San Diego County, California

Places we Protect

The Escondido Creek Conservation Area
Lands owned or managed by TECC are managed comprehensively in what we call the Escondido Creek Conservation Area (Conservation Area). In early 2015, the Conservation Area consisted of approximately 1,300 acres, including lands located throughout the Escondido Creek watershed but primarily lands located in Elfin Forest.  Conservation Area lands are protected by combination of fee ownership, conservation easements, and management agreements.  In keeping with TECC’s founding and ongoing purpose, the primary management goal for all Conservation Area land is preservation of wildlife habitat.

TECC strives to provide the highest level of environmental stewardship, consistent across the Conservation Area. This includes frequent site visits and annual wildlife surveys to track the health of the ecosystems and to alert TECC if any changes in stewardship are warranted.

Public access is not allowed at some Conservation Area sites due to the sensitivity of the habitat or easement restrictions.   At other sites respectful public access for the enjoyment of nature is both allowed and encouraged.

Cielo Estates, June 2015: In June 2015, through a partnership that teamed TECC with the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) and The Conservation Fund (TCF), TECC was able to take ownership of the 256-acre Cielo Estates property. The property, previously entitled for 77 homes, will be preserved in perpetuity by TECC and managed as part of the Los Cielos Preserve. This preserve is bordered by the Rancho Cielo development to the south, the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve to the east, Harmony Grove Rd. to the north, and preserved parcels on the southern slopes of Paint Mountain. Preservation of the Cielo Estates property helps to build the larger system of protected natural lands under the region’s Multiple Species Conservation Program. In its grant award, the WCB said of the Cielo Estates property, it will “protect key regional wildlife linkages,..increase regional wildlife habitat corridors, and preserve core areas of habitat that support threatened and endangered species…” As part of the Los Cielos Preserve, Cielo Estates will be joined with earlier acquisitions, Cielo A, Cielo B, and Onyx Ridge, totaling 800 acres.

Cielo Del Norte, Phase B, 2015: Combining grants and other funding totaling $13 million from California wildlife Conservation Board, SANDAG, and SDG&E, TECC was able to purchase the second phase of the Cielo Del Norte property in May of 2015. Like Phase A, this 242-acre property has been approved for development by the County Board of Supervisors. It is the heart of the gnatcatcher preserve and TECC will restore and manage it to enhance habitat for this threatened songbird.

University Heights, Phase 1, 2014: In 2012, TECC was able to secure a purchase agreement from the bank owner to acquire the 502-acre University Heights property in Harmony Grove, located east of the City of San Marcos. Because TECC was unable to secure the funding needed to preserve the entire property at that time, TECC assigned its purchase agreement to a private party who agreed to acquire and hold the property until conservation funds could be raised. TECC was given an option agreement by the private party so that it could continue to seek funding to secure permanent conservation protection. At the end of 2014, the County of San Diego agreed to purchase the first phase (244-acres) of University Heights and preserve it as part of the San Diego County Park and Recreation Department’s Escondido Creek Preserve. TECC continues to hold an option on the remainder of the property and is seeking funding to secure permanent protection in perpetuity for the remainder of the site. A developer had previously proposed as many as 1,100 homes on the property.

MJM Ranch, 2013: TECC owns a 92-acre conservation easement on this property north of the City of Escondido and adjacent to Daley Ranch. The property serves as off-site mitigation for the Harmony Grove Village development and is comprised mainly of coastal sage scrub and mixed chaparral. With the easement in place and held by TECC, the property is protected in perpetuity.

Cielo Del Norte, Phase A, 2012: TECC and The Conservation Fund bought 240 acres of the Cielo Del Norte property in Elfin Forest for $11.5 million with grants from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. TECC now owns fee title to the property and manages it to support the rare and endangered wildlife found there. The County Board of Supervisors had previously approved the construction of 80 homes on the property.

Cielo Azul, 2010: After decades of work by TECC, the 100-acre Cielo Azul property was permanently preserved. If developed as previously planned, homes could have been built on the popular “Way Up Trail” in the middle of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve! To achieve this milestone purchase TECC worked in partnership with The Conservation Fund (TCF), San Diego County Parks and Recreation, and the Olivenhain Municipal Water District (OMWD). In a complicated transaction, TECC contributed 45 contiguous acres of land worth $1.2 million (the former Coler property), TCF served as broker, OMWD agreed to become long-term manger, and the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation became the fee title owner. The Cielo Azul property is now managed as part of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve.

Bottle Peak, 2010: The California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) granted TECC $3.5 million to purchase 418 acres on Bottle Peak, the iconic landmark east of the city of Escondido at the headwaters of Escondido Creek. The County of San Diego subsequently purchased an additional 380 acres on the mountain, creating a creating an 800-acre nature preserve in the upper watershed adjacent to the preserved lands of Lake Wohlford.

Family Stations, 2010: TECC facilitated the preservation of 119 acres along Harmony Grove Road by purchasing the Family Stations property and transferring it to the County of San Diego. The Family Stations property creates an important habitat link from University Heights in the North to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve.

