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Santa Barbara Panel Backs New Trail System at Douglas Family Preserve

City wants to remove asphalt, steer people, dogs away from the coastal bluffs

Roni Shen walks her dog at the Douglas Family Preserve. Santa Barbara parks commissioners on Wednesday supported a plan to develop a universal trail route at the popular park.
Roni Shen walks her dog at the Douglas Family Preserve. Santa Barbara parks commissioners on Wednesday supported a plan to develop a universal trail route at the popular park.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk Photo)

Despite objections from some members of the public, the Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Commission Wednesday night voted unanimously to move ahead with a $300,000 grant application to create a universal trail route at the Douglas Family Preserve.

The city is looking to develop a universal, ADA-compliant trail made out of decomposed granite and other aggregate materials, while steadily moving people and their dogs away from the bluffs to reduce erosion of the cliffside.

The universal trail would not include the current bluff trail, although the city acknowledged there would be nothing to stop people from traversing that route if they chose to. 

"We know we need to address the coastal bluff erosion at some point," said Jill Zachary, acting Parks & Recreation Department Director. "In an ideal world, we would have less erosion and be able to vegetate those areas."

Zachary said that people have to realize that at some point, the coastal trail "may not be there in its current configuration."

The Douglas Family Preserve sits high on the Mesa bluffs overlooking the ocean. Commonly known by locals as the Wilcox Property, the 70-acre site was acquired by the Trust for Public Lands in 1996 and then transferred to the city of Santa Barbara in 1997.

It's a popular hangout for people to watch the sunset, take a stroll and walk their dogs.

Although she wasn't specific, Zachary said the city needs to eradicate some of the problems in the park.

"We also have activities in the preserve that sometimes aren't as positive as we would like for them to be," she said. 

The city is looking to create 5-foot-wide trails, with signage, and remove the "user-generated" trails that exist in the park.

City officials, however, said during the meeting that the 5-foot-side trails would not be large enough for fire truck access so that vehicles will have to "straddle" the trails with wheels on each side.

The changes, however, upset some people who use the park.

"I think I just heard a proposal to create Tom Sawyer's Island, but that's not what we want," said Santa Barbara resident Wayne Norris. "I don't think you can do a thing to make it better."

Norris said two generations of children have grown up at the preserve, enjoying the user-established trails.

"Not just myself, but I think everyone else loves it just the way it is," he said. "I don't think anybody in the neighborhood is interested in changing anything."

Speaker Steven Crosby agreed that the park should be left alone. The city should do more to enforce the current rules at the park instead of changing the trails, he said. 

"If we have some money to spend on the preserve, I would recommend using some for fencing so the existing code could be enforced and hiring rangers to enforce it," he said.

Parks & Recreation commissioners, however, said the city should take advantage of the grant money. 

"Thank God we don't have 200 homes there," said Commissioner Beebe Longstreet. "Think we have traffic now? Think about the traffic with 200 homes there."

Longstreet said the property was purchased as a dog park. With all the users, the park just gets dustier, which kills the vegetation. 

"It is an overly loved park, and anytime we can apply for any kind of resources to make some improvements, I think we are obligated to do that," Longstreet said.

The department will be conducting a community meeting on Thursday, Aug. 27, at 5:30 pm at the Preserve to discuss the project with the community. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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