Nature center to open

New sanctuary is educational and green

The recently completed San Elijo Nature Center will celebrate its grand opening Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The public is invited to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony and then enjoy guided nature walks, live animal presentations, children’s activities and tour the new educational facility.

The $5.6 million, LEED-certified nature center is already receiving rave reviews from San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy members and staff.

“The way it is designed is unique, inspiring,” said Tara Fuad, the conservancy’s education coordinator. “You stand inside the building and you feel like you are in the middle of the lagoon.”

The light and airy ground floor looks out onto the lagoon through two gently curving walls of windows. Interactive exhibits educate visitors about the lagoon’s archeology, plants and animals, as well as the greater Escondido Creek Watershed that feeds the San Elijo Lagoon.

While the exhibits cater to youngsters with lots of buttons to push, they are just as interesting for adults.

“Experts in their fields will also learn something here,” said Ralph Achenbach, the conservancy’s outreach coordinator. “And everyone will be hooked by the blinking lights.”

A dazzling display with blue and green LED lights shows how fresh and salt water mix in the lagoon during different types of storms and tides.

“I like exhibits that help me contextualize my experience outside,” Achenbach said. “I think these exhibits, by being colorful and interactive, achieve that.”

The 5,525-square-foot building also includes a ranger office, wet lab and classroom. The Conservancy runs the educational programs at the lagoon and Executive Director Doug Gibson is thrilled about ability to expand their offerings with the new facilities.

“It’s truly an amazing resource for the community, for us, but the community as a whole,” Gibson said. “You know there is a place where environmental education takes a stance, where people are going to come and learn and learn reasons to enjoy the habitat they live within.”

A highlight of the natural-toned, flowing building is the large observation deck on the second story. The views overlooking the lagoon and to the ocean are breathtaking, sure to entice birders, readers, or anyone seeking sanctuary.

“I’ve decided I’m going to move in,” Heather Kinch, a conservancy member, said. “You can come out here to sit, read, meditate, look out over the lagoon.”

The facility is designed to the Gold standard for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Clear wall panels and signage throughout the building explain green elements, such as recycled blue jean insulation, solar panels, reclaimed water and a green roof.

“It’s wonderful to see green can be attractive and useful at the same time,” said Susan Morse, board member of the San Diego Horticulture Society.

Building a new nature center has been almost a two-decade-long campaign on the part of the conservancy and Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. Price donated $300,000 from her Community Projects Fund to the nature center and the remainder came from the state and the County of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department.

Parking on Saturday will be available at Mira Costa College with free shuttle service to and from the nature center. For more information, go to