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Land Acquisition & Preservation


  • Property owners are willing sellers or project participants;
  • Protection is consistent with the Conservancy’s founding documents and its current strategic plan;
  • Property is at least partially within or otherwise supports the Escondido Creek watershed;
  • Land includes or supports habitat with high biological value; and
  • Land is contiguous to or provides links to other preserved or important open space lands.


View the Conservancy’s 5 Year Strategic Plan

  • Donation where the landowner(s) wants their land preserved for posterity and/or wants a charitable tax deduction;
  • Purchase in fee title or conservation easement at fair market value, based on appraisals compliant with state and/or or federal standards and approved by funding agencies;
  • Management of lands set aside as mitigation for development; and
  • Partnerships with government agencies such as the Olivenhain Municipal Water District and the County of San Diego to work jointly in support of best management of conservation lands.

Places We Protect

The Conservancy owns or manages nearly 3,000 acres, which together make up the Escondido Creek Conservation Area. In keeping with the Conservancy’s founding and ongoing purpose, the primary management goal for all Conservation Area land is the preservation of wildlife habitat. At some sites, respectful access for the enjoyment of nature is celebrated. At others, public access is not allowed for the protection of sensitive habitat or due to easement restrictions.

The LeoMar Preserve, a landscape photo at sunset with grassy fields and flowers in the foreground, and sun rays emanating out from behind a hill in the background. Just visible in the distance is the shimmer of the ocean.

LeoMar Preserve was preserved in spring 2021 as an essential connecting piece for the Missing Lynx campaign.



The Escondido Creek Conservancy has continued its commitment to creating wildlife corridors in North San Diego County as part of its on-going Missing Lynx campaign with the purchase of 79 acres of land adjacent to the Gaty reservoir in Olivenhain. The Conservancy’s newest wildlife sanctuary is called LeoMar Preserve to honor Leonard Wittwer and Martha Blane, two Conservancy founders instrumental in the success of the now 30-year old land trust.

Escrow closed on May 7th, 2021. The purchase price was $2,054,000, consisting of  a grant awarded to the Conservancy from the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board (propositions 68 and 84) and a sub-grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s section 6 of the Federal Endangered Species Act. The acquisition and conservation is a result of State, Federal, and local collaboration.

GEORGE SARDINA, MD PRESERVE (Lake Wohlford • July 2019 • $4,200,000)

The George Sardina, MD Preserve, formerly John Henry, was purchased with $4.2 million in grant funds from the State of California to protect the 282-acres near Lake Wohlford! Combined with the 693-acre Mountain Meadow Preserve acquired in 2018, the Save 1000 Acres campaign has now protected 975 acres of important wildlife habitat in the upper Escondido Creek watershed. Restoration of the preserve is already being done to remove the trash left behind on the property as well as the many invasive species.

MOUNTAIN MEADOW PRESERVE (Escondido • September 2018 • $6,800,000)

The purchase and preservation of the 693-acre Mountain Meadow Preserve (formerly Mountain Gate development) was finalized in 2018 as part of the Save 1000 Acres campaign. The Friends of Daley Ranch and Palomar Audubon Society were essential partners in the acquisition. As part of the complex transaction, the Conservancy purchased the 693-acre property then sold most of it to San Diego County Parks. The Conservancy will continue to manage  the entire Preserve under an easement purchased by the Department of the Navy to protect 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.

On the Mountain Meadow land the Conservancy has retained, we now are the owners of old agricultural structures and an irrigation pond. Although the structures are currently unusable, we plan to re-imagine them over the next few years to support conservation projects. We aspire to transform a now-vandalized work building into a field station for conservation science where youth from North San Diego County can participate in habitat restoration and hands-on research. These opportunities will provide middle and high school students with real-world field experience that they can carry into college and careers in conservation and science.


Comprised of 6 properties acquired over an 11 year period, The Keithley Preserve Complex now functions as 905 acres of contiguous habitat. Home to thriving native wildlife and plants, the preserve includes diverse habitat types: riparian oak woodlands, grasslands, coastal sage scrub, and southern mixed chaparral. It is a key piece of the open space puzzle that connects thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in North County. It is precious because it serves as some of the best sage scrub habitat around for the threatened Coastal California Gnatcatcher (it is considered the “Gnatcatcher Core”) and houses several rare plants.

More info about each parcel in the Complex, in the order of acquisition.

1. Rancho Cielo Parcel I (Elfin Forest • April 2018 • $525,000)

In early 2018, the Conservancy was in a unique position to purchase 45 acres, Parcel I of the Rancho Cielo development, at a bargain price of $525,000. The sale included 19 lots that had been approved by San Diego County for development. At that time, individual lots in builder-ready condition (graded) in the development were selling for $500,00 and up. The developer needed a rapid transaction and offered the lots to the Conservancy if we could quickly close. Generous donors stepped forward and we completed the transaction in record time, bringing an additional 45 acres into preservation, to be managed as part of the Los Cielos Preserve.

2. Cielo Estates (Elfin Forest • June 2015 • $4,507,927)

In June 2015, in partnership with the State of California Wildlife Conservation Board and The Conservation Fund, the Conservancy took ownership of the 251-acre Cielo Estates property. The cost was $4.5 million. The property, previously entitled for 77 homes, will now be preserved in perpetuity.

3. Cielo Del Norte, Phase B (Elfin Forest • May 2015 • $13,777,404.53)

Combining grants and other funding totaling $13 million from California Wildlife Conservation Board, SANDAG, and SDG&E, the Conservancy was able to purchase the second phase of the Cielo Del Norte property in May of 2015. Like Phase A, this 242-acre property had been approved for development.

