While summer vacation has officially begun for most local students, school is still is session for some — but not in the usual walled classrooms.
For the past two weeks, students from Santa Barbara Middle School have been fully engaged in their annual end-of-year biking expeditions. The upper school eighth- and ninth-graders started out at the Grand Canyon in Arizona and are riding on backcountry U.S. Forest Service roads down to Sedona, Ariz., on their journey titled “Ancient Trails: Spirals from the Source.”
The school has gone to this Four Corners area on its end-of-year trips 15 times since 1980, traveling in the heartland of the American Southwest to tap into the Native American energy and insight that is so valuable as a teaching tool.
Meanwhile — and literally right over the hill, in our own backyard — the lower school sixth- and seventh-graders have been getting a taste of what the local Los Padres National Forest has to offer. Hence, the theme of their trip is “No Place Like Home.”
For as long as Santa Barbara Middle School has been in existence (more than 30 years), it has been utilizing the wide variety of trails and roads of the local forest for their outdoor educational expeditions. From the Santa Ynez River Valley all the way to the Gaviota coast, hiking, riding and kayaking in nature provides a variety of rich learning opportunities that in turn give students a bigger picture of what their “home” has to offer, as well as a healthy dose of personal discovery.
Interestingly, this beloved trip came close to being scuttled and rearranged because of limited access this time of year along the Santa Ynez River corridor. Santa Barbara Middle and other schools, Boy Scout troops, church groups, horseback-riding clubs and thousands of day-use visitors have been unable to drive up the hugely popular Santa Ynez River road because of an unseasonably long Forest Service road closure.
While plenty of people are just walking across the first crossing on Paradise Road and crowding in the nearby picnic areas, others are getting more impatient. When asked why the road is still closed to vehicle traffic, the gate attendant knew little about the slide damage, road work and a lawsuit by a local environmental group.
Santa Barbara Middle School has always used this valued road on its trips over the years, as its safety support vehicles must travel nearby while the students are bike riding. In the end, SBMS had to rearrange and cancel some of its longtime favorite rides to work around the access issues.
However, all journeys must come to an end and summer must begin. After the students arrive home from their trips by Friday, they will have continued the tradition of outdoor experiential learning while engaging in immense personal growth and self-discovery. Rounding out the school year next week with some classroom time, summer will begin after the ninth-grade class completes their final SBMS journey — the graduation ceremony called “Rites of Passage.”
For more information about the closure of Paradise Road in the Santa Ynez River Valley, contact the Forest Service via Paradise Station at 805.967.3481.
— Photojournalist Lori Rafferty shows her appreciation for Santa Barbara by pursuing her love of water sports, the backcountry and all things in between. She is also a volunteer wilderness ranger with Los Padres National Forest.