Elings Park

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 28, 2024
The benefits of Elings Park’s EPIC! Campaign can now be seen, strolled, or even soared through by the community (courtesy photo)

Dean Noble, executive director of Elings Park, is fond of comparing Elings to some famous public parks in urban areas. 

“What Central Park is to New York, and Golden Gate Park is to San Francisco, Elings Park is to Santa Barbara,” said Noble, who previously served as ED of the Santa Barbara Zoo. 

But there is one important way in which Elings is a bit different than its larger brethren. While people around the world know about Central Park and nobody in the Bay Area is unaware of Golden Gate Park, Elings might just be the most spectacular open space in a town known for such environs – one where you can both explore nature, take in stunning sights, and engage in recreational activities – that plenty of people in Santa Barbara have never heard of, let alone visited. Which is even more fascinating given that, at 230 acres, Elings Park is the largest community-supported nonprofit public park in America.

From sports to live music, Elings Park serves the recreational needs of the community throughout the year (courtesy photo)

Elings started out as an idea almost 60 years ago to convert the land that used to be the city dump into a recreation and athletic facility – “One of the first major greenscaping projects in the U.S.,” Noble said – and it was less than 40 years ago that the then-named “Las Positas Park” official opened with two soccer fields, three lighted softball fields, and a playground. In 1999, the foundation completed the purchase of 133 acres of adjoining land and changed its name to Elings Park in recognition of still-active supporter Virgil Elings’ major donation.

Nowadays, Elings hosts soccer, rugby, kickball, and softball leagues, a bumpy BMX bike dirt track, a disc golf course, facilities for both remote control airplanes and cars, and the oldest continuously operated paraglider training hill in North America. At the park’s arguable zenith, high atop Jerry Harwin Parkway, there is Godric Grove – which has both an amphitheater and a separate wooden platform, both offering spectacular city, mountain and ocean views. The Grove serves as a site for weddings, memorials, concerts and theatrical presentations. On some summer and autumn evenings, the soccer fields turn into festival grounds, hosting family-friendly cultural performances with reggae, bluegrass, rock, funk and more. Elings is also home to a Veterans Memorial Walk and Terrace of Remembrance, as well as John Fisher’s sculpture Summit for Danny

On the other side of the main access road is the undeveloped outback of Elings, where myriad hiking trails snake up and down the hillsides, nine miles winding through oak groves and meadows, with the mesa in the middle providing a panoramic view of the Pacific to the south and the city and foothills on the northside. 

Elings is also the rare place in town where dogs can run free, its 900 canine “members,” who must be registered to assure safety, enjoying the entire park off-leash. 

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Elings, though, is that as a private nonprofit, the park receives no tax dollars or government support of any kind for operations or maintenance. It depends entirely on community donations to stay open and admission-free year-round.

With an eye toward both protecting and upgrading the space and facilities, the Elings Park Foundation launched its EPIC! Campaign to raise $10 million back in 2019, and recently completed the fundraising. 

“It’s like Elings Park 2.0,” Noble said of the effort to improve buildings, trails, ballfields, facilities, and much more. 

Registered dogs can run, sniff, and frolic off leash through the entire park (courtesy photo)

The money has gone into such facilities projects as renovating the roadways with improved safety; replacing retaining walls; upgrading restrooms and kitchen facilities; installation of a Dog Wash Station; a Family-Friendly Trail linking with the City’s new Las Positas Road multi-modal pathway; new ADA-friendly trails; and an overhaul of Godric Grove. On the nature side, Elings has engaged in Cuyama Lamb sheep grazing for fire abatement and soil regeneration; planted hundreds of field-grown, 15-foot-tall coast live oaks and thousands of native flowering plants, and installed irrigation; created the SB Foundation Oak Nursery to cultivate acorns harvested from park groves, and created a Community Garden partnership with Bucket Brigade, to name just a few amendments to the park. 

“It’s almost like a whole new park,” Noble said. “Beyond the athletic fields and sports facilities, there are all these wonderful microenvironments. But there’s always more to do for this community treasure.”

Noble said the new campaign aims to continue improving Godric Grove to turn it into a “truly premier outdoor wedding and event site,” which would include new restrooms, as well as a revamped playground. 

“We’ve been putting Band-Aids on it for 25 years,” he said. “But we need to redo it. We’d like to put in something that’s regionally significant and completely accessible for everyone.” 

With foundation funding and community collaborations, the trails are in better shape than ever, Noble said. 

“After the spring rains we’re looking fabulous,” he said. “And you can’t find a more beautiful place for a sunset.”

Those who regularly use the park are aware of all its charms. But Noble said everybody needs to be enjoying the spectacular space off Las Positas Road just a hop, skip and jump from Hendry’s Beach.  

Visit www.elingspark.org


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