On September 10, the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County hosted its first fundraiser, a picnic at its beautiful Arroyo Hondo Preserve on the Gaviota Coast. This nonprofit has protected about 32,000 acres of land in the county by acquiring land and conservation easements.
The event began with a midday reception featuring hands-on experience stations, including a peregrine falcon and a red-tailed hawk from SweetHawk Falconry and a demonstration beehive and honey tasting from Santa Barbara Hives. After the program, docents led tours of the magnificent canyon.
For lunch, the 200 guests were seated comfortably under an enormous open-air tent, and after the meal and auction led by Geoff Green, guests learned from Executive Director Meredith Hendricks that the Gaviota Overlook Campaign has not only met, but exceeded its goal, raising $3.5 million and enabling the expansion of the Arroyo Hondo Preserve through the purchase of 48 acres of adjacent land.
This, according to Hendricks, is the first new piece of conservation on the Gaviota Coast in 15 years. She thanked donors and elected officials present for protecting this land forever.
Hendricks alluded also to conservation of another whopping 25,000 acres on the coast, with details coming soon.
Hendricks thanked donors for their generous contributions, which have enabled the Land Trust to leverage state and federal government funding and accelerate conservation work. She assured donors that every dollar goes to direct action for new open space, habitat for local food systems, or recreation.
In thanking donors, Board Chair Joe Weiland emphasized the permanence of the Land Trust’s work. “Everything that is being done today is being done for a permanent cause — it will always be preserved.”
In an interview, Hendricks explained that the $3.5 million raised for the Gaviota Overlook will enable the Land Trust to purchase the property, develop a trail system, and create an endowment for property management.
The Arroyo Hondo Preserve is open a couple of weekends a month to the general public and also hosts groups from local schools, nonprofits, and other entities. A funder-imposed deed restriction dictates that habitat management be prioritized, which limits public access, but the Land Trust seeks to maximize public access to the extent allowed.
In an interview, Weiland shared that the Gaviota Overlook purchase is great, but this success creates its own problem — raising more funds to look after the new property along with all the existing ones, which will soon total 56,000 acres. This amount of acreage requires lots of staff time to monitor easements, ensuring that partners are abiding by the terms of the agreements. Projects like the Gaviota Overlook are easier to attract donors for, Weiland related, than the less exciting but necessary ongoing stewardship work associated with the easements.
Weiland is pleased that these days, more landowners are reaching out to the Land Trust, wanting to work with it, because the Land Trust has earned their trust through its track record. Trust, according to Weiland, is crucial for getting landowners to grant easements because of the perpetual nature of the partnerships they create between the landowner and the Land Trust.
Weiland, who has served the Land Trust for 20 years, was drawn to the organization because, he related, it attains a very positive net result without being confrontational. Having a conversation with willing landowners, according to Weiland, works out really well.
The Land Trust presently has 20 projects in the pipeline in various parts of the county. Hendricks is especially excited about a property in Orcutt that they are in “deep diligence” mode on, hoping to create a preserve for the Santa Maria Valley similar to Arroyo Hondo, but with more park-like features.
With funding from the state Sustainable Agriculture Lands Conservation (SALC) Program, the Land Trust has a handful of projects in the works for conservation easements on farm and ranch land that is at imminent risk of sprawl development. The focus is on areas of the county where there is a lot of pressure for development, but also really good soil.
Another set of projects revolves around protecting threatened or endangered species. With the majority of the county considered a biodiversity hot spot, there is a big need here. Deals can take years, even a decade to complete, according to Hendricks, necessitating individual donor support to sustain the Land Trust’s efforts and enable it to obtain public grants.
The Land Trust has started Land Trust Treks, a free program of guided local hikes. Info is on the website. http://sblandtrust.org.