Rancho Santa Fe volunteer commits to enhancing River Park, Coast-to-Crest Trail

Peter Shapiro of Rancho Santa Fe at the San Dieguito Lagoon. “Come out and have fun,” he urges. “Take a hike.” Photo by Joe Tash

Shortly after moving to Rancho Santa Fe in 2008, Peter Shapiro began volunteering with the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, pulling out invasive, non-native plants along the Coast-to-Crest Trail and planting native species.

Shapiro and his wife, Kathy Sage, are avid hikers, and Shapiro figured the work would be a good way to give back while supporting a cause close to his heart.

That initial involvement led to a full commitment: Today, Shapiro, 71, a retired human resources executive, serves as president of the conservancy’s 14-member board of directors.

Among his priorities as board president, said Shapiro in a recent interview, is to raise the conservancy’s profile.

“For years it’s been the best-kept secret in North County,” said Shapiro, who also serves on the board of the homeowners association of The Crosby Estates, where he and his wife live. “I’ve embarked on raising the visibility of the organization, by getting the word out about what we do.”

Working on a budget of about $450,000 per year, which comes mostly from membership fees and donations, along with grants for special projects, the conservancy supports the San Dieguito River Park and the Coast-to-Crest trail, which is planned to run through the linear park from Del Mar to Julian. About 45 miles of the planned 70-mile trail is completed.

The nonprofit conservancy works with the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority and other public and private entities to build and maintain the park and its surrounding watershed, said Shapiro.

The conservancy focuses on conservation, education and recreation, and it seeks to carry out its mission through a variety of programs. The organization, which was founded by local citizens in 1986, has two full-time paid employees: Executive Director Trish Boaz and Conservation Manager Jessica Norton.

The conservancy has about 1,300 members. Besides donations, the group is supported by fundraisers, such as the sixth annual River Valley Fest, scheduled for Oct. 11 at the Morgan Run Club & Resort. For information about the River Fest or the conservancy, visit

Among the conservancy’s programs is Citizen Science, which is funded by grants and aims to enlist community members of all ages to collect information about the river park’s plant and animal species for use in scientific research.

Other programs include volunteer cleanups, yoga classes at the Birdwing Open Air classroom overlooking the San Dieguito Lagoon, and guided hikes, such as a full-moon hike scheduled for Sept. 27. The group’s various projects draw an average of 100 volunteers in a typical month, Shapiro said.

Members of the public are urged to support the conservancy’s work through donations and to get involved in the group’s activities, Shapiro said.

“Come out and have fun, take a hike,” he said.

When he’s not working on conservancy business, Shapiro enjoys biking, golfing and traveling. He and his wife have traveled around the world in search of great hiking trails, and have trekked in such far-flung locations as Yellowstone National Park, New Zealand and the Pyrenees, the mountain range along the border between France and Spain.

But he experiences a special sense of satisfaction in knowing that his volunteer work with his colleagues at the conservancy will help make a difference closer to home.

“To create a trail that will last for long after I’m gone, for people to enjoy … that’s a very good thing,” he said.

For information, visit