4. Cielo Del Norte, Phase A (Elfin Forest • November 2012 • $11,500,000)

The Conservancy 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. 80 homes had been approved for the site.

5. Onyx Ridge (Escondido • July 2007 • $305,800)

TECC accepted title and management responsibility for a 59-acre mitigation land 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 property.

6. Greenlands Preserve ( Paint Mountain • April 2007 • Mitigation transfer)

The Conservancy acquired a conservation easement over the 73-acre Greenlands property located on the eastern slope of Paint Mountain. This land was set aside as mitigation for impacts from the Venzano development and various pipeline projects.

HARMONY HEIGHTS (December 2016 • $4,000,000)

When University Heights Phase 1 was completed in 2014 (see below) and sold to the County of San Diego for inclusion in the County Park System, that left half the property still vulnerable to private development.s. The Conservancy had a conservation easement and a purchase agreement in place with the private owner for the 258-acre University Heights Phase 2, which meant that we paid the carrying costs (taxes, insurance, etc) for the property until we could secure the funds to complete the acquisition. That occurred at the end of 2016 when the California Wildlife Conservation Board granted the Conservancy $4 million to purchase and preserve Phase 2. After acquisition, the Conservancy had a contest and renamed the property Harmony Heights. Harmony Heights supports the threatened California gnatcatcher and a rich coastal sage scrub and mixed chaparral habitat.

HARMONY GROVE OPEN SPACE EASEMENT (June 2015 • Easement Mitigation)

In June 2015, the Conservancy accepted an easement from the Olivenhain Municipal Water District over 8.63 acres of the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve near the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center. This easement protects off-site habitat mitigation associated with construction of the Olivenhain Dam and Reservoir. The purpose of the easement is to ensure the property is preserved in its natural condition.


In 2012, the Conservancy secured a purchase agreement from the then bank-owner to acquire the 502-acre University Heights property, previously proposed for 1,100 homes. Because the Conservancy was unable to secure the funding needed to preserve the entire property at that time, the Conservancy assigned its purchase agreement to a private party who agreed to acquire and hold the property until conservation funds could be raised. At the end of 2014, the County of San Diego agreed to purchase the first phase (244-acres) of the property and preserve it as part of the multiple species conservation program.

MJM RANCH (Daley Ranch • December 2013 • $1,100,00)

Preserving areas to buffer the Daley Ranch is important to wildlife connectivity in the northern watershed, especially for large animals like deer and mountain lions. In that regard, in 2013, the Conservancy became owner of a 92-acre conservation easement on the MJM Ranch west of Daley Ranch. The property serves as off-site mitigation for the Harmony Grove Village project in Harmony Grove. The purchase price was $1.1 million.

CIELO AZUL (Olivenhain • 2010)

After decades of work by the Conservancy, 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. In a complicated transaction, the Conservancy contributed 45 contiguous acres of land worth $1.2 million (the former Coler property), The Conservation Fund served as broker, the Olivenhain Water District agreed to become long-term manger, and the County of San Diego became the fee title owner.

BOTTLE PEAK (Escondido • December 2010 • $3,500,000)

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

FAMILY STATIONS (Harmony Grove • 2010)

The Conservancy 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, for inclusion in the County Park system. Family Stations links wildlife habitat at Harmony Heights in the North to the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve.

SAN ELIJO RIDGE (2007 • Mitigation transfer)

The Conservancy accepted management responsibility for this 29-acre parcel in the Gnatcatcher core which features ecologically valuable coastal sage scrub habitat, required to be set aside as mitigation for the Venzano housing development.

LERICHE PROPERTY (Harmony Grove • 2004)

The Conservancy 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.


The Conservancy 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 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 (Harmony Grove • September 2002 • $84,405)

The Conservancy 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 12 acres were acquired resulting in a 23-acre preserve along a key creek connection between Harmony Grove and the City of Escondido.

COLER PROPERTY ( Elfin Forest • 2001)

The Conservancy 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 and the remaining 45 acres were donated to the County in 2010 as a match for its purchase of the 100-acre Cielo Azul property. In total, 176 acres were preserved. The Conservancy retains management responsibility for seven acres of riparian habitat along Escondido Creek.


The Conservancy worked with San Diego County to secure a two million dollar grant for land acquisition in the Escondido Creek watershed. With these funds, 70 acres were preserved to connect 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. Remaining grant funds were used to acquire several parcels totaling 50 acres along Harmony Grove Road.

BUMANN (Rancho Santa Fe • February 1998 • Mitigation transfer)

The Conservancy 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 mitigation for the 10-lot Villas of Santa Fe project. The Conservancy is working to control invasive plants at the Bumann preserve to improve habitat for the many deer, coyote, bobcats, and other wildlife that inhabit the area.

OLIVENHAIN RESERVOIR PROJECT (Olivenhain • 1994 • Mitigation transfer)

To mitigate impacts of the construction of the Olivenhain dam, the Conservancy urged the Olivenhain Municipal Water District to place a conservation easement over 117 acres of wetland habitat along Escondido Creek. As mitigation for construction of dam pipelines, the Conservancy proposed creation of the “Small Parcel Corridor” a string of parcels at risk of development that connected habitat along Escondido Creek to preserved lands in Carlsbad. Federal and State wildlife agencies and OMWD agreed, and eventually an additional 104 acres were preserved. 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.


Strong advocacy by the Conservancy during the planning process for this 200-acre residential development project resulted in 145 acres of dedicated open space – up from 40 acres in the original proposal.

A rushing creek splashing around a large moss covered boulder on the Onyx Ridge preserved land of the Escondido Creek Conservancy.

The creek runs through the Onyx Ridge property the Conservancy acquired in 2007.