Tour of Ventura Hillsides Conservancy’s Willoughby Preserve

Reclaiming the Ventura River and expanding outdoor opportunities in the Ventura River Parkway

V.C. Star Photo by Chuck Kirman



Derek Poultney, Ventura Hillsides Conservancy’s Conservation Manager, lead a tour of the Willoughby Preserve between the Main Street and 101 Freeway bridges following the Conservancy’s Annual Meeting on Wednesday, April 24, 2013.   Meeting attendees were impressed with the vast amount of work that has been accomplished on the property.  Illegal camps have been removed from the Ventura River as well as tons of trash and tons of invasive arundo donax (giant reed).  Trails are being built on the property to provide for hiking, birdwatching and connectivity to Emma Wood State Beach.

Read the Star article:

March 21, 2013 Backyard Collective at Willoughby Preserve

Jason Irwin with Horny Toad, carries a pile of arundo to the green waste at the Ventura River bottom   cleanup.  A group of Ventura businesses came together for the Ventura Backyard Collective to clean up the river bottom.  Local volunteers from businesses like REI, Patagonia and Deckers worked together to remove trash, cut and remove arundo and plant willow cuttings.

Read more:

News from the Ventura River Parkway

The Ventura Hillsides Conservancy and a small army of workers and volunteers have made incredible progress in removing trash & arundo from the river.   Now they are beginning to build trails on Conservancy land holdings in the Ventura River.

Read VC Star Eye on the Environment for news about the Parkway and upcoming March events!



Friends Plans to release Trail Map for the Ventura River Parkway

A workgroup comprised of members of Friends of the Ventura River has been working on the creation of a map of the Ventura River Parkway to identify spots of interest, outdoor hiking and biking opportunities, wildlife viewing sites and viewsheds for the benefit of residents and tourists alike.  The map will be printed in English and Spanish and will be ready for public distribution soon.

See article in the Ventura County Star.

Ventura River Parkway Presentation

The formal Ventura River Parkway Roll-out Presentation Event was held on July 18, 2012 at the Hall of Administration County Board of Supervisors Chambers.

Supervisor Steve Bennett graciously hosted the presentations by Riti Dhesi of the Trust for Public Land,  Sam Jenniches of the California Coastal Conservancy, and Susan Mulley, a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture 606 Studio at Cal Poly Pomona whose students created the Ventura River Parkway Vision Plan.

The panel discussion after the formal presentation included updates from organizations currently holding land in the river and working actively to restore habitat and provide public access.

Paul Jenkin from Friends of the Ventura River spoke about current opportunities, the broad coalition which comprises the Friends group and the momentum that Friends has achieved in the last year.  He acknowledged that these large projects take years and perhaps decades to bring to fruition, and mentioned Matilija Dam as an example.  The benefits to be gained are worth the time and effort required.

Greg Gamble, Director of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC) outlined OVLC’s progress over the years in restoring river properties the Ojai Meadows Preserve, the Ventura River Preserve and the Ventura River Confluence Preserve.  Greg  emphasized what everyone in the land conservancy movement knows, that land conservancies work with landowners to obtain the best outcomes for all.  Conservancies work only with willing landowners who wish to sell or donate land.

Derek Poultney with the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy (VHC) spoke about the progress that VHC has made in land acquisition in the river area in the last couple years and the work that volunteers have contributed to clearing non-native species from those properties.   The donation to VHC of the Willoughby property between the Main Street and 101 bridges is soon to be complete and volunteers have already begun to work to remove arundo.  A recent article in the VC Star, previously posted on this blog, featured a work day on this property.

Patrick Johnson of the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program outlined his participation with a Friends of the Ventura River working group to assist in the design of trails and trail heads, signage and gathering areas at the river.

Rich Rozzelle of California State Parks, who was instrumental in reopening McGrath State Beach, briefly outlined State Parks’ role and support for the benefits a parkway would bring to the community in better connectivity to Emma Wood State Beach and enhanced recreational opportunities in our area.

Attendees included interested residents from Ojai to Oxnard, landowners and their representatives, farmers and their representatives,  members of Ventura City Council, city and county planning staff, Ventura County Watershed Protection staff, Watersheds Council of Ventura County, local engineers and planners and many others.

