Posted by: James Wapotich | August 17, 2013

Trail Quest: Campus Lagoon

If you’re looking for a nearby hike that is both educational and includes some great scenery, then Campus Lagoon may be the answer. The lagoon is located near the coast on the UC Santa Barbara campus.

The hike around the lagoon is about a mile and a half long and includes more than a dozen interpretive signs installed by Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration (CCBER).

The Center, which is located on campus, manages more than 250 acres of open space between Ellwood Mesa and Goleta Slough. In addition to providing educational services and managing the center’s research collections, the Center also sponsors restoration projects.

UCSB University California Santa Barbara hike trail Goleta Campus Lagoon

A view out across the lagoon from Manzanita Village

The CCBER Walking Tour of UCSB Campus Lagoon Restoration Projects highlights the restoration work done around the lagoon and at nearby Manzanita Village. A map and guide of the tour can be downloaded from the CCBER website at,

The walking tour, combined with the interpretive signs, makes it easy to create your own interpretive hike.

The walking tour starts behind the University Center and continues counter-clockwise around the lagoon. Because parking on campus can be challenging and expensive, one alternative is to park in Isla Vista and continue on foot across campus to the lagoon.

UCSB University California Santa Barbara hike goleta trail campus lagoon point

A view toward Campus Point

Although Campus Lagoon is artificially fed with water from the Marine Research Laboratories, it provides valuable habitat, particularly for shore birds.

The first stop on the walking tour highlights the small, man-made islands and shallows that were created in the lagoon in 1995 to provide additional habitat for shore birds. Here one can often see herons, egrets, pelicans, stilts, and other native birds going about their daily lives, largely indifferent to the activity of people wandering by.

The lagoon itself fills a remnant valley that was once connected to Goleta Slough. During the last ice age, the sea level was 400 feet lower than it is today, creating a large, open coastal plain through which our local creeks meandered. As these water courses made their way to the ocean they often cut ravines and canyons through the plain’s uplifted and deposited layers of sediment.

At the north-western end of the lagoon, the walking tour leaves the lagoon, climbing a series of stairs to Manzanita Village, which overlooks the western end of the lagoon. One can also continue along the road that follows the western side of the lagoon. The two routes meet at the coastal access point that’s referred to as the West Depression in the walking tour.

Manzanita Village was built in 2001 for student housing, and in 2002 the Center began work restoring native grasslands and vernal wetlands.

The trail leads past a small Habitat Garden with interpretative signs that describe the plants found in each of the main habitats around the lagoon. The habitats include Coastal Sage Scrub, Oak Woodland, Grassland, Coastal Dune and Vernal Wetlands.

Near the garden are several picnic tables overlooking the lagoon; adjacent and to the west of the garden is the vernal marsh described in the walking tour.

Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands that can host a variety of unique plants and animals such as fairy shrimp. More than 90% of the vernal wetlands once found throughout California have been destroyed due to agriculture, over-grazing, invasive weeds, and urban development. Vernal marshes are typically larger and hold water longer than vernal pools.

In addition to plant restoration, bioswales were installed as part of the landscaping. Bioswales are man-made watercourses and wetlands designed to channel runoff in place of underground pipes and cement-lined drainage ditches, and aid in the natural filtration of the water. Bioswales also create habitat for wildlife and help soften the boundary between urban development and the natural environment.

In fact, much of the restoration work by the Center, around the lagoon, and at other places on campus, paint a hopeful picture of modern man’s willingness and ability to successfully work with the environment.

From Manzanita Village, the trail descends down to what’s referred to as West Depression. Here one can access the beach. It’s also here that one can see the weir that drains the lagoon into the ocean. Normally landlocked, in 2005 waves from winter storms washed into the lagoon for the first time in more than 20 years.

Restoration work here focused on the removal on non-native ice plant, which dominated the site, and the re-planting of native species. As part of the restoration in 2000 and 2001 the ice plant was covered with black tarps in a process called solarization, which traps in heat and blocks sunlight causing the ice plant to die. The site now supports more than 35 different species of native plants.

From the coastal access at West Depression, the trail leads up onto the bluff between the lagoon and the coast referred to as Lagoon Island. As the trail gradually climbs away from the water it branches, with the trail to the left continuing around the edge of the lagoon, and the trail to the right cutting more directly across the bluff. The two trails meet at the eastern end of the bluff.

The trail around the south side of the lagoon offers views out across the lagoon, as well as leads through another restoration area. Here the Center is working to restore native oak woodland. In 2005 roughly a thousand acorns were planted. Today it’s encouraging to see so many oak saplings along the trail.

Based on historical information it’s believed that much of the area where the campus is now located was once oak woodland. As part of the restoration effort the Center has undertaken a number of prescribed burns in conjunction with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The controlled burns are aimed at eliminating non-native grasses and their seeds to help with the restoration of native plant communities.

At the eastern end of the bluff, where the two trails meet, one can double back along the trail the cuts across the bluff, and find Lagoon Island Labyrinth. The labyrinth was created in 2011 and offers an alternate way to experience the land.

Labyrinths are designed as walking mediations and the full path along Lagoon Island Labyrinth is about a half mile. Another, shorter labyrinth, which can be found locally, is the one at Trinity Episcopal Church, located along State Street near Micheltorena Street.

From the eastern end of Lagoon Island the trail leads down to what is referred to as the East Depression, which also provides coastal access. Similar to West Depression, East Depression is a restored coastal dunes habitat.

From here the trail climbs up to the top of another small bluff as it continues around the lagoon. It’s here that one can take one of the social trails and continue out towards Campus Point. Sometimes referred to Goleta Point, Campus Points offers sweeping views to the east out towards Goleta Beach, More Mesa and Arroyo Burro County Park. From the bluff one can also see as far west as Coal Oil Point.

Future restoration at Campus Point will include the removal of the asphalt pad left over from when the area was a Marine Corp Air Base.

In 2012 a stairway was installed from Campus Point Bluff down towards the coastal access and beach at the eastern end of the lagoon. From here the trail passes the seawater pump house. Water from offshore is pumped through the Marine Research Laboratories and then expelled into the lagoon.

The walking tour then continues past the Marine Sciences buildings, traversing a small park-like area before continuing along the north side of the lagoon back towards the University Center and completing the circuit.

For more information about Cheadle Center for Biodiversity & Ecological Restoration and its programs go to

This article originally appeared in section A of the August 17th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

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