SOLANA BEACH — The community of Solana Beach has been working since the 1980s to preserve the 3.4-acre real estate located on Highway 101 and on Feb. 22 the Harbaugh Seaside Trails were officially open to the public.
In 1986 Solana Beach incorporated as a city, partly in effort to take control away from San Diego County, which had attempted to approve the development of a hotel on the now preserved land.
The locals came together and overthrew many development proposals, which included a 171-room hotel, condominiums, a restaurant and a 98-room hotel.
Gerri Retman-Opper, a Solana Beach resident since 1984, started the movement to save the land adjacent to the San Elijo Lagoon and give the public access.
“It was important to me,” Retman-Opper said. “It had an amazing view and seemed like a place that should be open to the community, to people forever. The community really did come together and work very hard to save the property for future generations to enjoy.”
The San Elijo Lagoon Conservatory, now the Nature Collective, and residents sought to raise the money needed to buy and preserve the property after the bank foreclosed on the land in 2011.
Nature Collective Executive Director and Principal Scientist Doug Gibson said a lot of people came together to help with the acquiring of the Harbaugh Seaside property.
“We happened to be the key at the right time,” Gibson said. “It is a gift that we can give the community with the help from great community members and donors.”
The $3.75 million raised to buy the land was a community effort through donations from over 1,000 local individuals and two grants from TransNet, a voter-approved sales tax that funded the underpass below the railroad tracks in addition to assisting with the acquisition of the land.
The largest donation was from the George and Betty Harbaugh Charitable Foundation for $1.15 million, resulting in the naming of the Harbaugh Seaside Trails.
Foundation Director Joe Balla said that he and the foundation are proud to have been a part of protecting the coast’s local habitat.
“The Harbaugh Foundation and my family are honored and privileged to have played a role in preserving this sensitive and beautiful and coastal site,” Balla said. “I am very proud of the fact that Harbaugh Seaside Trails will be preserved for generations.”
In addition to the grand opening ceremonies, a time capsule was dedicated and buried on the property, which is set to be open in 2050.
Solana Beach Mayor Jewel Edson said that not only will the trails provide clearer access to the State Beach, but they are an amazing gift to the community.
“It took years,” Edson said. “Community activism, volunteerism, generosity, dedication and effort to preserve the parcel of land at our northern gateway.”
The Harbaugh Seaside Trails are open every day from sunrise to sunset. The Nature Collective will be conducting sunset view tours of the trails beginning Feb. 29 educating participants on the surrounding wildlife and the story of how the preserve came to be. Reservations can be made at www.thenaturecollective.org/events.