When Carrie Mullen of the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County showed students at Carpinteria’s Canalino Elementary School a photo of all the money their school had raised — some $690 — their eyes widened and a few gasps punctuated the end of their math lesson.
The nickels and dollars Canalino students scrapped together constituted part of $100,000 the Land Trust raised over the last few months during its ongoing effort to acquire and preserve Carpinteria Bluffs III, a 21-acre section of the city’s coast the organization wants to save from development.
Each classroom at Canalino received a certificate from the Land Trust in appreciation of their fundraising efforts, and a student in each one won a T-shirt in a raffle.
The majority of the $6.5 million the Land Trust has raised over the last eight months has come from Carpinteria residents.
“This is certainly not the most wealthy community on the coastline, but they love their open space,” said Chet Work, the organization’s executive director.
“I don’t think we anticipated how much the community would embrace this project.”
The bluffs are frequented by bikers, bird-watchers, hikers, surfers and other nature enthusiasts.
The Land Trust’s fundraising push is on behalf of the city of Carpinteria and Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs, who have also been itching to preserve the rest of the undeveloped coastline.
In June, the groups celebrated purchasing the land, though it still has to be paid off.
Tourists from around the world visit the bluffs, and more people come to watch seals hit the beach than visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, said Arturo Tello, president of the Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs.
The Land Trust, which started in Carpinteria and has preserved 25,000 acres in the county over its 31 years, purchased (with Tello’s organization) its first 52 acres of bluffs in the city in the late 1990s. They turned what is now the Carpinteria Bluffs Nature Preserve over to the city.
The organizations want to do the same with this new piece of land.
Tello said he doesn’t expect there to be an active recreation component at Carpinteria Bluffs III like there is at the nature preserve, but noted that it will still require a degree of restoration work.
The land, he noted, is zoned for a resort and developers long wanted to place a hotel there, something Work said locals had resisted.
“The bluffs, like almost all these coastal properties, kind of go from real estate developer to real estate developer,” Work said.
The Land Trust’s hope is to raise the $7.9 million needed to acquire, begin restoring and provide an endowment for Carpinteria Bluffs III by this summer, or at the very least by next summer.
That leaves about $1.4 million to be raised, and Work said they’re looking to cover the gap with grants, three of which the Land Trust currently has its eye on.
At the end of last year, one donor offered to match any donation of $10 or more with $100 for the first 1,000 donations. Work said more than 1,300 individuals donated.
“In this case, on Bluffs III, we offered exactly the same amount a real estate developer was offering — we just chose to do something different with it,” he said.
“Some of the hurdles that the real estate developer would have had to clear with the Coastal Commission or the county don’t pertain to us, because we have no development interests.”
Next on the Land Trust and Citizens for the Carpinteria Bluffs’ list is another 28 acres called Tee Time that Work said is currently owned by an Orange County real estate developer.
More important than all the financial contributions, Work said, was the enthusiasm for the campaign shown by participants like the Canalino students.
“What we love is that we’re fostering a sense of ownership in the next generation,” he said.
— Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.