Onyx Ridge, 2007: TECC accepted title and management responsibility for a 59-acre parcel located at the confluence of Escondido and Meisha Creeks, plus 12 acres of conservation easement. As many as 11 sensitive plant species are known to occur on the Onyx Ridge property. This land was required to be set aside as mitigation by the developer of the nine lot Onyx Ridge development project. As of March 2015 the lots have yet to be built out, but the open space is protected.

San Elijo Ridge, 2007: TECC accepted management responsibility for this 29-acre parcel located on Questhaven Road. The property includes coastal sage scrub habitat potentially occupied by the federally threatened coastal California gnatcatcher. This land was required to be set aside as mitigation by the developer of the Venzano development project.

Greenlands Preserve, 2007: TECC acquired a conservation easement over the 73-acre Greenlands property located along Escondido Creek on the eastern slope of Paint Mountain. The preserve includes four significant habitat types: coastal sage scrub, southern mixed chaparral, coast live oak riparian forest, and coast live oak woodland. This land was set aside as mitigation for impacts from the Venzano development and various OMWD pipeline projects.

LeRiche Property, 2004: TECC acquired the 10-acre LeRiche parcel along Harmony Grove Road, and then in 2013 donated the property to the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation as a partial match for the acquisition of an additional 80 acres consisting of several other parcels along Harmony Grove Road. All parcels are now part of the County of San Diego’s Escondido Creek Preserve, which are those lands the county has set aside for preservation in perpetuity as part of the multiple species conservation program.

Del Dios Highlands, 2002: TECC played a key role in the purchase and preservation of the 345-acre Derbas property, which is now part of the County’s Del Dios Highlands Preserve. In order to create the preserve, TECC and the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation purchased 253 and 95 acres, respectively. In two subsequent transactions, all 345 acres were combined under County Parks’ ownership. The preserve is an important wildlife linkage from the San Dieguito watershed to the Escondido Creek watershed.

Quarry Property, 2002: TECC purchased an 11-acre parcel at the corner of Harmony Grove Road and Country Club Drive which contains a portion of Escondido Creek. Through two transactions in 2010 and 2011, an additional adjacent 12 acres were acquired resulting in a 23-acre preserve along a key connection between Harmony Grove and the City of Escondido.   Additionally, TECC has allowed mitigation on the property for three off-site riparian impacts by opening the Quarry for restoration projects. Invasive exotic plants were removed along Escondido Creek and replaced with native trees and shrubs, greatly increasing the wildlife habitat value of the site.

Coler Property, 2001: TECC purchased 76 acres adjacent to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve with funds raised from the community and a San Diego Foundation matching grant. Thirty-one acres were eventually sold to the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation, and the remaining 45 acres were donated to the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation in 2010 as a match for its purchase of the 100-acre Cielo Azul property. In total, 176 acres were preserved. TECC retains management responsibility for seven acres of riparian habitat along Escondido Creek.

Enhancement of the Small Parcel Corridor, 2000: TECC worked with the San Diego County, Department of Parks and Recreation to secure a $2,000,000 federal grant for land acquisition within the Escondido Creek watershed. An additional 70 acres were added to what is called the Small Parcel Corridor southwest of Elfin Forest. This additional acreage enhanced the wildlife connection between large blocks of preserved land along Escondido Creek in Elfin Forest, Olivenhain and Rancho Santa Fe along with potentially isolated open spaces in the cities of Encinitas and Carlsbad (see Olivenhain Reservoir Project below). Remaining grant funds were used to acquire several parcels totaling 50 acres along Harmony Grove Road. All these lands are owned and managed by the County of San Diego, Department of Parks and Recreation as part of its Escondido Creek Preserve.

Bumann, 1998: TECC accepted title and management responsibility for this 21-acre mitigation parcel in Rancho Santa Fe which includes a portion of Escondido Creek. This land was required to be set aside as mitigation by the developer of the 10 lot Villas of Santa Fe project In 2002, TECC allowed the site to be used by the Escondido Union School District for riparian restoration as mitigation for the development of two schools. The district removed invasive non-native plants and restored the native habitat along Escondido Creek.

Olivenhain Reservoir Project, 1994: As mitigation for the impacts of dam construction, TECC successfully lobbied the Olivenhain Municipal Water District to place a conservation easement over 117 acres of wetland habitat along Escondido Creek. As mitigation for the construction of pipelines associated with the dam, TECC proposed and championed creation of the “Small Parcel Corridor” a string of parcels at risk of development but connecting valuable habitat along Escondido Creek to preserved lands in Carlsbad. Federal and State wildlife agencies and OMWD agreed with the concept, and eventually 104 acres were preserved. Although OMWD could have met its mitigation requirements with the purchase of one larger parcel, it agreed to the added expense of several smaller acquisitions. This extra effort insured that open spaces in Carlsbad, in danger of becoming “islands of extinction,” would remain connected to the larger preserved lands along Escondido Creek, greatly increasing their value as wildlife habitat.

Santa Fe Creek Development, 1992: Strong advocacy by TECC during the planning process for this 200-acre project resulted in 145 acres of dedicated open space – up from 40 acres in the original proposal.