Ground was broken Wednesday for a major project to restore the estuarine conditions that had once existed on the site of the former Ocean Meadows Golf Course on UCSB’s North Campus. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Four years after a former golf course in Goleta was gifted from a nonprofit, UC Santa Barbara has begun its ecological restoration plan to preserve the wetland for public access, research and teaching.

Wednesday marked the official launch of a collaborative effort to restore the estuarine conditions that had once been the upper area of the Devereux Slough. 

“This collaborative effort reflects UCSB’s commitment to protecting and enhancing the beautiful environment,” said Marc Fisher, UCSB vice chancellor of administrative services. “The project reflects the thoughtful research in soils, hydrology, plant communities and wildlife habitat. This site will be a testing ground for researchers, a teaching laboratory for students and a place of beauty for everyone to enjoy.”

The site at 6925 Whittier Drive was filled with topsoil during construction of the Ocean Meadows Golf Course approximately 50 years ago.

UCSB is working to revive the vibrant wetlands with the support of a diverse range of public agencies.

North Campus Open Space, the 136-acre parcel’s new name, will eventually open to the public and include trails extending three miles along the Ellwood Devereux coast by connecting existing properties.

The coastal habitat restoration was designed under a team of UCSB faculty, and funding comes from 19 collaborators, ranging from state, federal, local funds and private supporters. 

“It is not the standard campus construction project,” Fisher said. “The collaboration has been extraordinary, and it will produce an open space that we will be proud of.” 

Fisher said UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang helped bring the vision of reinvigorating Ellwood Devereux Slough to reality.

Since 1994, Yang and his colleagues have been involved in safeguarding the 652-acre complex of protected land by not renewing the Ellwood Marine Terminal base and by committing to move the proposed UCSB faculty development off the coast bluffs.

“We look forward to working together to preserve this beautiful and ecological area for educational research, for public enjoyment and taking care of our natural resources in our community,” Yang said. “We cherish this opportunity to serve as the long-term stewards of this open space.”

Wednesday marked the official launch of a collaborative effort to restore the estuarine conditions that had once been the upper arms of Devereux Slough

Wednesday marked the official launch of a collaborative effort to restore the estuarine conditions that had once been the upper arms of Devereux Slough (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit committed to creating parks and protecting land, purchased 63 acres of the golf course in 2013 with $7 million in grant money.

The organization later gifted the site to UCSB.

To date, UCSB has secured grants totaling more than $15 million to help restore the estuarine and mesa ecosystem, according to UCSB spokeswoman Shelly Leachman.

The Trust for Public Land remained a primary partner, joining forces with the campus on public access design concepts and community meetings.

The project is a joint achievement by community members and environmental groups, said Lisa Stratton, the director of ecosystem management at the UCSB Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration and part of the North Campus Open Space Science Advisory Board. 

Stratton said Californian voters also helped make the project possible.

“Californians voted over the last 20 years for various propositions to protect wetlands,” Stratton said. “The money was given to the state agencies that are behind funding the project. They steward the vision the residents of the state have promoted. Rather than having development on both sides, we have continuous open space that makes it more valuable.”

Primary funders on the state level include Caltrans, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Natural Resources Agency, the Department of Water Resources Urban Streams program, the State Coastal Conservancy, the Ocean Protection Council and the Wildlife Conservation Board.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is among the largest funders of the project.

The federal agency committed $3.5 million in grant funds.

“The missions of UCSB and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intersect when science and education combine to help restore habitat for the benefits of both our native wildlife, local community and visitors to enjoy,” said Steve Henry, Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office field supervisor. “We are honored to celebrate a partnership that benefits species we are committed to preserving and serve the community now and generations to come.”

Habitat creation specialists are set to move 350,000 cubic yards of soil out of the project site by November.

The land restoration is directed to enhance habitat for rare plants and animals, reduce flood risk, support public access and supply educational opportunities for students.    

UCSB is combining its education and research mission into the management and project design. 

Multiple class assignments, academic courses and independent student efforts have centered on research opportunities at the site, including examining sea level rise, insect diversity, soil and water quality and carbon sequestration.

“We can have a rotating cycle of 20,000 students — this is a place were the future leaders of California will learn,” Stratton said. “This is not just acres of restored wetlands and habitat.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.