History, Culture & the Outdoors

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Sperling Preserve on the Ellwood Mesa
Some trails lead down to the beach. 7.00 California ratingStar
Sperling Preserve on the Ellwood Mesa guyonthego

The Sperling Preserve is a 137 acre local park on the Pacific coast. The preserve is best known as a roosting area for migrating monarch butterflies that congregate here in large numbers in late fall and in winter. It's also frequented by a variety of birds. Although the preserve is fairly small, it has a number of habitats such as eucalyptus groves, grasslands, vernal pools and beach cliffs/dunes. Recreational options include hiking, biking, wildlife observation, beach walking and ocean swimming. The preserve is unstaffed, but volunteer docents are typically on hand for limited hours on weekends during the butterfly season.

The preserve was formerly a ranch and named after Ellwood Cooper. He was responsible for planting the eucalyptus groves as well. The entire area likely would have become a housing subdivision but for efforts of the city of Goleta, local citizens and the Trust for Public Land which helped to raise over $20 million in 2004 to protect key parcels. Monarch butterfly populations can vary widely from year to year but typically number in the tens of thousands. These remarkable insects migrate here to escape colder weather in the western US, but interestingly the migration is a multi-generational event; a single butterfly does not make the entire journey.

A fog bank rolled in with perfect timing at the start of the visit and diminished the ocean and beach views. Trails were not well marked but were easy to figure out and easy to walk. Only a few other hikers and bikers were around at the time. The hike involved walking southwest from the main parking lot through the primary eucalyptus grove and then up a dirt road that led to the beach and ocean. Seaside cliffs are probably the most scenic aspect of the property and the part most people will want to see. The cliffs are relatively picturesque but were not as large or impressive as those around other parts of the California coast such as in Big Sur. There were no butterflies in the groves at the time. While the preserve was a generally quiet and was relaxing place to take a walk, it was not especially notable. It’s also likely more crowded with bikers and hikers on weekends. Unless you just are looking for a place to stretch your legs for a few hours on a drive along the coast, you should time a visit here in concert with the butterflies to enhance the experience. Otherwise, there are more interesting areas in the state to hike.

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September 2017
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