Parks and Rec

County, Community Celebrate Opening of Santa Ysabel Nature Center

Ribbon cutting at Santa Ysabel Nature Center Image Credit: Jessica Geiszler

County Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob, environmental groups, tribal representatives, Parks officials and hundreds of visitors celebrated the opening of the $9.5 million Santa Ysabel Nature Center Saturday with a ribbon-cutting featuring tours, animal encounters, junior ranger activities, and crafts and games for kids.

The celebration began with music, art, information tables, nature crafts and animals including alpacas and a rosy boa snake. It then moved to the formal ribbon-cutting that featured a bird song sung by tribal performance troupe Ashaa Takook and words from several speakers. The event ended with tours, a demonstration of hawks and other birds of prey and hiking.

Chairwoman Jacob told the crowd that the 6,000-square-foot nature center and its surroundings showcase the county’s great outdoors.

“It’s the first attraction of its type in San Diego County,” Jacob said, “and I think it will be a huge magnet for residents and tourists. It has a lot to offer —educational displays, interactive touch screens, Wi-Fi, electric vehicle charging stations, an outdoor play area and an amphitheater built into the hillside.”

The center began construction in April 2018 and is situated on 84 acres of Engelmann oaks and grassland off Highway 79 inside the 6,347-acre Santa Ysabel Preserve operated by the County.

The center includes ranger offices, restrooms, a state-of-the-art community room big enough to hold parties of up to 99 people, a small service kitchen, a water refilling station for visitors, and an information desk.

It also includes educational displays with information about local history, habitat and wildlife.

The building itself is also environmentally friendly. It earned a LEED Gold certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and uses 90 rooftop solar panels to earn a zero net energy rating, meaning the building will produce more electrical energy than it uses.

Outside, in addition to the amphitheater, the center includes “nature play” equipment made of trees and other natural objects and 2 ½ miles of trails for people to enjoy.

Other speakers at Saturday’s ribbon cutting included Vice Chairwoman Bernice Papa of the lipay Nation of Santa Ysabel, Ben Clay of the San Diego River Conservancy, Dwight Worden of the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, Colleen Bradley the Volcan Mountain Foundation, and Jason Hemmens, Acting Director of the County of San Diego’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact