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Escondido Creek Conservancy now joins a network of over 450 accredited land trusts across the nation. Photo by Richard Murphy
Escondido Creek Conservancy now joins a network of over 450 accredited land trusts across the nation. Photo by Richard Murphy
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Escondido Creek Conservancy receives national accreditation

ESCONDIDO – The Escondido Creek Conservancy recently achieved national recognition by being accredited by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA). The conservancy is one of only two in San Diego County to have this accreditation from the LTA, which oversees land conservation nonprofits.

The conservancy now joins a network of over 450 accredited land trusts across the nation that have demonstrated their commitment to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust.

According to Ann Van Leer, executive director of Escondido Creek Conservancy, the organization went through a rigorous process to achieve this standard.

“It was quite an onerous process, but really it’s exciting because it’s like a gift to the future as we’re setting our organization up for success, not just this year, but five years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, because it is sort of raising the bar on how we do work and how we take care of our land,” Van Leer said.

The LTA Commission began awarding accreditation seals back in 2008 to organizations that meet national standards for excellence, uphold the public’s trust and ensure that conservation efforts are permanent.

The Escondido Creek watershed extends from above Lake Wohlford, through the communities of Escondido, Harmony Grove, Elfin Forest and Rancho Santa Fe and into the San Elijo lagoon in Solana Beach and Encinitas. Photo courtesy of Escondido Creek Conservancy
The Escondido Creek watershed extends from above Lake Wohlford, through the communities of Escondido, Harmony Grove, Elfin Forest and Rancho Santa Fe and into the San Elijo Lagoon in Solana Beach and Encinitas. Photo courtesy of Escondido Creek Conservancy

“We are a stronger organization for having gone through the rigorous accreditation program. Our strength means special places — such as the LeoMar, Keithley, and Sardina preserves — will be protected forever, making the region an even greater place for us and our children,” said Rita Petrekova, the conservancy’s director of finance and operations who led the multi-year accreditation effort.

Over the past 30 years, the nonprofit has helped protect over 7,000 acres of wildlife habitat and currently manages 3,000 acres of wildlands in North San Diego County. The conservancy also annually implements outdoor educational programs for more than 5,000 students.

Looking ahead, Van Leer said, this accreditation means that the organization must keep this standard and level of excellence forever, despite any obstacles the organization may face in its future.

“Climate change is a big question mark that’s out there and then the ongoing search for funding is also a big question mark. We don’t know what the problems of the future are, but also there’s opportunities that we don’t know either,” Van Leer said. “We want to set these preserves up to have the greatest chance of success. And for us, this generation of Land Trust staff and board, that’s the best we can do. And that’s where the Land Trust accreditation process really helps because there’s just so many creative, interesting things that are being done in Land Trusts across the country.”

The conservancy also recognizes the importance of preparing its future leaders, according to Van Leer.

“A big priority of our organization has been outdoor education and really training the next generation of land stewards, but not just to work on our land, but to work all over the world. And that’s a very exciting component of our work is getting young people excited about the outdoors and science and wanting to go on in their professional lives so that they can be a part of these questions about climate change and what the world looks like in 20, 30, 40, 50 years,” Van Leer said.

Recent conservation efforts include the Missing Lynx campaign, which includes the creation of LeoMar Preserve in Olivenhain. The conservancy is also promoting the Park in the Park to create new park space for Escondido residents and improve water quality in the creek and ocean.

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