The only thing outnumbering the 50,000 or so monarch butterflies in the Ellwood area’s eucalyptus groves this past winter were the countless hordes of human beings who drove in cars and tour buses down Coronado Drive, parked on the once-quiet residential street, and then trampled through the woods to catch a glimpse of the annual insect migration, which lasts from October to February. So say neighbors of the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, and the resulting concerns — which range from rude visitors blocking driveways and bus drivers who leave engines running to blocked mailboxes, moved trash cans, requests to use private bathrooms, and damage to the groves — will be aired on Wednesday night during a 6:30 to 8 p.m. community workshop inside Ellwood School’s multipurpose room, at 7686 Hollister Avenue.
“It’s just become this big magnet,” said Goleta’s spokesperson Valerie Kushnerov, who believes that this winter’s warm weather, a big butterfly turnout, a well-known docent program, and the increasing power of the Internet to locate the groves combined into a “perfect storm” of stressing factors. “The city is really interested in partnering with the neighborhood to work through this issue.” Wednesday night’s meeting is part of an ongoing effort to develop a management plan that deals with the increased use.
“It’s a constant rotation of cars coming and going, coming and going,” confirmed Susan Ham, who’s watched a steadily growing tide of visitors since she moved to Coronado Drive in 1969, but said that this past season was the busiest yet. “There has to be at least 1,000 cars a day during the season, and they all try to park on the 300 and 400 blocks of Coronado,” said Ham, adding that there’s also four to five full-sized tour buses a day. “It isn’t just on the weekends — this is seven days a week, from 8:30 in the mornings till five o’clock at night.” Residents can’t even park in front of their homes on Thanksgiving or Christmas, complained Ham, explaining, “It grew beyond control before anyone had a plan.”
Part of that emerging plan, said Kushnerov, will probably be to use the Internet and other forms of communication to direct people to other parking places, such as the Sperling Preserve. “That’s intended for larger amounts of parking and is still a short distance from where the butterflies aggregate,” said Kushnerov, who first met with the neighbors about a month ago to hear their concerns. Wednesday night’s meeting will also inform residents which solutions, like seasonal parking permits, may make for more trouble rather than solve the problem. “We’ll talk about some of the challenges,” said Kushnerov, noting that while the city owns the groves where the butterflies congregate, the actual preserve is owned by the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, which adds another level of complexity.
The very existence of that preserve and the increasing popularity of the groves are actually a testament to the fundraising and publicity efforts of Ham and her neighbors, who are now reaping a little too much of what they sowed. “Be careful what you wish for,” said Ham with a slight laugh on Tuesday. “We sure didn’t expect this kind of entourage every single day.”
Despite some disrespectful visitors who try to use your hose or block your driveway, Ham said that “the neighbors have been very gracious.” Though she fears those attitudes may sour if the problems persist — or if the often speeding drivers wind up hitting someone — Ham remains optimistic. “There are answers,” said Ham. “There are things we can do and still have visitors come out and enjoy it.”
Those interested in suggesting and listening to possible solutions for the increased traffic to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve should attend the meeting on Wednesday, April 4, 6:30-8 p.m., inside Ellwood School’s multipurpose room, at 7686 Hollister Avenue.