It took more than a year and a half of legal and logistical wrangling, but the deal to save Hot Springs Canyon above Montecito for public use is finally done. On Friday, November 15, the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County will pass the deed for 422 acres of the 462-acre property to the U.S. Forest Service, which will manage the property as part of the contiguous Los Padres National Forest.

The Land Trust will retain ownership of the remaining 40 acres, as they were “unsuccessful in negotiating a water well agreement on terms that would be acceptable to the Montecito Water District,” according to the trust’s director Michael Feeney, who had to spend about $60,000 in unexpected legal costs to get to this point. “Who would have thought it would be so challenging to buy and donate a key piece of land to the American people?” he said in a prepared statement released this Friday.

The Land Trust had launched a fundraising campaign in 2011 to buy the 462 acres from the property’s longtime owners — the McCaslin Family — for $7.9 million. Zoning in the area would have allowed the development of six homes, as well as a private resort and spa.

“Historically, we have not wanted nor intended to be in the land ownership business,” Feeney said of the remaining 40 acres. The most notable exception is the Arroyo Hondo preserve on the Gaviota Coast, which the trust manages solely. The other properties they own, the Coronado Butterly Preserve in Goleta, and part of the Carpinteria Salt Marsh, are managed jointly by a number of agencies.

The eagerly awaited Hot Springs deal will be celebrated during a ceremony next Friday, where Land Trust President Warren Miller, Los Padres National Forest Supervisor Peggy Hernandez, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, and Montecito Trails Foundation president Bobbi King will be present, among those who contributed to the fundraising campaign.

“The story does not end here,” Feeney said in his statement, explaining that as new property owners of an area popular with hikers, the Land Trust is looking to raise $100,000 and create an annual revenue stream for trail maintenance, creek protection, fire prevention, and other management tasks. To donate, visit the Land Trust’s website or call its office at 966-4520.


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