On the Road to Elfin Forest

On the Road to Elfin Forest
By Kristin Pategas, AIB Judge

My fellow judge, Tony Ferrara and I were not in Kansas anymore or Orlando for that matter where I caught my flight. After flying for more than eight hours with an hour car journey from San Diego International Airport, I arrived in the small, rural, unincorporated county area known as Elfin Forest, California. No, Tony and I were not on the hunt for garden elves or a yellow brick road. We had traveled over 2,280 miles to tour the natural beauty of one of the two last remaining chaparral communities in the world and meet the dedicated residents who have worked very hard to preserve and protect their treasured resource.

Elfin Forest is home to about 210 homes surrounded by over 3,000 acres of preserved land. In the 1940s this area was described by a botanist as the best example of an elfin forest he had ever seen where low rainfall creates a forest of miniaturized trees. This enchanting name stuck and the residents soon identified their community as Elfin Forest, installing custom-wrought roadway monuments along the two public roads that pass through it and diligently working to keeping this area rural.

As you may realize by now, this community is not a typical America in Bloom community. It lacks municipal buildings, sidewalks, streetlights, sewer, and even stop signs. There are no historic structures and few businesses. With no tax revenues, the community relies solely on donations and volunteerism to maintain its private roads, trails, and fire-wise demonstration garden.

Low rainfall (less than 6 inches a year) limits the installation of typical floral displays and landscape beds. However, in 2005 Elfin Forest invited America in Bloom to tour their community and assist them in discovering more opportunities to preserve and celebrate their natural heritage. They were pleased with the results from implementing some of the recommendations from their evaluation. Now, with heightened development pressures all around them, Elfin Forest reached out to America in Bloom for more ideas to help them transition from acquiring land to land management and conservation education, as well as ways to create an even greater sense of community.

In just two days of touring we meet with members of the volunteer town council, the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Department, local businesses, the Escondido Creek Conservancy, the Olivenhain Municipal Water District and numerous residents. We received a clear picture of how this community, loosely organized in the 1970s, had successfully grown into a strong team of volunteer committees and most importantly, a cooperative spirit of dedicated neighbors.

Now that we have returned to our respective homes, after another long day of travel, our job is to assimilate Elfin Forest’s Community Profile, numerous publications and our notes from the past two days of touring. Then we will supplement with our own research to write an extensive evaluation with five recommendations in each of the criteria America in Bloom evaluates: floral displays, landscaped areas, urban forestry, environmental awareness, heritage preservation, overall impression and community involvement. We’re just rolling up our sleeves.

No, we may not have found storybook elves, but we did find many hard working “elves” that make up the community of Elfin Forest.

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