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Hiking: Santa Barbara

Pining for Coastal Views Among the Trees

September 07, 1997|JOHN McKINNEY

For the walker, the attractions of the Douglas Family Preserve are many. Cliff-hugging Monterey pine and cypress trees frame grand coastal views from Pt. Mugu to Gaviota. A lovely stand of coastal live oak borders the north side of the preserve. In winter, migrating monarch butterflies cluster in a south-side eucalyptus grove.

During the two-decades-long struggle to preserve the coastal bluffs above Arroyo Burro Beach, conservationists sometimes called the disputed land "the last great place." Indeed, the Douglas Family Preserve was and is the largest area of coastal open space within the city limits of Santa Barbara.

In 1949, Roy Wilcox moved his large nursery from the Los Angeles community of Montebello to Santa Barbara's bluffs. Azaleas, palms and a wide variety of decorative indoor plants were grown on the fertile land, as well as in greenhouses, and shipped to market around the country.

Soon after the nursery business closed in 1972, Santa Barbara residents formed a chapter of SWAP (Small Wilderness Area Preservation) and spearheaded an effort to create a park on the former Wilcox property. Developers, several of them in fact, had different ideas: a huge luxury hotel, a residential subdivision and an upscale senior housing project to be known as Cypress Point. In 1987 and '88 Santa Barbara conservationists tried to persuade their fellow citizens to set aside the property as a park but failed (barely) to get the necessary two-thirds majority at the polls. The property sat in limbo.

Finally, in 1996, in a truly grand display of community support, Santa Barbara residents raised more than $2 million in two months to help the Trust for Public Land purchase the Wilcox Property for $3.6 million.

Earlier this year, the property, now a city park, was named "Douglas Family Preserve," in recognition of actor Michael Douglas, who made a sizable contribution to help acquire the parkland.

Directions to trail head: From U.S. 101 in Santa Barbara, exit on Las Positas Road and follow it 1.5 miles south (toward the ocean) to its terminus at Cliff Drive. The path begins at a gated fire road on the other side of Cliff Drive where there is parking for a few cars. Abundant parking is available at the east parking lot of adjacent Arroyo Burro Beach County Park.

To reach a second major preserve entry (my favorite), follow Cliff Drive east (down-coast) to Mesa Lane. Turn right. Just before the lane reaches its end at the Mesa Lane coastal access way, turn right on Medcliff Road and drive a couple blocks to road's end at the Douglas Family Preserve. Parking is along the nearby streets.

The hike: If you begin from the Cliff Drive entry, you'll ascend the oak-lined road to the bluff top. On a clockwise tour of the preserve, you'll pass numerous palm trees, follow a wide path along the cliffs high above (200 feet) the beach below and reach a dramatic vista point above Arroyo Burro Beach.

Keep walking the preserve's perimeter to close the loop, or select a more interior trail. En route are numerous reminders of the old Wilcox nursery, including towering birds-of-paradise and crumbling greenhouse foundations. Keen-eyed gardeners will enjoy identifying the many exotic plants that thrive in the preserve.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Wilcox Trail

WHERE: Douglas Family Preserve.

DISTANCE: 1 mile loop around preserve.

TERRAIN: Richly vegetated coastal bluffs.

HIGHLIGHTS: New park, Pacific and island views.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department, tel. (805) 564-5418.

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