A community treasure, located high off Las Positas Road in Santa Barbara, serves thousands of young people each year with a wide range of outdoor activities. In fact, more than 200,000 visitors of all ages take part in Elings Park’s offerings, which include soccer, lacrosse, tennis, BMX, softball, baseball, picnicking, hiking and biking. The park is also a place where families gather to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings and memorials.
The 235-acre part is open 14 hours a day, 363 days a year, with four maintenance and four administrative staff — a big job with hands stretched thin. The entire enterprise is run with a volunteer board and no tax dollars — quite an accomplishment in this day and age.
The park was a dream come true for the late Jerry Harwin, who had been Recreation Commission chairman in 1965 when the city dump at that location became full and closed.
It was his vision to turn that city dump into a beautiful park and recreation facility. It is also a state and national model for what can be accomplished through a pubic/private partnership.
By 1972, the first phase was completed and the tennis court complex opened. Today, that tennis complex is owned by the City of Santa Barbara and is no longer part of the park. The city is strapped for money for capital repairs and improvements, but the current board at Elings Park has committed to raising the millions of dollars that will be required to restore the Las Positas Tennis Center for future generations to enjoy.
The park evolved over the years and was granted a series of approvals to expand and go forward with the vision. In 1999, Dr. Virgil Elings, local entrepreneur and philanthropist, donated $1.5 million to complete the purchase of the Jesuit property to the south of the park. In recognition of that generosity and other Elings family members, the park was renamed in his honor.
Elings Park is the largest privately funded park in America — yet another source of pride for the Santa Barbara community.
It’s easy to take these community treasures for granted because we live in an area of such beautiful natural abundance. That’s why it’s helpful sometimes to pause and take stock of those jewels in our area that make life richer, healthier and more beautiful for young people and families.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.