Milestones by the Decade



Established 1987 ... SOARING INTO THE FUTURE

Volunteers who launched the conservancy worked to establish that San Elijo Lagoon will always be cherished, protected and enhanced for generations in our natural and neighboring communities. Keeping lagoon water flowing freely was a priority in these early years as the young organization began to attract more support and awareness. Growing an education program was also key as awareness of the lagoon's biodiversity brought more visitors.



  • 1987 | Your Conservancy is established, providing a unified voice for San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
  • 1991 | First Executive Director comes onboard
  • 1993 | We perform periodic excavations to open the lagoon's access to the ocean, blocked by sand and sediment
  • 1995 | Our naturalist-guided education program launches
  • 1996 | Doug Gibson, a wetlands ecologist, joins leadership as Executive Director | Principal Scientist 


Entering our 2nd decade, an endowment was secured so that the lagoon's connection to the ocean would flow freely. Lands were secured through several major partnerships, establishing the conservancy's role as a land trust and steward of the lagoon's expanded habitat areas. Membership grows, as does corporate and foundation support for the expansion of Our Living Watershed and Citizens Restoring Coastal Habitat programs.



  • 1999 | Tidal flow is supported by an endowment by the California State Coastal Conservancy for annual excavation at the inlet. This strategic support laid the foundation for the land trust to reach new heights
  • 2000 | $1.4 million Ford Motor Company grant enables the conservancy to purchase 33-acres of sensitive habitat. This sets the stage for future acquisitions as the land trust grows in trust and support
  • 2002 | The President's Council is established to build an operating endowment for future generations. Thirteen members initiated the Council with the goal to raise $1 million by 2011, which was achieved, cementing the first of major fundraising milestones
  • 2003 | Three dilapidated billboards were removed to open up pristine views of the lagoon along Pacific Coast Highway
  • 2004 | Rancho Santa Fe Foundation sells 15 acres along Escondido Creek to the conservancy, and with the proceeds, creates an endowment to manage it
  • 2006 | The Legacy Circle begins with original members who came aboard to join our formal deferred giving program


Happy 20 Years! The year 2007 ushered in the first major fundraiser, called Birds of a Feather. This biennial benefit is now a celebrated North County event for nature and community support. The conservancy wins notable awards in its 2nd decade for leadership in conservation and education. As a land trust, enhancing open space is a priority. More than 40 miles of streams and 60 acres of rare coastal lands were conserved. Key parcels continue to be secured for the enhancement of wetland native habitats.


  • 2007 | County of San Diego, State of California, and San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy sign a cooperative agreement for the operation and maintenance of San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve for a 25-year period
  • 2007 | The first major fundraiser, Birds of a Feather, kicks off the 20th Anniversary celebration and is held biennially to raise funds for conservation and education
  • 2009 | Two dozen scientists in a 24-hour period identified 729 species of living organisms found in the reserve. This was North County's first Bioblitz.
  • 2010 | The education program formalized with the launch of Our Living Watershed: Teaching Scientific Literacy programs for students in the watershed
  • 2011 | Board President Denise Stillinger is named Cox Conserves Leader in San Diego
  • 2011 | With 13 lenders, we formed the LLC to buy the "Gateway Property" for $3.75 million
  • 2012 | We began a fundraising campaign for "Gateway Park" to repay the LLC loan that first secured its iconic views
  • 2012 | June 19, 2012 is proclaimed "Denise Stillinger Day" by then-County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price
  • 2013 | San Diego Coastkeeper awards the Citizens for Restoring Coastal Habitat program a Water Wise Award
  • 2014 | The first public meetings are held for community input on the San Elijo Lagoon Restoration project's alternatives
  • 2014 | Our Citizens for Restoring Coastal Habitat program wins a Stewardship Award for Community Conservation by Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project
  • 2015 | With a $1.1 million donation from the George & Betty Harbaugh Charitable Foundation, we announce the new name of the secured Gateway property:
    Harbaugh Seaside Trails
  • 2015 | San Elijo Native Plant Nursery opens its doors to embrace community conservation in our work with endemic plant species
  • 2016 | We restored the once-vandalized "Caves" and opened Annie's Canyon Trail, made possible by a private conservancy donor and in partnership with our county and state reserve partners
  • 2016 | The internship program expanded in mentorship for ecology and education in our program called Sage Environmental Interns
  • 2016 | The LLC loan for Harbaugh Seaside Trails has been repaid. Conceptual plans were revealed for its open space restoration
  • 2016 | Our education programs received national recognition with a 2-year award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • 2016 | Doug Gibson is honored by the County Supervisor, and mayors of Encinitas and Solana Beach: Doug Gibson Conservation Leadership Day for his 20 years in service, and is awarded honor by Outdoor Outreach Lead the Way Award


Here's to You! As we moved closer to 30 years, and are now in our fourth decade, we developed our vision and the release of our Strategic Plan 2020. The permit to restore and enhance San Elijo Lagoon was issed in late 2016 by the California Coastal Commission. Harbaugh Seaside Trails will be restored for open space trails and views. And more on the way with your support, year by year. See you on the trails! 


  • 2017 | Biennial Birds of a Feather, themed Rooted in Flight, raises more than $300,000 for conservation and education
  • 2017 | The groundbreaking for Reviving Your Wetlands, the San Elijo Lagoon Restoration Project, is held in November with state and local leaders in the Build North Coast Corridor project
  • 2017 | We purchase 77 acres of land in coastal upland Encinitas with plans for habitat restoration and trail connections to San Elijo Lagoon
  • 2018 | Harbaugh Seaside Trails is declared Open Space Preserve by the City of Solana Beach, furthering the path to its restoration for nature and community
  • 2018 | Tara Fuad, Education Director is nationally awarded the 2017 John Muir Environmental Education Conservation Award
  • 2018 | Beach sand replenishment in Reviving Your Wetlands widens the coastlines of Cardiff State Beach and Fletcher Cove in Solana Beach
  • 2018 | Conservancy is the recipient of the 2018 Encinitas Excellence in Environmental Stewardship Award