REGION — Thirty years ago, the San Elijo Lagoon — the area off of Coast Highway 101 and Interstate 5 in Cardiff that serves as a critical bridge between the Escondido Creek and the Pacific Ocean — was suffering.
Years of development and neglect had relegated the lagoon to nothing more than a dump and a pond where sewage would settle. A duck hunting club used it as well.
In 1987, however, a group was formed to steward the restoration and ongoing protection of the lagoon. The group’s roots date back to the late 1970s when the community banded together to preserve the lagoon from development and the San Elijo Conservancy was born.
But talk to Sally Foster, the co-chair of the Conservancy’s “Birds of a Feather” Gala, and others associated with the restoration group, and they will tell you the conservancy is needed now more than even it was in its infant stages.
“It’s more important today,” she said, without hesitation.
Located on the border of Encinitas and Solana Beach, the 979-acre lagoon is home to more than 700 species of plants and animals, many rare and endangered. The lagoon is also popular with runners, bird watchers and wildlife photographers.
Foster said the conservancy still serves three critical purposes: ongoing and major restoration efforts, land acquisition to combat the effects of sea level rise on the lagoon and education efforts in the community and schools.
Currently, the conservancy is stewarding a major restoration that is funded with federal, state and local funds as part of the North Coastal Corridor Program, a suite of projects that includes the widening of Interstate 5 and the double tracking of the coastal rail corridor.
The conservancy also recently acquired the Harbaugh Seaside Trail, a piece of land at the corner of Solana Beach at the edge of the lagoon.
And the district continues to bring 2,000 elementary school students in the Escondido area to the lagoon as part of its education program that dovetails into the school curriculum.
“All of these things are expensive things to do,” Foster said.
To that end, the Conservancy announced it raised more than $300,000 at the recent gala, which will go toward its education programs.
With the continued support of the community, Foster said, the lagoon conservancy will be around for another 30 years and beyond to protect the lagoon for “tree huggers” like her.
“It’s been a special place,” said Foster, who first got involved with the lagoon with her school-aged children. “The lagoon is really important to the health of surrounding areas.”