New Land Projects & Partnerships
Our two most recent projects are Hot Springs Canyon and the Franklin Trail both providing public access to beautiful land in Santa Barbara’s South County. Read below for more about how we worked with the community to save these special places.
Hot Springs Canyon
One of the last undeveloped, private properties in the Santa Barbara foothills was protected this year, a culmination of four years of work on the most complex and expensive land acquisition the Land Trust has ever done. The 462-acre Hot Springs Canyon has always been privately owned, since the 1960’s by the McCaslin family, yet the public has hiked and ridden on this undeveloped land for decades. The McCaslin’s approached the Land Trust in 2008 when they decided to sell. Unfortunately the world economic collapse made for a difficult time to raise charitable contributions. In 2011, we revisited this opportunity and after much research and community outreach, decided to enter into a purchase option. In a fast-moving campaign lasting from March 2011 to March 2012, the Land Trust succeeded in raising $7.8 million dollars – all of it from generous local individuals, families and foundations. No government money went into this land purchase.
From the beginning, the Land Trust made clear its plan to convey the land to Los Padres National Forest for long-term stewardship. The Land Trust does not have the capacity to manage this property. The canyon is entirely within the National Forest boundary and is largely surrounded by public land. As of this writing, the Land Trust continues to own Hot Springs Canyon while we work out complex legal and title issues related to private road access, a groundwater agreement with the Montecito Water District, potentially hazardous electric utility materials left on the site, and historic use of mineral spring water by a private water company.
After the land is transferred to the Forest Service, the Land Trust will remain engaged with the Service and with the local community to ensure that Hot Springs Canyon is managed in a way that protects its environmental resources and public trails. The Montecito Trails Foundation has agreed to be a partner in maintaining the trails, and the Pearl Chase Society would like to find a way to recognize the historical assets of the canyon, which includes a long history of Chumash use and the remnant foundation of the Hot Springs Resort and Spa that operated there for more than 130 years until being last destroyed by in the 1964 Coyote Fire. At this time, the Land Trust allows public use of the existing trails. Look for our signs on the trails with the “rules of the road” and enjoy the land responsibly.
Click here for an update on the Franklin Trail (November 2012).
Note: The First Phase of Franklin Trail is scheduled to open in late summer 2013. Until then, please respect private property. Trespassers may be cited.
When something of natural beauty and community value is lost it can be hard, even impossible, to bring back. Understanding that reality, many people in Carpinteria have worked with passion and persistence to see that long-valued natural and public resources were protected, even as the city doubled in population since 1970 and saw agricultural and commercial and governmental development expand. The people power of Carpinteria’s residents, government leaders and agencies, and non-profit partners has done so much:
Rallying to buy the Carpinteria Bluffs. Forming Carpinteria Seal Watch to protect the harbor seal rookery and manage public viewing with volunteers; Securing major portions of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh to restore damaged wetlands, improve water quality and offer educational public access. Collaborating to bring back Steelhead salmon to Carpinteria Creek. Building a great system of community parks and trails.
One local resource lost over the years was a trail near Franklin Creek that historically linked the valley floor to the Los Padres National Forest network of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Access to the backcountry was lost a number of years ago when permissive use over private properties ceased to exist due to the changing character of land ownership and the intensification of agriculture in the valley.
The volunteer committee Friends of the Franklin Trail stepped up to lead a community partnership to get the Franklin Trail rebuilt and reopened. The Land Trust is the non-profit project sponsor, partnering with “Friends” to help with planning, permitting and construction management. In 2011, Friends co-chairs Jane Murray and Bud Girard and a talented volunteer team spearheaded public outreach and fundraising that brought in $295,000 in community donations and foundation grants for the design, permitting and construction of the Franklin Trail. In 2012, the County Board of Supervisors approved a grant of $75,000 from development mitigation fees, and the Land Trust secured a $200,000 state environmental enhancement grant. All of the funds needed for the project have been raised.
While not impossible, it is tricky and expensive to bring back a trail that runs along or through existing neighborhoods, a public high school campus, creek banks and flood control berms, private avocado orchards, and up a mountain featuring plants and animals protected by the law. Friends and County Parks tackled the challenge of negotiating new or relocated legal agreements for the trail from three ranch owners and the Carpinteria School District.
