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About Us

In the spring of 1989, a small group of Elfin Forest neighbors went on a hike up Meisha Creek, a tributary of Escondido Creek, to a picnic lunch under an oak grove which is now under the water of the Olivenhain Reservoir.  Present were Steve Barker, Nona Barker, Martha Blane, and Leonard Wittwer.

At that time development was rapidly expanding in North County. The friends had worked together for years to fight development via the governmental regulatory process, but their experience was disappointing; even if a development was denied by elected officials after a long fight, it eventually reemerged in a year or two in a different configuration. There was never a real sustainable victory for the land.

That day the group talked about how they could become more proactive to save land before it could be developed.  They were tired of fighting housing projects and wanted instead to work for land conservation.  An idea that started on that walk up Meisha Creek many conversations later became a discussion at Martha and Leonard’s kitchen table which led to the incorporation of The Escondido Creek Conservancy (Conservancy) in 1991.

Since that time the Conservancy has helped preserve about 3,000 acres of land and is working to preserve an additional 1,000+ acres. Since 1991, the Conservancy has purchased or facilitated the purchase of some of the most biologically sensitive properties in the Escondido Creek watershed.  The Conservancy also provides watershed education programs to thousands of youth and adults every year.

While much has been accomplished, there are major challenges ahead.  The preserved lands must be managed in perpetuity. A new generation of conservationists must be engaged.  Water quality must be improved. Other areas of the watershed need the Conservancy’s attention.

With your help the Conservancy can continue this important work for decades to come. Please join us!


To Preserve and Restore the Escondido Creek Watershed.


Through the Conservancy’s leadership, the Escondido Creek Watershed will become a model of vibrant urban communities and viable natural ecosystems thriving together.


How We Protect

The Conservancy relies on donations from its supporters and help from its partners to protect the Escondido Creek watershed through a variety of means.

The Conservancy prioritizes properties or projects utilizing the following criteria:

  • Property owners are willing sellers or project participants;
  • Protection is consistent with the Conservancy’s founding documents and its current strategic plan;
  • Property or project 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.

Preservation strategies used by the Conservancy include:

  • 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 by the Conservancy or one of its partners 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;
  • 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 publicly owned lands; and
  • Education of current and future stewards of conservation lands, including both youth and adults.

Places We Protect

The Conservancy owns or manages about 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. Learn more about the specific conservation areas here.


Staff & Board

The board is responsible for the governance of the Conservancy, for the stewardship of our easements and properties, and for managing our finances. Board members practice Duty of Loyalty, Duty of Care, and Duty of Obedience to the organization. Board members attend monthly meetings, represent the Conservancy at community events, and participate in fundraising development efforts.

Board of Directors

Lisa Ruder, President
Richard Murphy, Vice-President
Leonard Wittwer,   Treasurer
Kevin Barnard,   Secretary

Steve Barker,   Member-at-Large
Betsy Keithley,   Board Member
Krystle Miller, Board Member


Ann Van Leer,  Executive Director
Rita Petrekova,  Director of Finance and Operations
Donna Leon,  Preserve Manager
Juan Troncoso,  Preserve Manager
Ariel Reed,  Education Director
Steffani Clark-Jijon,  Education Facilitator
Stacy McCline,  Restoration Specialist

Natalie Nieman, Environmental Education Facilitator

Laurel Perun, Environmental Education Facilitator

Matthew Cooney,  Environmental Education Facilitator

Jonathan Gruca,  Environmental Education Facilitator

Sophia DeHolandaAdministrative Associate