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LeoMar Preserve | Exploring the hillsides of Encinitas

The main purpose of the LeoMar Preserve is to protect endangered species and their habitats so they can thrive in San Diego County.

ENCINITAS, Calif. — Restoring the balance and protecting San Diego County's ecosystem doesn't just start with one course of action or one piece of land. It's all about expansion. I ventured back to the hillsides of Encinitas to explore an extension of the LeoMar Preserve. 

The LeoMar Preserve is a new 79 acre land preserve purchased by the Escondido Creek Conservancy in the Olivenhain community of Encinitas. The extension called Hidden Canyon serves as a "puzzle piece" to linking more wild, natural space to help endangered species in North County. 

The conservancy closed the deal on Hidden Canyon this summer after going back and forth with a housing developer for a few years. 

"Something changed in his life perhaps and he became a willing seller and we were able to negotiate a price and then it was a process getting the actual purchase funds through a grant through the State of California wildfire conservation board," said Leonard Wittwer, the President of the Board of Directors for the Escondido Creek Conservancy.

Now approved, the extension allows the conservancy to continue their conservation efforts. Their goal is to maintain the balance of preserved land amongst the industrial and commercial developments occurring on the Lower Escondido Creek watershed.

"Natural open spaces kind of soften the edge of all the hustle and bustle of this city. I think there is something about human nature that we innately have a connection to the Earth and these open spaces allow that connection to be nurtured and developed. It's easier to smile when you're in a nice peaceful setting than when you're sitting at a red light in traffic," said Wittwer.

The LeoMar Preserve serves to protect endangered species like the California Gnatcatcher. These songbirds have lost more than 90% of their native habitat due to land development. The LeoMar Preserve, and now Hidden Canyon, will also be home to other animals that make up our San Diego biodiversity.

"Rabbits, ground squirrels, bobcats, mule deers wander through. I'm sure mountain lions wander through chasing the mule deer now and then, lots of reptiles. There's often times a lot of bees in these feral hives. When they split, it's just a giant ball of bees and you need to stay out of their way," said Wittwer. 

The presence of the bees and gnatcatchers thriving off this preserve will not only help heal San Diego's ecosystem but contribute to the overall healing of our planet. 

"It's not just tropical rainforest that store carbon for climate change. Chaparral, coastal sage scrubs like this, a lot of these plants have quite a bit of woody material under the ground storing carbon. So, it's a good thing to let nature take care of some of our problems for us," said Wittwer.

The main purpose of the LeoMar Preserve is to protect endangered species and their habitats so they can thrive in San Diego County. According to Leonard Wittwer, the process of allowing public access in portions of the preserve could take three or more years. But, there are already existing trails closer towards the Hidden Canyon extension. Wittwer said the process could be a little bit shorter, roughly 18 months, to allow access to the general public.

If you would like to learn more about the Escondido Creek Conservancy, Hidden Canyon, the LeoMar Preserve, and their other conservation efforts, click here.

Additionally, congratulations are in order for the Escondido Creek Conservancy! The group recently received national recognition with an accreditation seal from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. This local conservancy is joining a group of more than 450 accredited land trusts across the United States known for displaying strong ethical conduct, financial responsibility, governance and longevity in their land protection efforts. 

For more information on the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, click here.

Watch Related: LeoMar: New land preserve in North County San Diego (July 2021)