Moving Earth for a Slice of Heaven

March 14, 2012

On California's Santa Barbara coast, we're taking on some serious heavy lifting: a million cubic yards of earth, in fact. That's the amount of soil it took to transform the wetlands at Ocean Meadows into a golf course back in the '60s, and that's how much will be moved away again as part of the ambitious restoration effort now in the works.

If excavating a golf course seems like a lot of work, it is. But the benefits are vast. Restoring the wetlands will expand wildlife habitat for twenty-seven endangered species, from the federally threatened western snowy plover to the endangered tidewater goby, California least tern, and Ventura marsh milk-vetch. During heavy rains, the wetlands also act like a sponge, soaking up potentially damaging floodwaters and protecting nearby homes.

"From looking at images of the flooded golf course, one can see it wants to be wetlands," says Alex Size, project manager for The Trust for Public Land. "There's nowhere for the water to go."

Land for People

Our favorite part of the project? Once restored, the land will be open to the public for running, walking, wildlife-viewing, and communing with nature thanks to an extensive trail network connecting to the adjacent Ellwood Mesa Preserve. What was once a manicured golf course used by only a few will become a natural landscape enjoyed by all.

"The trails will open up this area to the public and provide access between the community and the university," explains Size. "Not to mention dramatically improving the look of both the wetlands and the hilly landscape next door that was robbed of that dirt all those years ago."

When complete, the Ocean Meadows site will be a model of wetlands restoration created through a partnership with UCSB's Cheadle Center for Biological Diversity and Ecological Restoration.

"The wetlands area is surrounded on almost all sides by UCSB property," says Size. "It's a perfect project for the Cheadle Center and is unique among wetlands restorations. It's one of the largest, most significant projects of its kind in the state."

We can think of a million reasons to love this restoration.