Hot Springs Canyon, the last undeveloped, privately owned canyon in the Santa Barbara front country, has been purchased by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County for protection and public enjoyment.

The local, nonprofit conservation group closed escrow on the 462-acre property on Thursday.

As part of a popular network of trails between Cold Springs and San Ysidro canyons, the magnificent views and trails of Hot Springs Canyon have been enjoyed by recreational users for decades — even though it was privately owned and hikers were actually trespassing. The property also features the ruins of the former Hot Springs Resort, which existed for more than 130 years before it burned in 1964.

When the longtime owners, the McCaslin family, placed the property on the market in 2009, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County recognized an opportunity to protect the property and make it available for public enjoyment forever. Over a two-year period, the Land Trust studied the property, completed its own real estate appraisal and negotiated a price below the appraised value. The property, which includes six legal land parcels zoned for residential development, was purchased for $7.6 million.

“Thanks to the incredible generosity of our lead donors and foundations, who came in early and strong, we got this campaign off the ground and worked with the local community to save this place for future generations,” Land Trust Executive Director Michael Feeney said. “Many of those who made contributions have also spent hours and hours of their own time seeking additional support. We couldn’t have achieved this conservation success without each and every one of the friends who held gatherings in their homes, made phone calls and even walked the trails with information about Hot Springs Canyon.”

Feeney noted that the Land Trust is still seeking charitable donations for the project, as it is about $30,000 short of covering all of the transaction costs.

“I’m optimistic,” he said. “We are still receiving responses to our recent mailing, and gifts come in through our website almost every day.”

The Land Trust plans to convey most or all of the land to the Los Padres National Forest for long-term stewardship. The U.S. Forest Service owns and maintains the much of the public land that surrounds Hot Springs Canyon, which make it a natural steward for Santa Barbara’s newest stretch of preserved property.

“The McCaslin family is very excited that the Hot Springs property will forever be protected for the use of those who appreciate its uniqueness and beauty,” Mark McCaslin said on behalf of the property owners. “Special thanks to Michael Feeney for his patience and guidance over the past four years as we brought this complex acquisition to fruition. This is a true win-win, and we are grateful to everyone involved.”

“This has been one of the most complex land acquisitions our organization has ever done,” Feeney said.

There are complex sets of recorded agreements involving the Montecito Water District, a private water company, Southern California Edison and adjacent residents. Before the land can be conveyed to the Forest Service, some of these agreements need to be renegotiated and amended.

“We are committed to working with the Forest Service, the Montecito Trails Foundation, the Pearl Chase Society and others to make sure the canyon is well managed going forward,” Feeney said. “So many people have come together to make this happen. From the McCaslin family to our donors and volunteers, Hot Springs Canyon is a labor of love that will be enjoyed by generations to come.”

To make a contribution to help save Hot Springs Canyon, call 805.966.4520. Click here for maps and photos.

— Morgan Coffey represents the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County.