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Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve’s Interpretive Center Celebrates 10 Years of Outdoor Education

 At a June 1 ceremony, Olivenhain Municipal Water District and Escondido Creek Conservancy marked the 10th anniversary of the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty. Located at OMWD’s Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve in Escondido, the center was constructed as a centerpiece of environmental education through a cooperative effort between the two organizations.

“As we celebrate ten years of operation, we couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished by working together,” said OMWD Board Secretary Robert Kephart. “Yet, without the dedicated support of docents and donors, this one-of-a-kind facility with its many successful education programs would not have been possible. We also honor their efforts today!”

OMWD partnered with the San Diego County Water Authority and the Bureau of Land Management to develop the 784-acre Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve as part of the regional Emergency Storage Project. EFRR opened in 1992.

Originally, OMWD planned to construct a cinder block building with the assistance of a $68,500 grant from California’s Department of Parks and Recreation. As the Conservancy also sought at that time to establish a location close to Escondido Creek at which to host educational programs, the organizations formed a mutually beneficial partnership. To complete enhanced design and construction of the center, the Conservancy raised over $565,000 from individual donors. Another $200,000 was raised for educational programs, including wildlife displays and nature activities.

Over 3,650 students visited the reserve on field trips during the 2018-2019 school year. The Conservancy provides the opportunity for students in disadvantaged communities to attend field trips through grant funding. Additional education collaborators are the Nature Collective and San Diego Zoo.

At the event, the Conservancy announced the creation of the Escondido Creek Eichen Education Fund. This fund will continue in perpetuity the joint education programs held at the center. 

“The Escondido Creek Conservancy’s education department helps bring thousands of underserved, urban-based students from Escondido out to the Elfin Forest every year so they can experience the outdoors—many for the first time in their lives,“ said Conservancy board member Jeff Swenerton. “This is vitally important because we can’t expect the next generation to value nature if they’ve never been exposed to it. We’re reaching more children now than in any other time in our organization’s history. It’s very exciting to see the impact we’re making, but we’ve reached a point where we need to launch the Escondido Creek Eichen Education Fund campaign to sustain our success and enable us to continue connecting children with nature.”

Renowned local artist James T. Hubbell designed the center, and several original works by Hubbell and his collaborations with other artists are on display. The building also features green design elements such as recycled building materials, solar panels powered by photovoltaic cells, and a green “living” roof.

Susan J. Varty was an OMWD board director from 1994 until her passing in 2009. She exhibited a passion and tenacity for water issues and environmental preservation. The center is open seven days a week, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., depending on the availability of the reserve’s 65 docents. The current docent schedule can be viewed at www.olivenhain.com/efrr.