T. & Inez Grant Parker Foundation Conditional Grant and Launches Matching Fundraising Campaign.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy was awarded a $75,000 conditional “matching” grant from the Gerald T. & Inez Grant Parker Foundation, to support renovation of a building on the Mountain Meadow Preserve into the Conservancy’s office.  Named Boulder Outlook, the building will help the Conservancy become more sustainable as it will no longer pay rent. Boulder Outlook will also become the Conservancy’s home for land conservation activities, including volunteer training and educational seminars. Donations to the Boulder Outlook campaign help the Conservancy preserve more land.

“We are thrilled to accept the challenge from the Parker Foundation to match this grant,” said Ann Van Leer, The Escondido Creek Conservancy executive director. “We raise the bar even higher for any new donation to The Conservancy between now and January 15, 2022. Not only is there a matching donation from the Parker grant, but an anonymous donor has also agreed to match dollar for dollar any gifts to the Conservancy. One dollar from the Parker Foundation and one dollar from the anonymous donor will make it a $2 match for every dollar raised!”

Additionally, the Conservancy plans to make the building available on weekends for small group retreats for those who want to be inspired by magnificent landscapes, with views East to Daley Ranch or North to the Palomar and San Bernardino Mountains. At Boulder Outlook, the Conservancy’s dedicated staff and passionate volunteers will have a base to launch conservation activities throughout North San Diego County.  

“In 1971, the Gerald T. & Inez Grant Parker Foundation was created to support non-profit organizations in their efforts to improve life for all San Diegans. We have been serving the San Diego community for 50 years and look forward to many more.” – theParkerFoundation.org

The Conservancy is proud to be a partner of the Gerald T. & Inez Grant Parker Foundation. “The Parker Foundation, and those who aim to create a legacy of support for nature through their philanthropic gifts and continued support of The Escondido Creek Conservancy are our heroes,” said Meghan Williams, development associate for the Conservancy.

Nature supporters can help The Conservancy reach its goal of raising $75,000 by January 15th, thus ensuring the full grant from the Parker Foundation is received. Tax-deductible philanthropic gift opportunities to support this endeavor include:

•Making a private donation as a one-time or recurring gift;

•Making a corporate donation;

•Purchasing naming rights: Native Plant Nursery, Pond, HQ, Patio & Event Spaces;

•Purchasing personalized bricks (in $100, $250, or greater denominations) to be presented at the entrance, along the patio and walkways at Boulder Outlook; and

•Purchasing personalized plaques for benches and seating areas.

Architectural designer Drew Hubbell of Hubbell & Hubbell Architects, along with help from landscape architect Schmitt Design, have designed Boulder Outlook as an environmentally conscientious and fire safe headquarters. Complimenting San Diego County’s beautiful natural surroundings, spectacular mountain views can be seen from the building and future event spaces. Boulders of incredible scale adorn the property and provide a natural path to the native plant nursery, pond, and site of a future conservation research facility. 

Boulder Outlook is part of the Mountain Meadow Preserve, which was created by the Conservancy and San Diego County Parks in 2018 with critical assistance from the U.S. Navy/Camp Pendleton and hundreds of donors to the Conservancy’s Save 1000 Acres campaign.


The Conservancy is a 30-year-old land trust, recently accredited by the National Land Trust Alliance for highest standards of ethical behavior and responsible financial and land stewardship. The Conservancy currently cares for 3,000 acres of wildlife habitat and provides annual outdoor education opportunities to thousands of youths and adults.

Visit www.escondidocreek.org to learn more about The Conservancy, or to join the mission to enhance the lives of people and wildlife in the Escondido Creek watershed. More information about the Boulder Outlook campaign can be found at: https://escondidocreek.org/donate. 

The Escondido Creek Conservancy Saves 79 Acres. Creates New LeoMar Preserve in Olivenhain.

The acquisition further supports preservation efforts that began with the Conservancy’s “Save 1,000 Acres” campaign in the upper Escondido Creek watershed, and honors two of the Conservancy’s founders.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy has continued its commitment to creating wildlife corridors in North San Diego County as part of its on-going Missing Lynx campaign. The recent purchase of 79 acres of land adjacent to the Gaty reservoir in Olivenhain will serve as the centerpiece of the Conservancy’s newest wildlife sanctuary, called LeoMar Preserve, named to honor Leonard Wittwer and Martha Blane, two Conservancy founders instrumental in the success of the now 30-year old land trust.

Escrow closed on May 7th, 2021. The purchase price was $2,054,000, consisting of a grant awarded to the Conservancy from the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board (propositions 68 and 84) and a sub-grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s section 6 of the Federal Endangered Species Act. The acquisition and conservation is a result of State, Federal, and local collaboration.

“Leonard and Martha understand the intrinsic value of the native coastal SoCal sage scrub and chaparral habitats that once covered most of southern California. They have committed a great part of their lives to ensuring that as much as possible continues to thrive. It is an honor for the Escondido Creek Conservancy to be able to name a preserve after them,” said Betsy Keithley, a member of the Escondido Creek Conservancy Board of Directors.

Leonard Wittwer has been on the Board since 1991. He has been central to the growth of the Conservancy’s land protection program, and currently serves as board president. Martha served as the very first board president, at a time when it was uncommon to see women in non-profit leadership roles. Both Leonard and Martha have devoted thousands of volunteer hours to the Conservancy over the past three decades. Their service is being acknowledged by the Board of Directors with the creation of this beautiful preserve in Olivenhain.

“Partners like the Escondido Creek Conservancy are key to helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fulfill its conservation mission,” said Jonathan Snyder, Assistant Field Supervisor for the Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office. “Conservation of this habitat will ensure plants and wildlife in the area continue to persist.”

The LeoMar Preserve is located in the lower Escondido Creek watershed in the Olivenhain community of Encinitas. It is home to sensitive habitats and threatened and endangered species including the coastal California gnatcatcher. Over the next few years, the Conservancy will be protecting additional properties and adding them to the LeoMar Preserve, managing the preserve for the betterment of California’s threatened and endangered species.

“Because of Leonard and Martha’s devotion to the Escondido Creek watershed, a piece of wild California will be preserved for all time, and will thrive, at the LeoMar Preserve,” said Ann Van Leer, the Conservancy’s executive director.

Visit www.escondidocreek.org to learn more about the Conservancy, to join the mission to enhance the lives of people and wildlife in the Escondido Creek watershed. More information about the Missing Lynx campaign can be found at: www.escondidocreek.org/special-projects.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy Invites You To Help Support Local Wildlife “Corridors”

The Escondido Creek Conservancy Invites You To Help Support Local Wildlife “Corridors”

The benefit to be held on land previously proposed for development The Escondido Creek Conservancy (Conservancy) invites the public to support North County’s imperiled wildlife at “Corridors,” a benefit on May 30th, from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. Guests are invited to the George Sardina, MD Preserve in Escondido for hayride tours of the land, local beer and wine, acoustic music, delicious artisan pizza, and an intimate wildlife encounter. Early Bird ticket prices start at $125 per person and are available at escondidocreek.org/corridors. VIP pricing and corporate sponsorships are also available. All proceeds help continue the Conservancy’s conservation and education programs in North County San Diego.

This outdoor event takes place on George Sardina, MD Preserve, which was protected in 2019 as part of the Conservancy’s highly successful Save 1000 Acres campaign to help create permanent wildlife corridors for mule deer, mountain lions, and other wildlife. The 282-acre parcel was previously proposed for development and has been heavily impacted by prior uses. This is a unique opportunity to see a property in the beginning stages of habitat restoration and talk to local wildlife experts about the importance of conservation.

Guests at “Corridors” will hear from its non-profit partner Lumbercycle about how the Conservancy is recycling non-native trees to help fight climate change, and they will meet rescued birds of prey from Sky Hunters. The Mountain Lion Foundation and a UC Davis field scientist will also be present to discuss how the Conservancy’s work supports the research underway on mountain lion populations in Southern California—which are at risk of local extinction.

The Conservancy encourages the community to share their passion for this work and invite family, friends, and neighbors to support the Conservancy’s work, which has helped protect over 8,000 acres from development and provides outdoor education to every third grader in the Escondido Unified School District.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy to Connect “The Missing Lynx” for Wildlife Conservation

The Escondido Creek Conservancy has launched “The Missing Lynx” campaign to establish permanently protected wildlife corridors in North San Diego County. After successfully acquiring 975 acres as part of their “Save 1000 Acres” campaign, the Conservancy has shifted its focus to connecting the missing links, so wildlife can move freely between preserved areas, and protecting those linkages in perpetuity.

