One of Santa Barbara’s long-neglected iconic natural landmarks is finally getting some love.
The City of Santa Barbara wants to restore the Andree Clark Bird Refuge to improve the quality of the water, invite more birds and reduce the foul odor that often arises because of the poor circulation of the water.
“This project will improve the water quality, smell, and storm protections of the area while creating usable outdoor recreational space,” said Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, who teaches geology at Santa Barbara City College. “It really is a benefit for the whole area, and I am looking foward to it.”
The project proposes to improve water quality and restore habitat for aquatic and avian wildlife. Crews plan to replace a broken weir and weir gate, remove 74 nonnative trees, recontour portions of the lagoon shoreline, recontour the mouth of the lagoon on the beach side, next to the volleyball courts, and lower the sand berm at the beach to allow better circulation of the water.
If approved by the California Coastal Commission, construction would begin in the summer, with projected completion by December.
For locals, the bird refuge is as much home as Hendry’s Beach or State Street. The 42-acre lake was created in 1920 and evolved into one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful scenic paradises. It’s a home to birds, including seagulls, ducks, swans and egrets, turtles and frogs, and an array of vegetation. It’s a lunch sport for many, and a place to shoot photos and paint scenes. It’s also a retreat to escape the hum of traffic on nearby streets.
Anyone who has ever taken a train ride at the Santa Barbara Zoo has viewed the bird refuge from the other side and marveled at its idyllic landscape.
Despite its natural attraction, some enhancement is needed.
The water is supposed to connect to the beach across the street, but the circulation is poor and sometimes nonexistent because of broken infrastructure. For the first time, crews are going to replace the weirs and lower the sand berms to allow water to recirculate. Every now and then, there’s an algae bloom, and the lake oozes a foul rotten egg odor that can last for weeks.
The lagoon currently does not flush into the ocean. Replacing the weirs will help filter and circulate the water.
“There’s been an odor issue, ongoing for years,” project planner Megan Arciniega said. “There are water quality issues that have been ongoing for several years, especially drought years.”
In addition, crews are going to reshape parts of the edges, to make the water more shallow, which will allow more and new birds to make the refuge their home. The bird refuge is currently about 2- to 5-feet deep.
On the beach side, the ice plant near the volleyball courts will be removed and replaced with native vegetation.
“This project has been a longtime coming,” Planning Commissioner Lesley Wiscomb said. “Our community and visiting public are going to be so grateful for these thoughtful improvements.”
Planning Commission chair Deborah Schwartz said the project is going to be a signficant improvement for locals and tourists.
“I think this could be a very exciting attraction to visitors who come to Santa Barbara and appreciate our beautiful natural environment,” Schwartz said.
Sneddon said the restoration will be much appreciated.
“The bird refuge has always been an important habitat and magical part of zoo train rides with a historic tie to the Clark family,” Sneddon said. “We need to honor this refuge by making it clean, safe and accessible.”