Wednesday, October 17 , 2018, 5:05 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Ray Ford: Parma Park — Nature’s Treasure Chest in Santa Barbara

Grass is green, flowers are blooming and Parma Park is the perfect alternative when the nearby trails are closed.

Couple on an evening walk along one of the Stanwood trails. Parma Park includes nearly six miles of trails that are perfect for kids, families, hikers and runners. Mountain bikes are restricted to the fire road. Click to view larger
Couple on an evening walk along one of the Stanwood trails. Parma Park includes nearly six miles of trails that are perfect for kids, families, hikers and runners. Mountain bikes are restricted to the fire road. (Ray Ford photos)

[Noozhawk’s note: This is a beginning of a series on places to visit while the Burn Area Trails are closed to the public.]

Parma is an anomaly of sorts—an open space area that is more a mountain retreat than the type of parks you’ll find in most other parts of Santa Barbara.

There are just a few dozen trail signs scattered throughout the park, the bulk of them cut from the wood of eucalyptus trees burned during the Tea Fire in 2008.  

The acreage was once owned by the Parma family. G.B. Parma came to Santa Barbara more than 120 years ago, established a grocery store on State Street, and promptly bought the tract of land in what was then the “far hills.”

Parma raised goats on the property. Apparently, it was these animals, intent on foraging the hillsides, which decided where the trails would go. 

The farm was also the site of an expansive olive grove on the north side of the property. Though many of the trees were destroyed by the Tea Fire, careful tending by City Parks staff has led to a revitalization of the grove.

In 1973, Harold and Jack Parma, sons of the elder Parma, gave the land to the city to establish a natural preserve.

“The community has been nice to us,” Harold reminisced, “and we’ve been here so long. Every community should have some open space. I think it’s precious, something we could do in return for the community.” 

A bench along the main fire road leading to McMullin Point provides a nice rest spot and a nice view down Sycamore Canyon. Click to view larger
A bench along the main fire road leading to McMullin Point provides a nice rest spot and a nice view down Sycamore Canyon. (Ray Ford photos)

The park trails are divided into five general areas: the Canyon and Plateau trails which lead into the west side of the park; the Ridge and Stanwood trails into the east side of the park; and one long private easement in between both that follows the west fork of Parma Creek up to Mountain Drive.  

However, given the number of connector trails, it is possible to cobble together a route that combines parts of all of them. You’ll find yourself, as I often have, making spur-of-the-moment choices as to which way you’ll turn when you reach this turnoff or that one, meaning that most times you come to Parma Park, you’ll never quite take the same route twice.

My First Visit

The first time I went hiking in Parma Park, it had just finished raining and the water was cascading down Sycamore Creek. As I walked up the main road, I noticed trails leading off to the east and west, but it was too wet to explore them so I continued up the road. 

It wasn’t too far before I came to a fork in the road at the edge of a stand of tall eucalyptus trees. An owl, hidden somewhere in the upper branches, hooted again and again.

I turned right and followed the road down to the creek, where I watched the water spill over it. 

The owl continued to hoot and the noise of the water provided a mesmerizing backdrop. The branches of the ancient oak trees along the path created interesting patterns against the green hillsides. What a beautiful place, I thought, as I retreated back to my car.

Remanants of the historic Parma olive grove are a part of the park’s rustic charm. Click to view larger
Remanants of the historic Parma olive grove are a part of the park’s rustic charm.  (Ray Ford photos)

This was the first of many trips to the park. I especially like to come here in the springtime when the creek is running, the hills are covered in green and the flowers are in blossom. Though there’s just a trickle of water flowing in the creek now, the grass is a vibrant green, the flowers are beginning to blossom and it won’t last long. 

Main Trailhead Directions

Follow Sycamore Canyon Road north to its intersection with Highway 192 where Stanwood Drive begins. Turn left and continue .7 miles on Stanwood to a sharp turn in the road where you will see the Parma Park sign. Park on either side of Stanwood but please do not block the park entrance.

Restrictions

Parma Park trails, with the exception of the fire road leading up to McMullin Point, are off limits to mountain bikes. Please respect this.

On the Trail

From the locked gate at the bottom of Parma Park, a short walk up the main road leads to a picnic area. There are several tables under the oaks where you can enjoy a lunch, and the cars are near enough that you can head out on a hike and then have lunch afterwards without having to take things with you.

From the picnic area the choices are simple: left; right; or straight ahead. 

Continuing straight ahead leads up the east fork of Parma Creek on a wide fire road that goes to the high point (775’) in the park, where you’ll find incredible views, a picnic table and a marker commemorating Rowe McMullin, a long-time volunteer who helped establish the trails in the park.

To the left, a picturesque canyon trail leads into the west side of the Park, with several oak-covered variations in the lower canyon, grass-covered hills and scattered oaks on the higher parts, and a wonderful canyon section that leads up to Mountain Drive. 

To the right, not too far from the picnic benches, another trail leads down across the east fork and then parallels Stanwood Drive for a half mile. Power walkers will love this section given the steep ups and downs, and others since it eventually connects up to Rowe Point as well, providing a lengthy (and tough) loop hike.

Regardless of which route you take, there are plenty of connections along the way that offer variations that allow you to tailor your adventure to your own likes.

Noozhawk outdoors writer Ray Ford can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for his website, SBoutdoors.com. Follow him on Twitter: @riveray. The opinions expressed are his own.

The higher western part of the park provides views of the eastern part of the front country. Click to view larger
The higher western part of the park provides views of the eastern part of the front country. (Ray Ford photos)

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