American wigeon (Photo: C. Taylor)

Ford Wildlife Habitat Preserve

(33 acres)

The Ford property

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy acquired Ford Wildlife Habitat Preserve in 2002, made possible by a grant from Ford Motor Company and through the efforts of County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price. 

The 33-acre site can be seen from Manchester Avenue in Olivenhain. The site was a former horse ranch. Seasonal flooding during winter rains occasionally threatened to drown the horses.  Manure polluted the creek and lagoon, and structures and piles of debris, including buckets of motor oil, littered the property. The previous owner’s plans to expand the ranch, opposed by SELC, was also denied by California Coastal Commission due to the property’s value as wetlands. The horses were moved to higher ground.

Today, this restored wetland property provides critical wildlife habitat for mule deer, coyotes, and endangered bird species. Most of the watershed drains along Escondido Creek through this property. 

The Ford property is now permanently protected and will be maintained as habitat that serves as a critical wildlife corridor for the region. This property is also an important area for flood attenuation and groundwater recharge during the winter rainy season.

San Elijo Lagoon Foundation Parcels


Picture of the SELF parcels

Billboards before removal
Removal of billboards opened up lagoon views.

In 2001, San Elijo Lagoon Foundation (SELF) merged with San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, and the Conservancy acquired all real property owned by the Foundation (SELF Parcels). These properties included more than 15 acres of habitat in the West and Central Basins of the lagoon, including the parcels at the inlet. 

Owning the inlet parcels has given the Conservancy better control over inlet management which has improved tidal circulation. Habitat within the West Basin parcels includes important coastal salt marsh habitat that supports endangered species, such as Belding’s Savannah Sparrow. 

One of the first actions taken after acquisition of the SELF parcels was to remove three billboards that stood along Pacific Coast Highway for years. Billboard removal revealed views of an active river mouth that drains freshwater from the watershed on low tides and brings oxygen-rich saltwater to the estuary with high tides.

In 2007, the Conservancy took additional steps to restore the SELF parcels when it removed old sewer treatment facilities in the Central Basin. After several concrete digester tanks were removed, the Conservancy used grant funding from Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project and Rancho Santa Fe Foundation to remove invasive plants at the site. The Conservancy hosted elementary student volunteers from three area schools to revegetate the berms of the old settling ponds.  

The property is permanently protected and will be maintained for habitat. 

The sewer treatment plant site - before and after
Sewer treatment plant site - before and after.

San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy Wildlife Habitat Preserve

Picture of the property

This 15-acre property along Escondido Creek, between Olivenhain and Rancho Santa Fe, was once owned by the Van Liew family. The family granted the property to Rancho Santa Fe Foundation in 1985 with the intent that the property should be preserved in perpetuity. 

In 2004, Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, the Conservancy, and California State Coastal Conservancy brokered a unique solution that resulted in San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy owning the preserve, and the purchase price being established as an operating endowment at Rancho Santa Fe Foundation to benefit San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. 

Like Ford Wildlife Habitat Preserve, SELC Wildlife Habitat Preserve contains the mainstem of Escondido Creek. The property is permanently protected and will be maintained as critical riparian habitat; an important area for flood attenuation and groundwater recharge during the winter rainy season.  It also serves as a necessary wildlife corridor for the region.



The reserve includes lands owned by the State of California, the County of San Diego, and San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy. The properties described on this page are those which are owned by the Conservancy.

There is no public access to these sensitive areas or trails leading to or within them. All trails are on county public land within the reserve.

These habitats shelter rare and endangered animal and plant species. Avian breeding of the Least Bell’s Vireo has been observed, as well as the survival of newly-released Light-footed Clapper Rails. Our efforts in scientific monitoring and restoration of these areas are yielding conservation successes.

  Least Bell's Vireo