In just the last 90 days, activists from Foothills Forever have drummed up nearly enough support to secure the purchase of the San Marcos Foothills, sitting approximately $584,000 away from their goal of $18.6 million as of Saturday.
What once was an uphill battle is nearing completion as activists aim to raise enough funds to purchase the open space by this Wednesday’s deadline. Thanks to the support of more than 6,000 generous donors, the effort is 97% funded and just needs over half a million to secure the deal.
Back in March, the developer of the San Marcos Foothills, Chadmar Group, agreed to pause development, giving activists a timeline of 90 days to raise enough funds to purchase the property before it is used to build eight multi-million-dollar homes. The original agreement required the campaign to raise the money by June 2, but the group received an extension through this Wednesday.
Now that the campaign sits on the cusp of raising enough funds for the purchase, Campaign Director Mary Rose reflected on how far the effort has come in just a short period of time.
“I think everybody thought we were nuts, including ourselves, to say (in) 90 days we were going to raise $18 million,” Ms. Rose told the News-Press. “I think everybody thought we were kind of nuts.”
She added, “I’m astounded that we’ve come this far. The community has been so supportive and I’m very, very optimistic that we’re going to be able to close this deal and, you know, be able to preserve this open space for the public to enjoy.”
During the final weekend before the Wednesday deadline, Foothills Forever invited members of the public to take a natural walk at the preserve in an effort to increase support for the group’s purchase of the land.
On Saturday, Ken Owen, the executive director of Channel Islands Restoration, led visitors on a nature walk of the area, pointing out both native and invasive plant species that grow in the area. Across the grassy preserve, native species like the western ragweed and the green everlasting are sprouting alongside the dirt trail, growing side by side with invasive species like the horehound herb.
If the fundraising campaign is successful, Mr. Owen said Channel Islands Restoration is aiming to restore the preserve by utilizing sheep to graze the area, which would cut back the overgrown grass and rid the area of invasive species. The CIR has played a leading role in saving the San Marcos Foothills and begun preliminary talks with the developer back in 2019.
While $18.6 million is needed to purchase the land, the campaign is hoping to raise enough to pay off loans and raise enough for an endowment of about $1,000,000 to pay for CIR’s restoration. Therefore, even if the campaign raises enough to purchase the land, they will continue to fundraise for the next year or so to raise enough money to pay off loans and fund the restoration project.
Despite the back payments the campaign owes on loans, Foothills Forever did not spend a large amount of money putting on events or accruing campaign costs, largely because the fundraising effort started when the county remained in the throes of the pandemic. Mr. Owen sees a silver lining in this, noting that interest in the preserve increased during the COVID-19 crisis.
“As we went into lockdown, suddenly, there are a lot more people up here because it’s local, safe, and easy, recreational convenient parking and all of the whole preserve is on this property, too,” Mr. Owen told the News-Press. “So it’s kind of funny, but this campaign may have just been timed correctly.”
If Foothills Forever succeeds in its fundraising efforts, campaign organizers say they will turn their decision to how to best steward the land. Originally, activists considered giving the land to the county for oversight, and while that remains a possibility, the campaign is considering a few other options. One such option could be the creation of a committee composed of community members who oversee the preservation of the land for years to come.
“We’re looking at options and how to develop those stewardship plans (and) the different elements of a stewardship plan for here,” Mr. Owen told the News-Press. “That will be down the road, but clearly we want community involvement in that. Not only the people who worked on the grassroots to save the property and the donors for that matter, but also just other folks that use parks in our area who all have interests that are geared toward their kind of recreation.”
To keep track of the campaign’s progress, visit foothillsforever.org/.