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A Refuge for People, Too : Wildlife Flocks to Lagoons, But So Do Children and Adults

July 19, 1990|JANET LOWE

Carolyn Lundburg spends every Thursday, plus several other days each month, tending a lagoon. The retired homemaker volunteered three years ago to be a docent at the Buena Vista Audubon Society's nature center on Hill Street in Oceanside. And, though the center didn't open until 18 months ago, she and about a dozen others began much earlier to learn all about the wetlands, its birds, fish, history and plants.

Now that the center is open, each of them are more than willing to share lagoon lore with anyone who's interested.

Five days a week school children, joggers, senior citizens, garden clubs and many others go to the center to learn about Buena Vista and later to explore its reedy, bird-busy shore.

As with all but one of the six beautiful but delicate North County coastal lagoons, visitors to Buena Vista are welcome to watch birds, fish from the shore and hike, but are forbidden from putting boats in or personally entering the water. It's called "passive activity," versus the activity such as jet skiing, water skiing and swimming that is allowed at Agua Hedionda Lagoon, the next estuary south of Buena Vista.

Although Agua Hedionda bustles with activity, some lagoons, such as Los Penasquitos, offer very little opportunity for recreation.

Access to the lagoons varies for several reasons. Some are private property and others are bird sanctuaries or ecological preserves.

Although these boggy borders between land and sea are among the most productive ecosystems in existence, they also are among the most endangered habitats in the world. On the California coast, 75% of the wetlands have been destroyed in fewer than 140 years, some of them turned into cement river channels.

Lagoon preservation goes on daily in San Diego County, and the fight is ferocious to protect the wetlands from those who don't understand their value or know how to respect them. The public can get involved in protecting lagoon life, either independently or through various organizations, such as the Audubon Society or Sierra Club.

For those who are seeking a groomed, park-like setting, lagoons are not the place. Though the constantly collecting silt is dredged from some wetlands and certain other maintenance is carried out, for the most part, the lagoons are left in their natural state. Tangled underbrush and occasionally smelly tidal mud flats are inherent to the coastal condition.

Those untamed qualities are exactly what attract visitors such as Ann Severine.

A junior high school counselor and a Sierra Club guide who lives only a few blocks from San Elijo, Severine leads evening walks along the lagoon.

Severine says she relishes the lagoon walks because they offer so much variety. "There are wildflowers, and one section is really wooded with eucalyptus trees," she said.

Sierra Club members and most others who join the walks are dedicated to environmental concerns, and many of them like week-night outings that "get them off city streets," Severine said.

"Many of us do it for the mental break," she adds, explaining that although the trails are never far from public roads and at one point cross under the freeway, they seem to take hikers far from urban turmoil.

Residents who would like to spend more time exploring these fascinating bodies of water--or contributing to the care of a lagoon--can find plenty of opportunities in the following wetland sketches.

BUENA VISTA LAGOON

Not only is Buena Vista Lagoon the lone freshwater lagoon in North County, it's also the only one to have a permanent nature center to furnish visitor information.

Operated by the Buena Vista Audubon Society, the nature center at 2202 Hill St. is an excellent place to begin exploring this 220-acre wetland. The displays tell about the endangered birds and other wildlife that call the lagoon home. On the second Saturday of each month, the center presents a wildlife demonstration. For more information or to arrange group tours call 439-BIRD.

Walking east from the center, there are hiking trails, fishing spots and a subtle garden of California native plants. The plants blend so well with the brush and pussy willows that it is impossible to tell which vegetation grows there on its own and which has been added by the docents at the center.

Fishermen who ply the shores of Buena Vista hook bluegill, bass, mullet and other fish. A state fishing license is required.

Bird-watchers count several hundred migrating waterfowl on the Pacific Flyway, and several endangered species make the lagoon their refuge, including the least tern, Belding's Savannah sparrow and the light-footed clapper rail.

A "duck landing" or feeding port for webfoot creatures has just been completed on the east rim of Buena Vista Lagoon, east of Interstate 5 off Jefferson Street. The Lagoon Foundation and the city of Carlsbad joined forces to improve conditions and provide parking at what already was an informal rendezvous site for ducks and duck-lovers.

What: Buena Vista Lagoon

Where: On the city line between Oceanside and Carlsbad.

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