“Between climate change, pollution, and human expansion into wild areas, native plants, and wildlife around the world are struggling to survive,” says Executive Director, Ann Van Leer, “We want San Diego County to retain the natural beauty that has drawn humans here for centuries, but to do so, we must be dedicated to connecting the missing links between preserved lands.”

Connecting wildlands is crucial for wildlife, especially large mammals like mule deer (Odocoileus heminus) and mountain lions (Puma concolor), which typically have home ranges of more than 100 square miles. Successful wildlife corridors provide access to food and other resources, while also improving genetic variation. Connecting breeding populations of a species increases their ability to adapt to their changing environment, which is especially important as we begin to witness the effects of climate change.

“We manage preserves on either side of the I-15,” says Hannah Walchak, the Conservancy’s Land Conservation Manager, “It’s crazy to think that I can easily drive between these preserves, while the unique populations of mountain lions on each side are unlikely to meet because of a lack of connectivity.”

Since 1991, The Escondido Creek Conservancy has helped preserve over 7,000 acres in North San Diego County. Over the last three years, with the creation of the Mountain Meadow Preserve and the George Sardina, MD Preserve, the “Save 1000 Acres” campaign protected an additional 975 acres. While these are important cornerstone properties, “The Missing Lynx” campaign will prioritize land acquisitions in areas that are contiguous to other preserved lands in the Escondido Creek watershed.

The Escondido Creek Conservancy is seeking public support to protect and preserve these “missing lynx” to reduce conflicts with human activities, help North San Diego County retain its wild character, and give our native species a chance to live, and live wild. For more information about the campaign, see www.missinglynx.org.

Zooming In On Nature -The Elfin Forest Interpretive Center

Zooming In On Nature

Escondido, CA – Textures, colors, patterns, and microscopic organisms come alive as The Escondido Creek Conservancy was awarded $1,500 for a new microscope by the San Marcos Community Foundation. As a result of the grant, visitors to the Interpretive Center at the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve will now have a clearer view on the microscopic world.

The Elfin Forest Interpretive Center provides visitors with an opportunity to learn more about the local habitats, plants, and animals of the reserve. One of the most popular stations within the Center is a stereo microscope attached to a television screen that visitors can use to take a close-up look at some of the creek’s tiniest inhabitants—aquatic macroinvertebrates. The microscope allows visitors to see a part of the local ecosystem that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see. The microscope is also used on field trips, so thousands of students and adults each year will now have an enhanced experience at the Center.

The Interpretive Center is open during volunteer availability. Please visit elfinforest.olivenhain.com for hours of operation. You can also help support our education programs by donating to the Eichen Education Fund. Visit escondidocreek.org/eichenedfund for more information.


Nathan Serrato | Marketing and Volunteer Manager
(760) 703-3393

Explore the Wonders of the Watershed with The Escondido Creek Conservancy’s new hike series!

Explore the Wonders of the Watershed with The Escondido Creek Conservancy’s new hike series!

The Escondido Creek Conservancy is providing special access to its wildlife preserves for a new educational hike series called Wonders of the Watershed. Participants will wander under scenic oak canopies, walk along soothing creek water, and view breathtaking summits throughout the Escondido Creek watershed with experts on local ecology, birds of prey, and forest bathing.

The Conservancy manages over 3,100 acres of land in the Escondido Creek watershed. Many of its preserves are protected wildlife corridors and only accessible with a guide. Those joining this hike series are helping support the Conservancy’s mission to preserve, protect, and restore the Escondido Creek watershed. “We wanted to provide a way for people to see the work we do firsthand and learn why protecting natural lands is so crucial for people and wildlife,” says Hannah Walchak, the Conservancy’s Conservation Land Manager.

The Conservancy is partnering with the California Chaparral Institute, Sky Hunters, and Deer Park Monastery to provide an engaging and collaborative outdoor experience for North County residents. Participants will visit locations that are normally only traveled by Conservancy land managers and the paws and hooves of our local wildlife.

The hikes will take place from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. on 9/14, 10/19, 11/16, and 12/14. Participants will hear from local experts about our unique habitats and the wildlife that inhabit them, get an up close and personal experience with birds of prey, and learn about the benefits of nature on the human mind and body.

