Thanks to the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, much of the natural resources of the San Dieguito watershed has been preserved and protected for generations to come. Since its founding three decades ago, the nonprofit organization has assisted in acquiring more than 3,500 acres of land.
“I look at myself as a caretaker,” said board president Peter Shapiro. “I’m a mindful caretaker of what a diligent group, very passionate and dedicated folks worked hard to establish 30 years ago. It’s just an amazing thing that they had the fortitude and the gumption to stick with it. I want to maintain and ensure that all their hard work isn’t in vain and continues down the road for many, many, many years.”
Concerned about the environment, residents of Del Mar helped establish the city’s San Dieguito Lagoon Committee in 1974 to prevent the lagoon from being more developed, and to prepare a plan to restore and preserve it.
“In the 1970s, people became quite interested in what was happening to the environment,” said former Del Mar Mayor Jan McMillan, who served as founding board member of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy. “People began to look at what overbuilding was doing to our natural assets. There were a lot of groups being organized to try to preserve open space and natural river corridors.”
Recognizing that the lagoon could not truly be saved without preserving the San Dieguito River Valley, advocates from Del Mar, Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe went a step further and formed the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy in 1986 to protect the natural resources of the 92,000-acre San Dieguito River corridor.
Del Mar resident Nancy Weare served as the first president of the nonprofit organization, which raises funds to acquire land along the River Valley through donations, grants and mitigation.
“I had many people say it couldn’t be done,” Weare said. “Not only was it formed, it flourished and it lasted 30 years. It’s an institution now.”
Over the years, the conservancy has grown from a group of about 10 to more than 1,200 members, assisted in acquiring more than 3,500 acres of land, and accelerated the development of the Coast to Crest Trail.
Completing the 70-mile Coast to Crest Trail from Del Mar to Volcan Mountain north of Julian has long been one of the conservancy’s goals. About 50 miles of the trail are finished.
The conservancy is working on completing key parts of the trail. Work on extending the River Path in Del Mar at the coastal trailhead is currently under construction.
Executive Director Trish Boaz said that the conservancy has obtained the easement for Rancho Santa Fe at Lusardi Creek and provided the funding for the Pamo Valley trail. She said the conservancy is also close to restarting negotiations with the owners of Rancho Paseana in Fairbanks Ranch.
“We’re very proud of that,” said Boaz, who has served as executive director since April 2013. “We’re proud of getting trails on the ground, River Path Del Mar, being an example. It’s providing the public access to the San Dieguito River Park.”
Providing the public access is a top priority like preserving and protecting the land.
In addition to public trails, the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy continually offers ways the community can get involved, from guided hikes to interpretive lectures to volunteer opportunities.
“We don’t want to be the best kept secret in North County,” Boaz said. “We want people aware of the value of the San Dieguito River Park.”
Part of the conservancy’s mission is to establish educational programs.
The conservancy played a key role in opening the Birdwing Open Air Classroom along the San Dieguito Lagoon in May 2014.
The San Dieguito River Park’s 80-seat outdoor amphitheater overlooks the restored wetlands and is used as an open air classroom. The conservancy, which supports the River Park, raised more than $170,000 in donations at the time of the grand opening celebration.
More recently, in mid-February, the conservancy launched its Watershed Explorers Program, in partnership with the San Dieguito River Park, San Diego Archaeological Center and Volcan Mountain Foundation.
The educational and experiential program focuses on different aspects of the watershed, starting at the headwaters of the San Dieguito River on Volcan Mountain, then heading west to Lake Sutherland, the San Diego Archaeological Center, Sikes Adobe Historic Farmstead/Lake Hodges and, finally, the Birdwing Open Air Classroom at the San Dieguito Lagoon. Students visit different areas in the San Dieguito River Park, see wildlife, learn about diverse habitat types from forests to wetlands, and learn about the importance of the cultural and natural resources of the watershed.
“If we who have worked to be stewards and created this watershed park don’t provide the next generation and young people the experience of the watershed and let them bond with nature, we wont have any future stewards to take care of it,” said Diane Coombs, former executive director of the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority.
Coombs, who was born on a farm in Utah and grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, founded the program.
“It’s just been one of those terribly satisfying experiences for me — just watching the kids in action,” she said about the recent launch of the program. “It was unbelievable.”
In celebration of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy’s 30th anniversary, the nonprofit has planned a special event, Wax & Wine, in partnership with Knorr Beeswax Candles. The March 20 event will include gourmet food, wine and music by guitarist Bill Fleming.
“Knorr Candles has been located next to the river valley for four generations and has seen its development over the years,” said Del Mar-based Knorr Candles owner Nancy Knorr. “We are excited to be partnering with the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy so that we can continue preserving our precious open spaces for years to come.”
The event will take place from 1-5 p.m. Tickets are $50 and must be purchased in advance at https://sdrvc.ejoinme.org/sdrvcwaxandwine. Tickets are not available at the door.
Knorr Beeswax Candles is located at 14906 Via de la Valle in Del Mar.
For more about the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, visit sandieguitorivervalleyconservancy.org.