When Erica Peterson responded to a flier calling for San Elijo Lagoon docents on a bulletin board at MiraCosta College nearly five years ago, she had no idea the impact on her life the experience would have.
The Rancho Santa Fe resident has been leading student tours about once a week through the 915-acre reserve, which borders Solana Beach to the north and stretches from Escondido to Rancho Santa Fe. The lagoon is a biodiversity hot spot — one of few remaining wetlands in Southern California. Schools from Carmel Valley/Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach, Vista and Escondido have all participated in the educational field trips there, and it’s a growing area that is in need of volunteer docents.
“The kids get so excited to see the shore birds jumping through the lagoon and fish jumping out of the water,” she said. “I can take them for an hour walk around the lagoon, but when they see the opening to the ocean and we are lucky enough to see the egrets at low tide, they’ll stay there for half an hour just watching.”
The San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy will hold its docent open house on Sept. 8 from 3 to 5 p.m. at the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center, located at 2710 Manchester Ave. in Cardiff. Representatives from the conservancy will discuss the 2013 fall docent training, which will consist of an eight-week training covering the ecology and history of the reserve. The training will also offer practical tips on interpretive techniques and how to lead groups of students and adults.
“These volunteers are ambassadors of environmental stewardship,” said conservancy director Doug Gibson. “Our docents value their experiences in connecting children and adults with the beauty and wonder in one of San Diego’s largest coastal wetlands.”
Docents can dedicate however much time they want, whether it be one tour a week or one tour a month. They can lead either kids or adults. If tours are not of interest, volunteers can also sign up to man the desk at the nature center.
The training process is extensive and usually consists of shadowing an experienced docent for at least six tours.
“It is a time commitment in that you have to educate yourself through this program,” said Peterson. “The teachers expect a high level of expertise from the docents.”
Peterson added that there’s a sense of camaraderie built within the group of about 75 existing docents, and they even plan social events occasionally.
“Everybody who does it is so nice and so friendly and comes from a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “That’s what’s so great.”