ESCONDIDO — Protecting the Escondido Creek Watershed is their driving motivation.
And the Escondido Creek Conservancy, which is in its 25th year of existence, is aiming to add 1,000 acres of land for more than $11 million to its portfolio.
Ann Van Leer, executive director of the conservancy, said the nonprofit is currently in contract to purchase 1,000 acres of land within the watershed. She said 700 acres are in Mountain Gate near Hidden Meadows and 300 acres in John Harvey near Lake Wohlford.
Leer said a focus has been to tidy up holes within the watershed to protect instead of being developed. She said the group only engages with willing parties.
“Our mission is to preserve and restore the watershed,” Leer explained. “One of the ways you do that is buy land. Potentially, you restore it if it needs restoration, otherwise you set aside to protect it in perpetuity.”
The watershed and creek, meanwhile, begins at Bear Valley above Lake Wohlford and flows 26 miles through San Marcos, Encinitas, Solana Beach before dumping into the San Elijo Lagoon.
About 200 dead trees rest in Mountain Gate, Leer said, including avocado and citrus. With the purchase, the area would be restored to its natural state.
“The Mountain Gate property does is connect across some other private properties across to Daley Ranch,” Leer said. “It’s really a swath of nine miles with some holes in it. The Mountain Gate land is very biologically rich.”
Although the non-profit is in contract, Leer said public outreach is critical so the conservancy can purchase the land. They have posted road signs, use social media and created a mascot, Milli the owl, and posted a donation link on their website.
Given three years, the ECC has years left to fulfill its end of the deal. So, the group is reaching out to private donors and writing grants to cover the $11 million price tag.
Lee said the small private donations are critical to cover closing costs, appraisals and other aspects of a real estate deal. In addition, those funds have been put into an escrow account to keep the deal alive.
“The response has been fantastic,” Leer said. “We’re looking for a lot of support across the community and appear to be getting it.”
Of course, the meat of the deal comes from grants. Lee said her agency is writing numerous grant applications to secure the necessary funds to close the deal.
Since the grant process takes time, the private donors are critical.
“If we aren’t able to purchase it, it would most likely be developed in the future,” Leer added.
A development from Lee & Associates was original proposed in 1983 and updated in 2006. The developers proposed 147 one-acre lots, 20 acres for private streets, 326.92 acres for biological open space and 101 acres for agricultural lots. However, the deal feel through.
In addition to its advocacy, the ECC also provides educational programs and hiking opportunities.
“We bring kids and grown ups to the outdoors to introduce them to the outdoor life and science,” Leer said.