Conservancy reveals plans for Harbaugh Seaside Trails

The San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy has announced plans to add trails, a viewing deck, a commemorative monument to donors and educational signs to the Harbaugh Seaside Trails in Solana Beach.

The area will also connect with the Coastal Rail Trail in the city, officials said.

The 3-acre Harbaugh Seaside Trails site, east of Coast Highway 101 and bordering the San Elijo Lagoon, has garnered strong community support over the last few decades.

“We raised money in amounts from a handful of coins that a kid brought in to $1.15 million that the George and Betty Harbaugh Foundation donated,” said Doug Gibson, the conservatory’s executive director and lead scientist. “It was really amazing to see the community really come out.”

He added residents pushed for Solana Beach’s incorporation in 1986 partly to help preserve the open space, which is considered the “gateway” or north entrance to the city.

Two years ago, the area, which was previously known as Gateway Park and purchased by the conservancy in Dec. 2011 for $3.75 million, was renamed in 2015 to reflect the Harbaugh Foundation’s donation.

Gibson said the first step to the renovation of the land — which has been sought after by several developers since the 1950s — is rezoning the property to open space through the city council.

He then expects construction to begin in mid-2017 and take between 12 to 14 months to complete.

Gibson said he expects hundreds of community volunteers to help with the project since they have been vocal about preserving the open land.

But, he said, while the renovations may someday be complete, there will always have to be ongoing maintenance at the property to clear invasive plants that make it difficult for other vegetation to thrive.

“I’ve worked in a lot of the systems in San Diego, and San Elijo Lagoon is positioned between three very active communities — Cardiff, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe — that really care about their open space, whether it’s for property values, nature or recreation,” Gibson said. “To us, all those matter, so balancing all those uses, making sure we’re not overusing the site and protecting the species while getting people out there, I think that’s where we win.”

In addition to celebrating Harbaugh Seaside Trails, the conservancy is also commemorating its 30th anniversary in 2017.

Gibson said he prefers to focus on the future rather than past accomplishments, like the acquisition of lands, changing the biology of the lagoon, a better filtration process and strong educational programs.

“With the restoration occurring and a new urban agricultural program we’re starting, and how that’s going to tie the organization into the community and how we can expand on the existing trail system, we’re going to be looking at where we’re going as opposed to what we’ve done,” he said.

He said anniversary events will include special weekend walks, hikes, birding and the popular Trails and Ales event.

A gala is also planned for Oct. 7 at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club.

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