To learn more, or purchase tickets for this hike series, you can log onto www.escondidocreek.org/news/wow. Tickets for sustaining donors start at $100 for all four hikes, and early-bird tickets for the general public start at $175.


Nathan Serrato | Marketing and Volunteer Manager
(760) 703-3393

Volunteer Opportunities with The Escondido Creek Conservancy

Escondido Creek Clean-up Campaign
Escondido Creek Clean-up Campaign
The Escondido Creek Conservancy is co-sponsoring a one-day creek clean-up event.  This is a wonderful way to make a positive impact to the local community, the watershed, and our ocean.  The date of the event is Saturday, September 19th, from 9:00AM until noon.  The site is located at 1845 Harmony Grove Road, which is an urban portion of the Escondido Creek.  Interested volunteers can get more information and register by going to the following link:
Elfin Forest Trail Patrol Volunteers Needed

For potential volunteers looking for a more on-going opportunity, we are seeking new recruits for out Elfin Forest Trail Patrol program.  In a nutshell, our Trail Patrol volunteers help maintain the trail system at the Reserve, provide information to trail users, and serve as ambassadors of our natural lands.

Volunteers are permitted to patrol on their bikes!  Scheduling is extremely flexible.  Volunteers make their own shifts any time and day of the week that works for them (within regular park hours, of course).  All we just ask that Trail Patrol volunteers perform, at minimum, three hours of patrolling per month.

To become a Trail Patrol volunteer you have to:

  • be at least 18 years old
  • allow us to run a background check
  • complete the training course that we provide
  • contribute a one-time $40 Trail Patrol application fee (of which $20 is a refundable deposit)
  • obtain First Aid, AED, and CPR certification
  • patrol a total of 3-hours per month (exceptions permitted)
The next Trail Patrol training course kicks off in this month.  It consists of two 3-hour sessions held on back-to-back Saturdays (9:00-noon September 26th and October 3rd).  There are only twelve more spots available and we only hold these trainings once every four months, so the sooner you sign up, the better.

Training course topics will include a thorough explanation of the program and volunteer duties, park rules & regulations, safety & security, trail maintenance techniques, nature interpretation techniques, identifying native and invasive plants, an introduction to local wildlife, and how to use the specialized communication radio.

For the uniforms, there’s a standardized hat and a short-sleeve and long-sleeve shirt that we provide.  When volunteers can no longer continue participating in the program we refund $20 of the $40 application fee upon the return of the uniform.  Volunteers are responsible for providing their own hiking shoes and green-colored pants/shorts of choice.

All Trail Patrol volunteers must also have up-to-date adult First Aid, AED, and CPR certification (which is separate from the regular Trail Patrol training course).  Since we don’t provide the certification ourselves, volunteers have to shop around the various independent certifiers in the area and sign up for the one that is most convenient for them.

Groupon has a limited time deal right now for this certification, done entirely online, for just $20 (which is an incredibly good deal):

Otherwise, here are some other links for certification classes:
Once interested candidates complete the Trail Patrol training course and get the First Aid/AED/CPR certification they’re all set to hit the trails!
Contact volunteer coordinator Simon Breen for more information or to get signed up: simon@escondidocreek.org

University Heights Update

Sleeping Lady Ridge - sunrise -

University Heights Update From:
Kevin Barnard
The Escondido Creek Conservancy

University Heights, as we all know, is a critical piece of open space that could either be a wonderful asset to our community–502 acres of open, protected space, with hiking and horse trails in a pristine habitat–OR could become the first of many dominos to threaten our community with a proposed development of upwards of 1000 houses on our northern border stretching from San Elijo Hills to Harmony Grove.  Please take a moment to read the appeal from The Escondido Creek Conservancy who is on the verge of making a breakthrough on this property, but need our help to do so.  They are short $24,034 to pay the option fees on this property which buys them time to find the remaining public agency buyers to keep this property out of developer hands.  Please, take a moment to make a contribution to help keep Elfin Forest and Harmony Grove rural.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
― Gary Snyder

In the dramatic countdown to the year end deadline to purchase the 502 acre property on the edge of Elfin Forest known as University Heights, here is the latest update from The Escondido Creek Conservancy (TECC). Read more

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