One might think that with volunteers, money and legal access it was time to grab the hand tools and start building the trail! Not so fast! Completing the trail through town to the base of the foothills requires retaining walls, a new 65-foot creek crossing bridge, new storm drains, erosion control plans and security fencing and gates along the high school campus and to avoid conflict with ranch and farm operations. Add to that engineer drawings, soil tests, surveying, an environmental study, sign plans, insurance, construction bids, and contracts. With help from Jane and Bud and county staff, the Land Trust has agreed to manage the planning, permitting and construction of the first phase of the new Franklin Trail. The planning is well underway. Our goal is to have the first phase of the Franklin Trail, beginning near Carpinteria High School and extending through the Persoon and Horton family ranches and an initial stretch of the Rancho Monte Alegre property in construction in Spring 2013 and open by summer. The majority of the trail, running through Rancho Monte Alegre and into the National Forest along the historic trail route, will be a second phase that depends on more people power to get additional landowner and government approvals.
Gaviota Creek Watershed – 2,550 acres
The long-time family owners of Rancho Arbolado, a 2,550 acre cattle ranch just north of Gaviota State Park, are looking to the Land Trust to purchase a conservation easement as part of their planning to pass the property on to the next generation. This mostly undeveloped ranch features dense oak woodlands and riparian habitat in the western fork of Gaviota Creek. The project would add to the 7,500 acres of open land already conserved on the Gaviota Coast by the Land Trust and its partners. The easement would limit development on the property to home sites for ranch owners and their employees, and agricultural improvements. It would provide a permanent natural buffer on the north side of Gaviota State Park, and would secure the scenic beauty along Highway 1, a state-designated scenic highway.
The Land Trust will apply for grant funds to purchase the conservation easement from the California Coastal Conservancy and the California Wildlife Conservation Board. Private donations and foundation grants are needed to cover direct costs of completing this transaction, and a minimum 10% local match for the state grants. Transaction expenses include a title report, biological resources assessment, legal services, title insurance, escrow fees and travel to Sacramento for grant agency meetings and hearings.
If you have driven on Highway 246 into Lompoc, you have seen the sunlight flickering through the big walnut groves that are the hallmark of The Hibbits Ranch, a 395-acre farm just east of the city limits.
Four generations of the Hibbits family have farmed the Lompoc Valley, building a diverse and successful farming operation run today by Art and Sherry Hibbits. Their ranch features prime topsoil over 30 feet deep in places, and has supported a wide array of nuts, vegetables, seed crops as well as cattle grazing, for over a century.
The Hibbits family decided to protect the enduring scenic and agricultural value of their land through a voluntary conservation agreement with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.
The Hibbits Ranch is the largest single land holding within a block of scenic and highly productive farmland framed by the City of Lompoc, the Santa Ynez River and Santa Rosa Hills, and La Purisima Mission State Historic Park. Located less than 2,000 feet from the Lompoc city limit, there have been several attempts to extend city limits east across the Santa Ynez River on to this and adjacent farm properties. In recent years, hundreds of acres of agricultural land west and north of the city have been already been annexed and converted to residential and commercial development.
The Hibbits are long-standing advocates for the protection and improvement of local agriculture. The Hibbits Ranch has the second oldest Agricultural Preserve Contract in Santa Barbara County, and Art Hibbits has served many years on land use and agricultural committees, including a stint on the County Planning Commission.
Says Art Hibbits:
“Our family’s goals in pursuing this conservation easement are to protect and encourage the continued agricultural uses on the ranch in a long term sustainable manner, whereby productivity and economic viability are maintained and enhanced. We want future generations to have the maximum flexibility in future choices of crops, equipment, agricultural related facilities, and farming practices and our agreement with the Land Trust will clearly state these objectives.”
The Land Trust has applied for matching grants from the California Farmland Conservancy Program and the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program to purchase the Hibbits Ranch conservation easement. Local donations are needed to help us qualify for funding and cover the transaction costs not paid by government grants.