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Conservation Flourishes In Carpinteria Salt Marsh

The marsh receives the Coastal America Award, an environmental honor from the White House

While fish jumped out of the Franklin Creek Channel and snowy egrets, great blue herons and cormorants crept along its muddy banks, it was a fitting example of conservation in the works as the Carpinteria Salt Marsh received the Coastal America Award, the only environmental honor of its kind given by the White House.

“It’s hard to believe that almost 25 years ago we almost had a marina and residential development here,” said Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, speaking from the edge of the marsh. “I think the will of folks who felt otherwise, and fought and advocated doing the right thing on this property ultimately prevailed.”

When Carpinteria was first mapped in the 1880s, 60 percent to 70 percent of the small coastal town amounted to a wetland. The 230 acres that remain today have experienced several facelifts in the past 15 years. Fifteen acres along Ash Avenue were filled in with dirt, weeds and trash, and a housing development loomed on the horizon.

The city of Carpinteria, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County and the California Coastal Conservancy dug out the channels, native flora replaced non-natives, paths were built and interpretive signs erected — all resulting in the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park. That project was completed in 1997.

A year ago, the land trust finished rechanneling, removing invasive plant species and planting 18,000 native plants on the 36 acres it owns in the south and southeast portion of the estuary.

Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, hailed the Carpinteria Salt Marsh's new look. “At one point it looked like some place no one really cared about,
Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, hailed the Carpinteria Salt Marsh’s new look. “At one point it looked like some place no one really cared about,” he said at the award ceremony. (Chuck Graham / Noozhawk photo)

“At one point it looked like some place no one really cared about,” said Michael Feeney, executive director of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. “Our theory was if we fixed it up, put in some paths, signs and made it available for people to use who really enjoy the outdoors, then the community would care for it.”

Coastal America was established in 1992 to protect, restore and preserve critical coastal and estuarine habitat. The purpose is to integrate federal efforts with state, local and nongovernmental efforts reaching a common good.

The marsh and its partners received the award based on restoring the wetland’s waterways, fish passages and reducing pollution. Award recipients included the land trust, the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District, the city of Carpinteria, the University of California Natural Reserve System–Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve, the California Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the NOAA Restoration Center, Santa Barbara County, The Lennox Foundation, the Sandyland Cove Homeowners Association and the Sandyland Protective Association.

“The restoration of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh is really a striking example of an opportunity that resulted from identification of a critical community need,” said Virginia Tippie, director of Coastal America. “What a wonderful contribution that really serves as a model for all other communities around the country.”

— Local freelance writer Chuck Graham is editor of Deep magazine.

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