Wednesday, January 17 , 2018, 4:15 pm | Fair 68º


Chairman’s Council Party Marks 30th Anniversary of Elings Park in Santa Barbara

The 230-acre privately funded public park welcomes 200,000 visitors annually with year-round access to natural space and recreational areas

Dr. Virgil Elings, left, and Elings Park Foundation Executive Director Mike Nelson at the Chairman’s Council Party celebrating the park’s 30th anniversary.
Dr. Virgil Elings, left, and Elings Park Foundation Executive Director Mike Nelson at the Chairman’s Council Party celebrating the park’s 30th anniversary. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

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The awe-inspiring location of Godric Grove was the site of the Elings Park Foundation Chairman’s Council Party celebrating the Santa Barbara park's 30th anniversary with views of the Pacific Ocean, Santa Cruz Island and Las Positas Canyon greeting a small group of donors and supporters.

Opened 30 years ago, Elings Park is made up of 230 acres located in the Mesa neighborhood, and as the largest privately funded public park in America offers visitors year-round access to natural space and recreational areas, including hiking, baseball diamonds and a BMX track.

These years of enjoyment have created memories, but the toll on paths, trails, roads and infrastructure results in an ongoing need for improvements and renewal that brought together advocates of a campaign to rejuvenate the park and its facilities.

As the result of a timely sale and a fair price for the south park land, Virgil Elings and others were able to purchase an area that may have otherwise become ocean-facing condos.

“The main thing to me was get the property and then worry about the rest later,” Elings told Noozhawk. “And I think it's a place where without worrying about building up things that are needed it can do well and the community can use it.” 

The 30th anniversary honors the concept of the community members who were an integral part of the mission, including founding president Jerry Harwin, the “father of Las Positas Park,” who passed away in 2013.

“Jerry’s son Joel Harwin and his wife, Linda, are with us tonight, and we would like to recognize the Harwin family and the wonderful legacy that they have created for our community,” event host Mike Warren said. “Alongside Jerry in 1965, when they came to view the closed city dump and discuss the possibility of an ‘athletic park’ as its future use, were Caesar Uyesaka, Mike Pahos, Foster Pratt and Bill Bertka.”

These key members established the goal of creating a park that serves all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds through a public and nonprofit partnership that provides a park for the community built by user fees, grants and donations.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years since a highly motivated, innovative group of public officials, community and local business leaders committed themselves to transforming a municipal landfill into a major recreational facility and public open space,” board president John Britton said. “They executed a capital campaign that raised the private, public and charitable contributions necessary to construct and open the park in 1985.”

Welcoming 200,000 visitors annually, the park also offers a tennis complex, an outdoor amphitheater, a radio-controlled car track, a hang-gliding training hill and basketball hoops. Additionally, spaces for scenic weddings and events, such as graduations and baptisms, are offered with picnic and barbecue areas for the whole family to enjoy.

“In June of 1983, the first wedding took place at this beautiful spot, and Godric Grove has since become one of the premier wedding sites in Santa Barbara County,” Warren said.

In 1980, the Godric Foundation pledged $3 million over the decade for this popular and scenic site, originally called the “Founder’s Grove.”

The Chairman’s Council party kicked off with cocktails and appetizers as acoustic guitarist Dan Lower and the San Marcos High School Madrigal Singers under the direction of Carolyn Teraoka-Brady entertained the enthusiastic crowd.

Warren recognized special guest individuals, families and organizations who have been major contributors over the past years.

“The community built this park and we will be recognizing some of those builders this evening,” Warren said. “There are so many that have been a part of this wonderful mission — to build the most wonderful park for all to enjoy!”

The Las Positas Park Foundation received nonprofit status in 1980, and later in the decade three lighted softball fields were officially opened in 1988, at the Castagnola Complex.

At the end of 1990, the Chairman’s Council was formed, and in 1991, the park was renamed Las Positas Friendship Park, until 1999, when local entrepreneur and philanthropist Elings, donated $1.5 million to the endowment fund and the park was renamed in his honor, as was the Elings Park Foundation.

Additional key moments in the parks growth include its off-leash dog status, Veterans Memorial Walk and Terrace of Remembrance with support from the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation and the Summit for Danny sculpture by artist John Fisher in Godric Circle.

“Much of the past decade has been spent increasing the usage of the park, improving and expanding existing facilities, exploring ways to be ever more inclusive in creating recreational opportunities in the park and not only keeping the park open, but balancing the budget, and enabling the park to thrive in a difficult economic environment,” Warren said.

With only three administrative staff and four maintenance workers, the park maintains a balance, but faces the challenges of an infrastructure that is at least 30 years old.

“There's some things here that you won't find anywhere else,” Elings Park Executive Director Mike Nelson told Noozhawk. “It is unique and I think that's what the founders that we're honoring tonight had in mind is that this ought to be a different sort of facility but also ought to be one that can pay its way.”

For more information on how to donate or volunteer to help maintain Elings Park, visit the website by clicking here.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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