Posted by: James Wapotich | October 30, 2017

Trail Quest: Elings Park

Located along Los Positas Road and Cliff Drive, Elings Park is the second largest park in Santa Barbara County after Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. The 230-acre park is less than 15 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara.

Elings is also the largest privately-funded park in the United States. The land is leased from the city and managed and maintained through private donations and user fees.

While a lot of people may be more familiar with Elings Park because of its tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and picnic areas, the park also has a fair amount of hiking trails.

Most of the trails are in the undeveloped southern portion of the park also known as Elings Park South. The network of trails lends itself well to hiking and mountain biking, and can be used to create a variety of loop routes that let you explore the park and the views it has to offer. Most of the trails are generally well-used and maintained.

Elings Park South hike trails Santa Barbara Mesa

The Santa Ynez Mountains frame a view in Elings Park South

A large loop through Elings Park South is about three miles. The hike can be extended into the more developed northern part of the park along Veterans Memorial Walk and through the various nearby picnic areas and overlooks, which add roughly another half-mile round-trip.

Starting from the parking area for Elings Park South, one can make a counter-clockwise loop around the park. The parking area is reached from Cliff Drive near Los Positas Road. The park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset, and a map showing some of the trails can found at http://www.elingspark.org. A Google satellite view of the park will also show the various routes.

From the parking area, head eastward as the trail makes a loop behind the fields of Monroe School. The route leads through a mix of native and non-native plants. Among the native plants are coyote bush, coastal sagebrush, lemonade berry, and coffee berry. Among the non-native plants are fennel and castor bean.

The trail then leads up the large hill that dominates the southern portion of the park, climbing a series of switchbacks. Gaining elevation, the views extend out across Cliff Drive towards Douglas Family Preserve and the Channel Islands.

The trail then crests the hill. As more trails begin to appear, stay to the right. The route leads towards Calle Andalucia, which is an alternate way to access the park, along with Calle Montilla and West Valerio Street.

Just past Calle Andalucia, there is stand of flannel bush, purple sage, and matilija poppies, which may have been planted, since most of the native habitat is either coastal sagebrush or oak woodland.

The trail then arrives at Calle Montilla and the top of the ridge. Here, the views open up across the city towards the Santa Ynez Mountains. At Calle Montilla is an unpaved access roads that follows the ridge, offering options for a shorter loop hike.

From the Calle Montilla entrance, the route descends down towards the more developed northern part of the park and arrives at the parking area at the end of Jerry Harwin Parkway. The parking area can also be accessed from Las Positas Road, as well as on foot or bike from the end of West Valerio Street.

From the parking area, it’s a short way down the road to the beginning of Sierra Club Trail for the return portion of the loop. Just before Sierra Club Trail and the playing fields is George Bliss Drive, which leads up to Veterans Memorial Walk and the picnic areas.

Terrace of Remembrance Veterans Walk Elings Park hike trail Santa Barbara

Terrace of Remembrance

Veterans Memorial Walk was completed in 1997, and honors the 98 servicemen from Santa Barbara County who died in the Vietnam War. The walk ends at the Terrace of Remembrance, which honors servicemen who died in all other conflicts and wars since the Civil War.

Past the Terrace of Remembrance, the path continues uphill to Godric Grove, which is one of the more scenic picnic areas. The nearby Wells Fargo Amphitheater also offers views out across the city.

From Godric Grove continue back along George Bliss Drive, taking in the various overlooks and picnic areas, and returning to Jerry Harwin Parkway.

The history of Elings Park dates back to 1965, when the city landfill at the site became full and was subsequently closed. Shortly afterwards, Jerry Harwin, chairman of the Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Commission and other city officials began looking at how to convert the 97-acre site into a park for recreational use.

In 1977, the City Council approved the development of the site as a park, including the various proposed sports facilities. Several years later, the non-profit Las Positas Park Foundation was created and began fundraising to make the park a reality.

The park was officially opened in 1985, and named Los Positas Park. In 1991, it was renamed Las Positas Friendship Park.

In 1994, the park foundation agreed to purchase the adjoining 133 acres to the south from Society of Jesus, the Jesuit organization which owned the property. The land comprised what is now Elings Park South.

In 1999, Dr. Virgil Elings donated $1.5 million to complete the purchase and support park improvements. Elings was the co-founder of Goleta-based Digital Instruments. He had just recently taken up paragliding and was inspired to help the park purchase the land. His former wife, Betty Wells, later donated another $800,000. In recognition of the family’s support of the park, it was renamed Elings Park. The B.P. Moser Trust also donated $460,000 towards the purchase.

Today, the privately-funded park serves close to a quarter of a million visitors a year. Its recreational facilities include three baseball diamonds, two soccer fields, a BMX bike track, and six tennis courts. Godric Grove and several other areas can be rented for weddings. The park also has a program for off-leash dog use.

Through these various usage fees, along with grants and donations, the park foundation funds ongoing maintenance and improvement projects. In 2014, the park began charging an entrance fee on weekends to further support the park’s operating costs. Annual parking passes are also available.

Elings park south hike trail Santa Barbara

Coast live oak along the trail in Elings Park South

Continuing with the larger loop hike, Sierra Club Trail starts from Jerry Harwin Parkway and makes its way back to the top of Elings Park South. The trail quickly branches with the two routes connecting near the top.

Stay to the right at the first juncture. Here, Sierra Club Trail leads through a small stand of coast live oak. At the next juncture, also stay to the right, which leads to the far end of the unpaved access road along the ridge and arrives at Jim Vanyo overlook.

From here, follow the access road east, turning right again when it branches. The side road continues towards Moser Meadow and passes the beginning of the trails that trace the western edge of the park.

The overlook and circular stone bench at Moser Meadow provides views towards Arroyo Burro County Beach Park and the ocean, as well as any paragliders that may be taking off.

Near the overlook is the access road used by paragliders that connects back down to the parking area for Elings Park South. Paralleling the road are the high and low routes that loop around the southwestern corner of the park.

The low route descends down towards Las Positas Road and leads through the most diverse amount of native plants in the park. At the intersection of Las Positas Road and Cliff Drive, the route also offers opportunities to continue over to Arroyo Burro County Beach Peak and Douglas Family Preserve for additional hiking and loop opportunities.

The high route offers views out towards Arroyo Burro Open Space and the surrounding area, and is further from the sounds of Las Positas Road. The two routes eventually meet and continue back over to the parking area to complete the loop.

For more information about Elings Park and the recreational opportunities it has to offer, or to reserve a picnic area, make a donation, or become a volunteer go to http://www.elingspark.org.

This article originally appeared in section A of the October 9th, 2017 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.


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