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Land Trust Seeking Help to Buy Ranch
Santa Barbara News-Press
by Melinda Burns
April 21, 2001


A local land trust is looking for $1.5 million in community donations by Oct. 15 to buy the Arroyo Hondo Ranch, a picturesque property on the Gaviota Coast that has been likened to a small-scale Yosemite.

The 782-acre ranch rises from the beach to the Los Padres National Forest, just west of Gaviota State Park along Arroyo Hondo. The name of the ranch means "deep stream," a reference to the steep walls of the unspoiled canyon that runs through it.

The property includes a working citrus orchard, an abandoned avocado orchard and a thick-walled historic adobe, built in 1842 by the descendants of José Francisco de Ortega, the first comandante of the Presidio. The grapevines from an old vineyard have gone wild here, entwining themselves in sycamore trees up the canyon. A 5,000-year-old Chumash archaeological site lies on the property, buried five feet underground.

Last year, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County obtained an option to buy Arroyo Hondo for $7 million from J. J. Hollister and 17 co-owners. In a switch from past policy, trust officials said they plan to keep the property and manage it as a natural and historic preserve,. The adobe would become a visitor's center, and a public access to the creek and the beach would be restricted. The stream is a habitat for three endangered species - the steelhead trout, tidewater goby and California red-legged frog.

"That canyon is magic," said Michael Feeney, the trust executive director. "Once you make the first bend, you've gone back in time 150 years. There's no building, no power lines, no development. You don't really feel like you're in Southern California. It hasn't been overrun. It hasn't been overused, and we want to make sure it stays that way."

To date, the trust has obtained about $4.7 million: $4 million from the state Coastal Conservancy; $300,000 from a county fund that oil companies operating offshore pay into; $275,000 from the Goleta Valley Land Trust; and $90,000 in private donations. The Goleta land trust donation is a challenge grant for matching donations by June 15.

The Land Trust for Santa Barbara County has applied for about $800,000 more in government grants. Thus, Feeney said, the $1.5 million from the community would make up the rest.

The trust typically purchases properties for preservation and then transfers them to government agencies for public management, but Arroyo Hondo will be different, Feeney said.

"This is the first time the land trust has decided to hang onto a large property like this," he said. "We think we can provide the kind of stewardship and caretaking and public access that is compatible with protecting the pristine resources of that canyon. We decided this could be the signature land trust property on the Gaviota Coast."

The National Park Service is presently studying the coast from Coal Oil Point to Point Sal to determine whether it merits preservation as a national seashore or monument. The trust has helped purchase deed restrictions on two Gaviota Coast ranches west of Arroyo Hondo to ensure that they will remain in agriculture - but no public access will be allowed there.

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB is drawing up a preliminary management plan for a future preserve at Arroyo Hondo. The public may be limited to docent-led groups, with open hike days restricted to a specific number of visitors, Feeney said. Public access to the tidepools on the rocky beach may be similarly limited and supervised, he said.

As for the historic adobe, Feeney said, it would remain as it is, complete with old photos of stagecoaches and ranching and a display of the works of local landscape painters.

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