New Montecito Neighborhood Trail Network Already Benefitting Casa Dorinda Residents

By Stella Haffner   |   December 27, 2022
Geoffrey Slaff (center) joined the Walk Montecito project committee with the hopes of seeing a safer, more walkable Montecito (photo by Priscilla)

‘Twas the trail blazing campaign, called Walk Montecito!

Seeking funds from donors, to make the project complet-o,

With leadership from Geoff and our good friend Abe,

We are grateful to the team at Bucket Brigade!

In April of 2022, the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade launched a campaign to address one of the ongoing health and safety issues in our community. The campaign became known as Walk Montecito – an initiative that, in the words of the founders, seeks to alleviate the “persistent pedestrian predicament in Montecito.”

Led by Abe Powell, Michael Smith, and Geoffrey Slaff, the community-funded campaign aims to reduce traffic, increase pedestrian safety, and increase community connectedness through the construction of a new trail network. Since its launch, the project has already raised more than 1.5 million dollars and begun work on the new walking paths. But the plan didn’t start in April 2022. In fact, the origins of Walk Montecito go all the way back to the 2019 debris flow.

Walk Montecito committee members Abe Powell, Michael Smith, David Jackson, and Lisa Aviani earlier this year on the corner of Hot Springs and Olive Mill roads

Slaff reflected on his experience following the mudslides, calling it the biggest change to walking culture in Montecito since he moved here with his wife, Dale, 21 years ago.

“We were stuck. Our neighborhood was stuck because we couldn’t get in and out. It was a numbing experience, but it really helped to get out and walk, to get into the community and connect.”

This experience stayed with Slaff as the rebuilding efforts began. Seeing the Bucket Brigade breathe life back into the town, Slaff jokes that he began to have a rather selfish idea.

“My wife and I would walk a lot before the debris flow. We’d walk on Olive Mill, but it’s not a real safe path. There’s been people killed on that – not exactly a relaxing way to walk,” says Slaff. “Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy trail for me to get from my house down to Coast Village Road?”

Of course, Slaff’s so-called selfish idea was speaking to the wants of many Montecito residents. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easier, safer way to connect with the rest of the community?

The team at the Bucket Brigade felt the same way, and Slaff joined the Walk Montecito project as a committee co-chair with Michael Smith. From there, the Walk Montecito committee put their heads together to tackle the logistics, mapping out new trails where they would be maximally effective. This plan turned into Montecito Neighborhood Trail Network. 

The project owes its thoughtful design and conscientious implementation to its community-led origins. Since the campaign’s launch, two miles of trail have already been built. These are completed, walkable paths that cost less than half that of the San Ysidro Road Path per mile, with long-term maintenance costs already accounted for. 

Although the project is ongoing, with plans to complete construction on the entire Montecito Neighborhood Trail Network in 2024, the impact of the new pedestrian friendly walking paths is already being felt, particularly by residents of Casa Dorinda. With trails leading directly from the community campus to local beaches and churches, they have quickly become a favorite of Casa residents who enjoy the exercise and the scenery.

Casa residents Bobbe and Ed Mullen have lived in Montecito for 22 years. They know the town like the back of their hands, but until recently, they didn’t have anywhere safe to walk. 

Casa Dorinda residents Bobbe and Ed Mullen on their morning walk

“We used to walk on the street near the corner of Hot Springs Road and East Valley Road, but it was very dangerous,” says Mrs. Mullen. “In the evening, we would walk with flashlights, but it just didn’t feel safe.”

With the new paths, Bobbe and Ed now walk the trails every day, enjoying the short 10-minute stroll to Coast Village Road and the new convenient access to Butterfly Beach. 

Of course, it wasn’t a surprise to the Walk Montecito project leaders. 

“I was pretty confident it would be sort of like the Field of Dreams,” Slaff says. “I felt that if we built the trails, people would come and use them, especially since there was so much pent-up demand for them.”

This couldn’t be more true. Although Casa residents are among the first to enjoy the new trails with their ADA-friendly design and convenient network through town, all of Montecito will benefit, particularly families who like to walk to school. Slaff has confirmed plans for the upcoming leg of the project, saying that Walk Montecito wants to prioritize access to Cold Spring Elementary School and Crane Country Day School as well as MUS. This new part of the trail network aims to tackle one of the other persistent problems in our community: the school drop-off and pick-up traffic. 

Since fundraising for Montecito Neighborhood Trail Network is ongoing, there are still opportunities for donors to help make our town’s pedestrian experience safer and more enjoyable.

“By supporting Walk Montecito, donors are contributing to making the community a more connected, resilient, safe, and environmentally friendly place to be,” says Slaff.

With 1.5 million already raised, the project is looking for an additional million dollars in donor support that will be funneled into path construction as well as the long-term maintenance endowment that will ensure our new trails are well looked after. With these funds, the Walk Montecito project team will be rolling full steam ahead on the newest piece of our Montecito community beautification.

Walker Profile: Jere Lifshitz

Jere Lifshitz and her husband walk around town a few days a week. To them, the paths represent a huge milestone in community safety.

“We used to live on Alston Road and that can be a challenging street to walk with all of its blind turns and no place to walk.”

Mrs. Lifshitz described the freedom to walk around town as especially important during COVID when people couldn’t exercise indoors. She and her husband would walk a loop up to Butterfly Beach and by the cemetery. The addition of the new paths has made their walks together even more enjoyable.

“The paths get us off the road so we are not in the path of cars, they are easy on the feet, and they look good. Triple goodness.”

Walker Profile: Patricia Moylan

Patricia Moylan has lived at Casa Dorinda for over two decades, and she has walked from Hot Springs Road to East Valley almost every day during that time. As an avid walker, Mrs. Moylan describes discovering the new Montecito Neighborhood Trail Network as a source of great joy.

“About two years ago after returning from summer in the Midwest I found the new sand walks completed by the Bucket Brigade and counted it a blessing from Heaven,” says Moylan. “Now that I am 90, I appreciate it more than ever and feel safer and so very grateful for the safety and convenience.”

Mrs. Moylan believes that everybody can play a part in keeping our home beautiful. She embodies the Bucket Brigade mentality and the holiday spirit of working together for the community: “In order to keep this path beautiful, I pick up any little bit of trash along my way and dispose of it upon arrival home,” says Moylan. “I am proud to live in lovely Montecito and want to keep it this way.”  


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