All speakers emphasized the need for perseverance and political will from all parties to make such a large project a success.  Sam Jenniches’s presentation gave attendees inspiration with his ‘before and after’ images of rivers that had been restored after prior damaging uses and abandonment.

We have many years of work ahead, but have made incredible progress in the last few years which gives us impetus to move the Ventura River Parkway effort forward.


High Trestle Trail, Ankeny, Iowa

This photo finds my cousins (photo permission obtained) enjoying a bike ride on an incredible trail outside of Des Moines,  Iowa.  Note the interpretive signs behind them and the meandering Des Moines River.

Read more:   the High Trestle Trail.

Years ago construction of Highway 33 abruptly cut the City of Ventura off from the Ventura River, leading to loss of public enjoyment of the river and decades of neglect of the wonderful resource that is the Ventura River.

The goal of the Ventura River Parkway Vision Plan is to bring back long lost recreational opportunities to our river area, while restoring habitat and improving water quality.

Regaining convenient access to the river is a component of the Parkway plan so that residents of Ventura and the entire region may enjoy the type of outdoor experience captured in this photo.





A successful July 4th Street Fair on “Green” Street

Friends of the Ventura River at the July 4, 2012 Street Fair

A steady stream of people came by the Friends of the Ventura River booth at the July 4th Street Fair to learn more about the Ventura River Parkway Plan.

All were excited about the prospect of having such a wonderful resource accessible to the community for enjoyment and recreation.  They were also pleased to hear about the goals of habitat restoration and  improvement in water quality.   They were impressed to learn that Friends has a National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Technical Assistance Grant to design trails on properties owned by the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy, the city, county and state.

Older residents remembered the days when they could simply walk down to the river to swim and play in the water.  The Parkway will restore the incredible Ventura River resource for all residents’ benefit.

Many asked about how they could volunteer to help make the River Parkway a reality.  Since Friends is a wide coalition of community, non-profit and governmental groups, prospective volunteers were directed to organizations which have ongoing volunteer efforts:  Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Gardens and the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy’s volunteer days.

Ocean Friendly Gardens is focused on reducing urban runoff by creating natural gardens in place of lawns and trapping runoff water to nourish those gardens. Volunteers help implement these projects.

The Conservancy has much work to do on properties that it now owns along the river, so all volunteers are welcome!

Reconnecting with the River

The  Friends of the Ventura River Saturday, June 9 ‘Picnic at the River’ event introduced members of the public to the Ventura River Parkway Plan as well as many of the community & governmental organizations working toward making the plan a reality.

Attendees enjoyed a healthy picnic lunch and a short walk to the river, which included a demonstration on water quality testing and measuring stream flow rate by a member of the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Stream Team.

In addition to showcasing the Parkway Vision, information was available on steelhead recovery efforts, the economic & recreational benefits a river parkway would provide to Ventura, the impacts of pollutants on the watershed using the city’s Enviroscape demonstration & social services efforts to assist people living in the riverbed to move into the community.

Attendees offered ideas to build upon a trails plan being developed under a technical grant with the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program.

The Tortilla Flats Reunion & Mural Project engaged people with wonderful photos of how past residents of Ventura enjoyed the Ventura River when the river was just a short walk from their neighborhood, long before Highway 33 cut the community off from its river.

Event Sponsors & Participants

Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation Joins Friends of the Ventura River

Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation has joined Friends of the Ventura River to promote plans for a parkway along the lower reaches of the river.

The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy has already made great strides toward opening the upper stretches of the river to public recreation. Friends of the Ventura River hopes to be equally successful in opening up the lower river for public enjoyment.

Years ago the Ventura River was a centerpiece of the community.  Over the last 50 years decisions have been made, including the construction of Highway 33, which have cut the community off from the river, denying the public access to recreation on and around the river that was enjoyed by past generations.

Friends of the Ventura River will be working to restore public access to the river for hiking, biking, and picnicking, among other pursuits.

The Westside Community Plan includes the goal of improving recreational access to the river and the beach for all Venturans. Together we can make our river the centerpiece of our community once again.

If you (or a family member) have fond memories of growing up near the river and enjoying outdoor experiences at the river, we’d like to hear your story. Please share a blog entry here.