I lived in Surrey, England, for a few years as a child. My memories of England are mostly two-dimensional static images-Big Ben, my brown school uniform with an orange bow tie-with the exception of the Enchanted Forest.
The road to Chichester, where we went on weekends, was lined on both sides by venerable arboreal creatures whose intertwined limbs formed a green tunnel through which we drove for miles. As we loaded the car, I remember my little body filling with fervid anticipation of the Enchanted Forest. It didn’t have to do anything to stir my imagination. It just stood there, old and green.
My favorite drive in our fair Santa Barbara is a two-lane road not far from downtown. On one side is a creek replete with singing frogs and river cane jungles, where children have made forts and rope swings and BMX jumps. On the other side is sharply sloping chaparral wildness, where red-tailed hawks and mysterious owls hunt. The drive culminates at a 40-acre preserve with a restored native-planted watershed and twisting dusty trails frequented by the dog-walkers of the town.
If for only a mile or so, I (along with my fellow suburban auto dwellers) can hear and smell and see what Santa Barbara was before we became an internal combustion-fueled species. This green mile strikes me as a testament to the sanity and foresight of the denizens of this town, which counts among its many claims to fame the distinction of being the place where Earth Day got its start.
The city has fought off the developers who would turn the frog-song creekside into two dozen or so shiny new houses. The dog park is preserved and safe thanks to the grace of good people with money. The hawk’s hunting grounds were safe-we thought-thanks to the loving custodianship of private park management.
But now the owners of that park have determined that the chaparral is not useful. Nature isn’t good enough. Instead, in its place, we need a 55,000-square-foot BMX park with spectator bleachers, an amplified PA system, and very bright lights. Children will ride their bikes on carefully engineered dirt surfaces and their parents will pay money. The secret paths and jumps carved by the children themselves out of the cane forest are off-limits, legally speaking. But if I were four feet tall and rode a BMX bike, I think I would pick the wild side over a park with lights.
At present, the unspoiled beauty of Elings Park South, where one still enjoys starlit night skies, is under the protection of the County and City of Santa Barbara. In 1999, the Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund (CREF) and the community agreed to save this part of Elings Park from any form of development for 30 years, with the Elings Foundation as steward of the land. Today, the foundation has begun pressing the County Board of Supervisors and City Council to extinguish their Covenant Restricting Use-and to develop the land.
This verdant canyon is an enchanted forest for today’s young car travelers, a place where suburbia coexists with Santa Barbara’s original nature. Now the developer’s fences and park stewards’ drawings are prepared to “improve” these properties. I wonder if the Enchanted Forest on the road from Surrey to Chichester still stands. I know we have a chance to save this emerald gem in our own town.
The owners of Elings Park are already in the Environmental Impact Report phase of their development plans. They think that they can convince the city to void the Covenant Restricting Use and approve this outrageous shift from “passive use” to “recreation.” The park owners stand to profit from their new project, so I doubt that we’re going to convince them that nature is good enough. The covenant from 1999 is clear; now it’s up to us to defend it.
For more information and to sign a petition to save Elings Park South, see saveelingsparksouth.org.