Since its opening in 1992, the Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve has evolved into one of San Diego County’s most precious natural resources.
Celebrating its milestone 30th anniversary, the reserve, or EFRR, was originally developed when the Olivenhain Municipal Water District partnered with the San Diego County Water Authority and the Bureau of Land Management as part of the regional Emergency Storage Project. Over the past 30 years, OMWD has managed the safe operations of EFRR to provide visitors with recreational, educational, and environmental experiences.
The 784-acre reserve in the heart of San Diego County offers 11 miles of hiking, biking, equestrian trails, picnic areas, and scenic viewing points. It is the central hub of more than 20,000 acres of contiguous open space with fully protected wildlife in perpetuity. Its facilities provide educational experiences for visitors of all ages.
“We look forward to joining with our partners and the public to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of this unique recreational reserve that continues to provide for the conservation of habitats and native species and opportunities to connect with nature,” says Kimberly A. Thorner, General Manager of Olivenhain Municipal Water District.
Creating partnerships to protect open space
The nonprofit Escondido Creek Conservancy is dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and protection of the natural open space within the Escondido Creek watershed where EFRR is located.
In March 2008, the Conservancy and OMWD partnered to create the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty. Located at the reserve, it is a one-of-a-kind facility designed by local artist James Hubbell, known for his nature-inspired art and architecture. The center features green design elements, including recycled building materials, solar panels powered by photovoltaic cells, and a green roof.
The Conservancy has formed alliances with landowners, government agencies, and education and community groups to increase awareness of the invaluable resources intrinsic to the Escondido Creek watershed.
“From the very beginning in 1991, the Escondido Creek Conservancy had the intent to set natural lands set aside for the benefit of native plants and animals,” said Leonard Wittwer, Conservancy board president. “For the first few years of our existence, we focused on advocating for wise land-use decisions and physically cleaning up the creek so it could be perceived as worthy of protection.”
Educational experiences encourage outdoor exploration
For three decades, the reserve has been designed to unify the interests of domestic water supply development, natural resources management, and recreational opportunities. EFRR offers a variety of educational experiences from guided interpretive walks, hands-on learning in collaboration with local scout troops, publishing EFRR Birdwatching Guides for public use, and a free Junior Ranger program. The Junior Ranger program encourages children to explore the outdoors and helps instill an appreciation for our natural surroundings. Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Park Rangers, Conservancy staff, and volunteers conduct guided group tours and student exploration programs to help promote environmental awareness and preservation of local watersheds.
Access to the natural world
Conservancy board president Wittwer says education and access remain priorities.
“We will continue to set aside natural open space, continue to provide high-quality outdoor educational experiences, and continue to operate the Conservancy to the highest business standards,” said Wittwer. “We are looking into ways to provide more access to our preserves, recognizing the many benefits to humans of interacting with the natural world.”
“These experiences don’t just happen,” said OMWD General Manager Kim Thorner. “They are the result of creative people trying to find ways to share the incredible natural gem that is Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve. OMWD looks forward to continuing to be the responsible steward of EFRR’s diverse natural resources and collaborating with the Conservancy and other organizations in providing the public outstanding educational experiences and access to nature through EFRR for many years to come.”
(Editor’s note: The Olivenhain Municipal Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)