San Elijo Nature Center should serve as inspiration

The newly opened San Elijo Nature Center sets a high bar for neighboring communities looking for ways to draw residents out into nature.

With its $5.6 million LEED-certified building, the center, which opened last weekend, not only shows how to be environmentally aware, but also has an inspired design that puts visitors in the middle of nature whether you’re inside looking out or on the second-story observation deck or walking the surrounding trails.

Parents can take their children to see the exhibits and learn about the flora and fauna that call the 915-acre San Elijo Lagoon Ecological reserve home. It gives them another chance to overcome what author Richard Louv identified as “nature deficit disorder.”

As Doug Gibson, executive director of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy - which spearheaded the campaign to build the center - put it: “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.”

The work of Conservancy members, the county parks staff and the design team combined with the support of Supervisor Pam Slater-Price should be a model that others follow as they work to preserve the natural beauty of our communities.

Although it took nearly two decades to get the doors opened, the effort shows sometimes good things come to those who wait. In the end, the delay meant more money to build a better project. And they did it right by involving the community and the experts.

As the debate continues over the Del Mar Mesa trails system and work continues on the San Dieguito River park and the Coast-to-Crest Trail, planners and residents should pay a visit to the nature center and talk to those who played a role in its planning.

Once we lose the precious treasures of our trails, wetlands and native plants and animals, despite our best efforts, there’s no going back. Pay attention to this success and put that knowledge to good use.