The story of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve

The story of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve

A light breeze blows over the San Marcos Foothills, rustling the grass and sage. This open space is covered in winding hiking trails with a view that overlooks the city, ocean, and mountains. Three years ago it was in danger of being destroyed.

In 2005, the Chadmar Group received a permit to build 15 houses and five condos on a 377-acre property in the Santa Ynez foothills. By 2021, the Chadmar Group had already built seven houses and all five condos, and were planning to continue the construction of the remaining eight houses. These houses were going to be built on the West Mesa, which members of the the community had been using for hikes, picnics, and much needed outdoor time during quarantine.


If the houses were built, it would greatly diminish this public natural space. Community members realized this right away, and thus, Save San Marcos Foothills was founded. They are a grassroots community with the goal of raising enough money to purchase the land from the Chadmar Group.

The Chadmar Group agreed to this, and an agreement was reached where Save San Marcos Foothills would buy the 101 acres of land for $20 million by the deadline of June 2, 2021.

Lu Azíos

To meet this deadline the Foothills Forever Fund was born, raising $18.6 million in 90 days, entirely from donations of community members. Over 5,500 people donated to the cause, including an anonymous donation of $5 million.

With this, the Foothills Forever Fund successfully bought the land from the Chadmar Group and made it a part of the San Marcos Foothills Preserve, which is public land protected by the County of Santa Barbara Parks Division.

The preserve has been under the care of the San Marcos Foothills Coalition since 1999. Since then, the Coalition has worked to raise awareness about the Foothills and the importance of conserving natural spaces. They’ve sponsored lectures and art shows, produced newsletters, and raised funds. In 2001, they drafted a plan for the long term protection and restoration of the foothills.

In 2010 the Save San Marcos Coalition partnered with Channel Islands Restoration, another local non-profit organization, to further their environmental restorative work.

In 2015, the Save San Marcos Coalition began to turn over many of its responsibilities to Channel Islands Restoration, which now serves as the Project Manager for habitat restoration and stewardship on the preserve. Their duties include removing non-native plants and planting native ones, leading educational walks, and hosting volunteer groups. They also advise County Parks on many aspects of the preserve’s upkeep, such as trail repairs, signs, and advocating for public recreational uses that don’t harm the preserve.

Lu Azíos

As of today, these 101 acres are part of the San Marcos Foothills preserve, increasing the size of this protected area to 301 acres in all. The San Marcos Foothills are home to many native flora and fauna; visitors may spot bush rabbits, hawks, alligator lizards, coyotes, quail, and monarch butterflies.

All of these things make the San Marcos Foothills Preserve a vital natural space. Many people have worked hard to conserve the historic value of the preserve and the wellbeing of its wildlife. For those who enjoy spending time in nature, the preserve is a wonderful place to visit.

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