Posted by: James Wapotich | March 21, 2016

Trail Quest: Arroyo Burro Open Space

On March 16, the City of Santa Barbara celebrated the opening of its newest park. The site along Arroyo Burro Creek, at the end of Alan Road, has yet to be given an official name, but has been informally referred to as Arroyo Burro Open Space.

The 14.7-acre site was just recently purchased by the city in partnership with the Trust For Public Land.

As early as the late 1990s, the previous owner, Mark Lee, had sought to develop the land for residential use. In 2006, the city council approved his Veronica Meadows project, which included the building of 25 homes on the property.

Arroyo Burro Open Space Santa Barbara City Park trail hike Veronica Meadows Spring Creek

Part of Campanil Hill is seen from the main trail through the park. In the background is the Santa Ynez Mountains

The proposal included a request to build a bridge across Arroyo Burro Creek to provide access for the residents of the new development. The bridge would’ve been located across from the entrance to Elings Park and built in part on city owned park land. In addition to offering to pay for the bridge, Lee also proposed to fund creek restoration at the site, as well as include trails and open space as part of the development.

Following the council’s approval, however, a civil suit was brought against the developer over concerns regarding the environmental impact of the bridge’s construction on the creek habitat. It was then determined in court that because construction of the bridge would utilize a portion of city owned park land that the matter be put before the voters.

In 2012, Measure Y was placed on the ballot asking voters to approve the access bridge across the creek. The measure was defeated with two-thirds of the voters against the proposal.

Rather than build a smaller development and try to use Alan Road as the entrance, Lee chose to sell the land. In 2015, The Trust for Public Land, in partnership with the city, entered into negotiations with Lee to purchase the land for $4 million, the property’s appraised market value.

The city council approved the use of $2.7 million of Measure B funds to be used towards the purchase, and the Trust For Public Land raised $1.3 million in grants, securing $500,000 through California Natural Resources Agency’s Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program; $500,000 from the State Coast Conservancy; and $300,000 through Santa Barbara County’s Coastal Resources Enhancement Fund (CREF).

Veronica Springs Water Company mineral arroyo burro open space city park creek Santa Barbara hike trail buildings meadows

Historic photo that was at the opening celebration showing buildings from the Veronica Springs Water Company’s operation at the site

In February, the sale was completed, and The Trust for Public Land conveyed the property to the City of Santa Barbara to be preserved as a community open space, similar to the nearby Douglas Family Preserve.

The 14.7-acre site, west of Arroyo Burro Creek, is adjacent to six acres of public park land already owned by the city, bringing the combined total for the open space to 20.7 acres.

Among the city’s first tasks at the new site will be creek and habitat restoration.

“The prior landowner did quite a bit of design work for the creek restoration.” Jill Zachary, Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Director told the News-Press. “So, we will be able to use some of that work. Our objectives will be to look at ways to maintain the flood capacity of the creek. Naturalize the banks and make them more stable. Eliminate the non-native plants, such as arundo donax, and enhance the native habitat.” Through the restoration efforts the city also hopes to improve water quality in the creek and by extension at Arroyo Burro Beach, where the creek meets the ocean.

The park is now open to the public and is located at the end of Alan Road. Park hours are from sunrise until a half an hour after sunset. A hike along the main trail is less than a mile roundtrip.

Veronica Springs Medicinal Water Company vintage bottles Arroyo Burro Open Space Campanil Hill

Antique Veronica Springs water bottles on display at the opening celebration

To get to the trailhead from downtown Santa Barbara, take Highway 101 north to the Las Positas exit. Turn left, towards the ocean, and follow Las Positas Road to the end, where it meets Cliff Drive. Turn right onto Cliff Drive, and then right again onto Alan Road, which is just before Arroyo Burro Beach County Park. Follow Alan Road to the end. Parking is found along the street.

From the entrance, an unpaved access road leads through the open space and serves as the main trail. The access road parallels Arroyo Burro Creek and leads through a mix of native and non-native plants. Some of the familiar non-natives include palm trees, eucalyptus, Monterey cypress, pepper trees, and cherry. And among the native trees and habitat one finds coast live oak and coastal sage chaparral.

Less than a quarter-mile in, the road branches, forming a loop around a large, open meadow. Here, the views to the north are framed by the Santa Ynez Mountains and to the east by the hills of Elings Park.

The new park is a welcome addition to the nearby open areas provided by Elings Park, Douglas Family Preserve, and Arroyo Burro Beach County Park. In fact, it’s possible to walk between all three of those sites by using existing trails and crossing Cliff Drive. And so hopefully at some point access from this new park will be created that will let visitors connect over to Elings Park for additional hiking and riding opportunities in the area.

The main trail through the open space also leads past the site of the once famous Veronica Springs and a piece of Santa Barbara history.

It’s said the Chumash used the water for a variety of medicinal purposes and were familiar with the different springs in what is sometimes referred to as the Las Positas Valley.

In 1769, the Portola expedition camped near the springs, where they celebrated the first Catholic mass held in the Santa Barbara area. A three-legged, arched bell tower on top of Campanil Hill, which can be seen from Los Positas Road, commemorates the event.

Arroyo Burro Open Space Veronica Springs Meadow Park hike trail Santa Barbara

Coast live oaks line a section of trail at the open space

The mission padres were the first to bottle the water for medicinal use. According to one story that has been handed down, Tsuigui, the daughter of a Chumash chief, brought water from the spring to the padres to help heal one of the early settlers. When she was later baptized, she was Christened Veronica, after Saint Veronica, and the source of the water became known as Veronica Springs.

In the late 1800s, the Hawley family was one of the first to bottle the water commercially. They later sold the venture to Captain Frederick H. Kimball, who started out as one of their distributors. Kimball purchased the company with his business parter Joseph H. Thomas. They built wooden structures on the site for their operation and transported water gathered from the spring across town to their bottling facility.

Building on Santa Barbara’s growing reputation as a health resort, the company successfully marketed the water across the country touting its curative properties. The water was said to act as a natural laxative, and advertisements for the water claimed that it could relieve a wide range of ailments including rheumatism, bronchitis, malaria, arthritis, and gout.

The site also served a tourist destination, with visitors coming from town to visit the springs.

The property changed hands over the years, while housing developments spread closer to the site. The last water to be bottled from the springs was in 1962, when they were capped because of complaints about the odor from nearby residents.

Today, the benefit of the site to the community has come full circle. As Mayor Helene Schneider shared during the opening celebration, reflecting on the history of Veronica Springs, “This was a place where people came for their health and well being, and this [land] is going to be something that continues to be for people’s health and well being.”

This article originally appeared in section A of the March 21st, 2016 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

white egret arroyo burro creek open space Santa Barbara

White egret

In January I visited the site to scout it out and was surprised by the variety of birds I found there. (The site was technically open to the public at the time, in spite of the no trespassing sign, due to the public easement along the trail)

Western Scrub Jay blue veronica springs meadow santa barbara arroyo burro creek

Scrub jay

Northern Flicker arroyo burro open space creek veronica springs meadow Santa Barbara

Northern flicker

Mourning dove Santa Barbara Arroyo Burro Creek Veronica Springs Meadow

Mourning dove

Say's Phoebe Veronica Springs Meadow Arroyo Burro Creek open space Santa Barbara

Say’s phoebe


  1. My grandmother (Anna Louise Rice Elkington) married Joseph H. Thomas in 1932. I never knew either, but have wondered what connection Mr. Thomas had with Veronica Springs Water. I have a case in my basement.
    Cecelia Elkington Setty

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