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A Tribute to James Hubbell

by Jeff Swenerton, former Board Member, The Escondido Creek Conservancy

Each year over 3,000 elementary school students and thousands of Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve visitors are inspired and connected to nature by the amazing Elfin Forest Interpretive Center. Its creation and design was the vision of San Diego’s renowned artist James Hubbell and his son, architect Drew Hubbell and the result of a unique partnership that brought together The Escondido Creek Conservancy (Conservancy), and a water district, the Olivenhain Municipal Water District (OMWD). It is recognized as one of the finest interpretive centers in the county, if not the country. 

With the recent passing of James Hubbell, the Conservancy is so honored to have had the opportunity to spend time with James. His lasting legacy is so much a part of us. He once said,“Seeing nature through the eyes of an artist evokes an emotional response.” The Interpretive Center is a celebration of that connection, created with the works of five gifted artists under James’ direction. As you enter, you are drawn inside by a remarkable handmade tile representation of the Escondido Creek watershed. The ceiling is covered with a colorful mural representing the four seasons of our native chaparral environment.

James thought it was important that we always focus on children. He wanted the entry patio of the interpretive center to be a gathering place for groups. Over the years an endless number of young visitors have been warmly welcomed there by the Conservancy’s education staff and OMWD rangers. The center is filled wall-to-wall with inquiry-based activities for kids of all ages to explore. The Science Lab is always active with children and adults gathered, exploring the micro world through its powerful video microscope. Exhibits frequently include art and photography.

Over the years, James continued being a presence at the Interpretive Center, attending events. The Conservancy commemorated his 80th birthday by asking him to give us a quote. This quote is in our entry: “Here is a place, a creek, a valley that offers us quiet and the sense that we belong”.  James also added one of his works on the path leading to the center, a large beautiful 150-pound cast bronze representation of the Kumeyaay creation story. The Conservancy and the Interpretive Center will always honor the connection of nature and art that he showed us. We will always focus on providing inspiring experiences for the children of North County.

The Interpretive Center is located at 8833 Harmony Grove Road. Please visit and appreciate James’ enduring legacy. Thank you for being a part of our journey.

Jeff Swenerton is a retired elementary school principal and former Board Member of The Escondido Creek Conservancy.