ESCONDIDO – Local conservationists teamed up with area astronomers for a Monday night of stargazing, music and nature in an effort to promote an education program teaching children to appreciate and take care of their surrounding environment for future generations.
The Escondido Creek Conservancy welcomed guests on Feb. 28 to Sardina Preserve — a 282-acre piece of land previously home to Mr. Paintball before the conservancy acquired the property in 2019 — for an evening of stargazing with the San Diego Astronomy Association.
For both organizations, it was one of the first events in the area since before the COVID-19 pandemic limited social gatherings for the last two years.
Because of the preserve’s location in the hills near Lake Wohlford just outside of Escondido, the sky was clear and dark enough for visitors to see the bright Orion Nebula, Owl Cluster, Cigar Galaxy and several other constellations and extraterrestrial formations in the night sky through at least five different telescopes brought by members of the astronomy association.
The evening of stargazing was accompanied by live music from “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and other popular songs played by violinist Bethany Grace, who also lives in the watershed.
Education was the main driver behind Monday night’s stargazing quest as the event served as a fundraiser for the Escondido Creek Conservancy’s “Seed the Future” campaign, which aims to raise at least $2 million in a four-year period to fund its educational program for students throughout Escondido and the region.
Since it was founded in 1991, the Escondido Creek Conservancy has been working to acquire thousands of acres of land around the Escondido Creek watershed, which stretches 26 miles from Lake Wohlford all the way through Escondido, past Elfin Forest and ending at the San Elijo Lagoon.
Sardina Preserve was part of its most recent “Save 1,000 Acres” campaign in an effort to preserve land for habitat and wildlife.
The conservancy manages more than 3,000 acres of preserved land in and around the watershed and has helped preserve more than 7,000 acres of land through partnerships with other regional organizations.
Beyond acquiring land to protect it, the conservancy also focuses its efforts on educating young students about the importance of protecting the local environment.
“If the next generation doesn’t understand why we’re doing this, it’s kind of a losing battle,” said Education Director Simon Breen.
The conservancy works with students in Escondido’s elementary schools on projects like building bee hotels, data collecting and taking them on field trips to places like Elfin Forest and hopefully soon their very own Sardina Preserve.
While the land is beautiful and great for educational purposes, it lacks necessary amenities like bathrooms and running water, which the conservancy hopes to acquire through its Seed the Future fundraiser.
Last year, the conservancy raised just under $100,000. This year, they hope to raise about $222,000.
“We’re hoping that this site can be a place where we can bring kids for real-world, conservation science,” Breen said.
For many of the children, a conservancy field trip is their first time stepping into nature. Some are nervous at first while others are thrilled.
“It’s like a type of playground of which they never conceived,” Breen said.
Besides working with children, the conservancy also aims to educate older generations about the environment through public events like stargazing. With pandemic restrictions lifting, the conservancy is now easing back into hosting more events like this in the near future.
“The main thing we’re trying to do is connect people with nature and get them to appreciate it,” Breen said. “You don’t want to advocate for something you don’t know exists.”
Protecting the environment and preserving local habitat is also great for stargazers who need a clear night sky to see deep into the universe. The conservancy asked the San Diego Astronomy Association, a local nonprofit that also provides educational programming in schools and the community, to provide the necessary telescopes and knowledge for Monday’s event.
“We love the idea that you’re saving the environment, saving the sky and keeping things natural for us,” said Dave Decker, the astronomy association’s outreach coordinator.
Vice President Kin Searcy said the association is just now starting to get back into local schools following the pandemic. The group had six different events planned in one week alone, starting with the conservancy event.
“We’ve got over 800 members and we get enough volunteers who like to do outreach because it’s fun,” Searcy said.
To donate to the Escondido Creek Conservancy’s Seed the Future fund and to learn about its other fundraising campaigns, visit escondidocreek.org.