Set in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, the Sedgwick Reserve stands not only as a historical tribute to the Valley’s agricultural heritage, but offers a breathtaking picture of what California was like for centuries before Western man brought “progress” to this part of the globe. The Sedgwick Reserve contains much of the watershed of Figueroa Creek, from rolling oak savannah, to grassland harboring many native grasses, to the gray pine forest extending into the Los Padres National Forest to the north. Deer may be spotted frolicking through the meadows and watering along the creek as it flows toward the Santa Ynez River.
The original Rancho La Laguna ranch headquarters, bunkhouses, barns and vintage farm implements speak to the ranching history of Santa Barbara County dating to the Mexican rancho days. Archaeologists have catalogued Chumash burial sites over 2,000 years old. An art studio overlooking the valley reminds us of the artistic and educational tradition that was instilled by Duke Sedgwick, sculptor and long-time owner of the Sedgwick Ranch.
The Sedgwick Reserve lies between what were once the two largest Chumash villages in the Santa Ynez Valley: Soxtonokmu and Kalawashaq’. According to artifacts found on the property, the Reserve appears to have both a residence to and path frequented between the two villages up until 1822. After this time, the Chumash in the Santa Ynez Valley were removed from their villages and baptized into missions. For the next 150 years the Sedgwick Reserve was used primarily for ranching and dry farming. Francis “Duke” Sedgwick and his wife, Alice de Forest Sedgwick bought the Ranch in 1952. Duke Sedgwick, being a sculptor, began working out of the artist loft and invited other artists to come and take part the beauty of Sedgwick through their individual arts. This started a legacy of arts and education that still is featured at the Sedgwick Reserve.
In 1967, Mr. Sedgwick donated a controlling interest in 5,114 acres in the ranch to UC Santa Barbara, with the intent that the entire property go to the University when he and his wife were gone. However, after in 1988 after Mr. Sedgwick’s death, Mrs. Sedgwick decided to leave her remaining interest in 782 acres, including the ranch headquarters, to her five children. At the same time, she authorized the University to sell the rest of the ranch, even those this was contrary to Mr. Sedgwick’s gift of the land. Mrs. Sedgwick passed away a few months later.
In the late 1980’s, UCSB proposed to sell their portion of the land, in part to raise money to build an art museum at the UCSB campus. The Sedgwick children were also debating sale of their interest, in part to pay estate taxes.
In the early 1990’s, motivated by research scientists, artists and preservationists, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County agreed to lead a “Save the Sedgwick” campaign to acquire the 782 acres from the heirs to the Sedgwick estate. In complex, several year effort, the Land Trust succeeded in raising $3.2 million from local, state and foundation grants, and a great many individual donations, to purchase the heir’s parcel. We then negotiated convey it at no cost to UCSB, based on the agreement that the land would be placed under a conservation easement to permanently protect it from development and that it would become part of the UC Natural Reserve System (NRS). The NRS has managed the Sedgwick Reserve since 1997.
The Present and the Future
Today the Sedgwick Reserve is being used extensively for research, arts and education programs. Over 38 visitors per day, and up to 6,400 a year visit Sedgwick Reserve. One of the most successful research and restoration projects is Kids in Nature which brings in over 100 children from regional schools to do habitat restoration and to learn about nature from the Reserve’s volunteer docents.
Scientists from UCSB and other institutions around the world now participate in ecological and agricultural research at Sedgwick. Major research projects include the study of oak tree regeneration, native grass competition with invasive plant species, the ecological role of pocket gophers, and many other studies related to the rich populations of native plants, lichen, insects, reptiles and vertebrate animals that call the Sedgwick Reserve home.
Active agricultural use is also a part of the Sedgwick Reserve. The conservation easement negotiated by the Land Trust requires that a minimum of 200 acres of the “heirs parcel” land be used for agriculture. For several years, this has been done under a grazing lease tied to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s teaching programs. A local organic farmer has recently proposed leasing former hay fields to run an organic orchard and vineyard operation.
The Sedgwick Reserve hosts an annual series of events of interest to the public, from research symposia, to landscape painting days, to docent led hikes with prominent local botanists, geologists and wildlife experts.
Since there is such a large volume of educational and research group activities, the UC Reserve System has deemed it necessary to develop more facilities to accommodate these groups and to provide for the future of the Reserve. In 1999, the reserve manager and officials from the University began to brainstorm an infrastructure plan that would build new, environmentally compatible research, housing and educational facilities in the historic ranch headquarters area, while preserving the main ranch house, barn, art studio and other historic structures. After two years of research and thought, the infrastructure plan has been completed, and fundraising efforts are underway to raise grants and donations to equip Sedgwick Reserve to better fulfill its mission.
The Land Trust is proud of the success of “Save the Sedgwick” – our first large land purchase. For information on how you can go to experience one of Santa Barbara County’s most special places and learn about the Sedgwick Reserve’s research, art, educational and public access programs, contact the Sedgwick at (805) 686-1941.