A huge swath of land has been transferred from ownership by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County to the care of the U.S. Forest Service, a move that should increase public access to the Hot Springs Canyon area.

Supporters and staff of the Land Trust gathered on East Valley Road on Friday afternoon for the deed transfer, signifying the final step in the organization’s conveyance of 422 acres of land in Hot Springs Canyon to the federal agency.

In March, the Land Trust purchased 462 acres from its longtime owners, the McCaslin family, which had not used the land since the 1964 Coyote Fire destroyed a historic resort on the property. The buildings had been there since the late 1800s.

For decades, visitors have enjoyed hiking, biking and riding horses in Hot Springs Canyon, although many were unaware the land was privately owned.

Santa Barbara County zoning would have allowed a development of six homes, as well as a private resort and spa on 20 acres with a conditional-use permit.

“Now this prized open land will be preserved and available for people to enjoy forever,” said Michael Feeney, the Land Trust’s executive director.

The process to transfer the property wasn’t a simple one.

Feeney said the land was encumbered with multiple private easements for electric, water and road uses, and those were deemed inconsistent with standards for land owned by the federal government. Abandoned creosote-treated power poles were also found in the brush, and Southern California Edison had be called in to remove the poles and contaminated soil beneath them, Feeney said.

The most difficult hurdle was related to a nonproducing ground water well that a previous landowner had granted the Montecito Water District the rights to use.

Because the Forest Service found major parts of that agreement unacceptable, an impasse resulted even after months of negotiations. As a result, the Land Trust will continue to own and manage a 40-acre parcel at the entrance to Hot Springs Canyon, with the water well site, while conveying 422 acres to the Forest Service.

About 300 people donated $8 million for the purchase.

“We can’t say enough thank yous,” said Warren Miller, board president of the Land Trust.

Miller presented a ceremonial deed to Los Padres National Forest supervisor Peggy Hernandez.

The move connects the front country to the mountains, according to Hernandez. She said that for the past two centuries, the canyon has been a place of interest for the Chumash, Spanish missionaries and hikers seeking solace from the hustle of city life.

“It remains a place where solitude abounds,” she said.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal; Rachel Kondor, a representative of Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara; and Montecito Trails Foundation president Bobbi King also expressed their support for the project.

It’s been a good fall for trail access, and the Land Trust celebrated several weeks ago the reopening of the Franklin Trail in Carpinteria.

To provide for long-term care of the canyon, a stewardship fund has been created and the Land Trust is seeking to raise at least $100,000.

Click here to make an online donation, or call the Land Trust office at 805.966.4520.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Hot Springs

For decades, visitors have enjoyed hiking and other recreational activities in the Hot Springs Canyon area, though seemingly unaware the land was privately owned. (Land Trust for Santa Barbara County photo)

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at lcooper@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.