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Escondido Creek Conservancy secures 241 acres

Property considered a ‘very important habitat area’

ESCONDIDO — Members of the Escondido Creek Conservancy are celebrating a big win, after securing a 241-acre property in Elfin Forest.

The property, called Cielo del Norte, cost $13.5 million.

“That area in Elfin Forest is considered a very important habitat area,” said Conservancy Executive Director Ann Van Leer.

Van Leer said the property will help maintain crucial environment for the Gnatcatcher bird, which is a federally listed threatened species.

SANDAG, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and SDG&E all contributed grants to help secure the property.

“It’s the last piece of a long open space area,” said SANDAG Senior Regional Planner Keith Greer.

The purchase was made in early May.

SANDAG was able to contribute $4.8 million from TransNet, a half-cent voter approved sales tax that pays for many regional transportation and habitat preservation projects.

Van Leer said the main goal for the property is preservation but there will be trails for public accessibility.

It’s still too soon to know how many miles of trails will be installed.

Had the conservancy not been working towards preserving the land, about 70 homes could have been built on the site.

Van Leer said that because the seller was willing to sell to the conservancy, things were a little easier.

“Fortunately, we had a willing seller who was willing to sell it to the conservancy and we were able to successfully secure grant funds for it so it all came together. It was a beautiful thing,” said Van Leer.

Members from the conservancy have been working 24 years to preserve the habitat along the Escondido Creek Watershed area.

They manage 1,300 acres in the watershed.

One challenge the conservancy faces is managing all of the properties in perpetuity.

“Part of our responsibility is to put together a good management plan, and implement the plan,” Van Leer said.

The property will be maintained through interest from endowments at The San Diego Foundation.

Van Leer said the project took lots of hard work and collaboration from regional entities.

“It was a wonderful partnership. It was one of those times where everybody is marching together,” Van Leer said.