The project to restore the former Ocean Meadows golf course and the adjoining UCSB property received a $3.82 million boost from the state Wildlife Conservation Board at its last quarterly meeting in June. UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration has been leading a successful fund-raising to bring back the topography of the area and let the wetlands surface again, with much of the credit going to its director of ecosystem management, Lisa Stratton.
“I just mailed in a 90-page document,” Stratton said somewhat ruefully on Friday, explaining that a two-page grant application just grows when you add all the supporting documents. “It takes the whole campus to make it happen,” she said of the project and the process, which utilizes the work of students in the university’s environmental programs as well as the advice of a science advisory board, populated with some of the school’s soils, hydrology, and restoration experts.
Four workshops gave students and long-term residents a chance to weigh in on what to do with the 136 acres, now called the North Campus Open Space. They expressed a desire for views of wildlife; access to nature, other trails, and existing roads; and the ability to enjoy recreation there. A large-scale map showing the conceptual design can be found here.
The restoration of the golf course area, built in 1968, involves returning soil scraped away and dumped into the wetlands. The remaining acres had been slated for housing by the university, but the community rallied for open space. Both UCSB and the developer of The Bluffs single-family homes project responded by moving housing on their respective properties away from the wetland areas. Somewhere between $15 million and $20 million is estimated to be needed to complete the open-space project, which has gone through CEQA and filed its permits.
For Stratton, who is described as the tireless “mastermind” behind the project’s multiple and large grant acquisitions, she recognized that “the only way to make [the project] happen was to raise the funds.” She modestly added that “it kind of worked out that California and the nation are starting to recognize how important wetlands are … to recharge groundwater and establish habitat.” The project’s raised something like $15 million so far, both for the planning and for the actual land recovery.
Fish & Wildlife gave about $3 million in several grants, said Stratton, and Caltrans $2.4 million for a major trail with bridges and a boardwalk. Another million came from the Ocean Protection Council, and a grant from the Urban Greening Program of the state Natural Resources Agency will go to “landscaping” the buffer zone between homes and the open space. The Ocean Meadows land itself was donated to UCSB after the Trust for Public Land bought it for $7 million in 2013. Other monies for the project have come from Goleta city and land trust, as well as Santa Barbara city, county, and land trust.
“I had to try twice for some of them,” Stratton said of her grant-writing passion “to make this restoration happen,” adding, “and then we got them.” The project staff has been working with the Coastal Commission on minor adjustments to the plans to “minimize impacts and maximize benefits,” said Stratton, with final approval hoped for later this year.