Introducing 693-acre, Mountain Meadow Preserve
It’s official! 693 acres are now preserved for plants and wildlife! While the majority of our land conservation efforts since our inception in 1991 focused on protecting the center of the Escondido Creek watershed via the Elfin Forest/Harmony Grove target area, in 2015 we decided to expand our reach. While still continuing to buffer those already-preserved lands in the central watershed, we also began more focused acquisition efforts north, in the upper watershed. Thus, we began the Save 1,000 Acres Campaign, with the goal to preserve at least 1,000 acres in the upper Escondido Creek watershed, to help connect and expand protected areas previously preserved in that region. The reason: we know from conservation research that native plants and animals, and especially large animals, are more likely to survive in large landscapes where they can live their natural lives without human intrusions.
With this in mind, we identified two large and important properties that, when preserved, would help us create a nine+ mile protected landscape in the upper Escondido Creek watershed, extending from Highway 15 to Bear Valley and beyond, where wild animals could live out their natural lives in peace, and where we can still preserve a part of North San Diego County that has been lost elsewhere. We reached agreements with both sellers and began an effort to raise over $11 million to purchase the properties.
We are thrilled to report that we secured $6.8 million to protect the 693-acre Mountain Gate property, taking ownership on September 28, 2018! As part of the complex transaction, we then sold most of the Mountain Gate property (to be called Mountain Meadow Preserve) to San Diego County Parks, and are managing the entire property under an easement protecting native plants and animals. The Mountain Meadow Preserve will never be developed and is now protected in perpetuity for the benefit of the native plants and animals of California.
While the Mountain Meadow property is now preserved, it requires restoration to reach its fully wild potential. Part of the site was previously farmed in avocados and citrus, and 225 acres of old groves require our attention, to remove dead trees and help transition the land from non-native weeds to a native plant palette that will provide a healthy and safe place for threatened, endangered, and common animals in perpetuity.
On the land the Conservancy has retained, we now are the owners of the old agricultural structures and a small duplex. Although the buildings are dilapidated in their current condition, over the next few years we plan to re-imagine them to support conservation projects. We aspire to transform the now-vandalized packing shed into a field station for conservation science where youth from Escondido can participate in habitat restoration at the Mountain Meadow Preserve, immersing themselves in hands-on research opportunities such as learning how to grow native plants, planting them, and measuring their growth. These opportunities will provide middle and high school students with real-world field experience that they can carry into college and careers in conservation science. But the endeavor to restore the buildings from a ramshackle former agricultural building into an inspirational learning lab is a major undertaking, and we will be calling upon your help to turn this dream into a reality.