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Storms and erosion knock down palms at Refugio State Beach Park

Canary Island Date Palms fall in storms at Refugio State Beach

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif.-At least 4 more palms have fallen onto the beach at Refugio State Beach Park.

Storms, erosion and pounding surf have taken a toll on the Canary Island Date Palms lining the beach.

The park is closed to the public due to the possibility that more may fall.

There is also flooding in several parts of the park.

State Park's Channel Coast District Superintendent Dena Bellman said there is also a sinkhole near the road next to the Park Ranger Kiosk.

She calls it a complex issue.

"We are definitely working with all of our different resources to identify a path forward."

Once the storms move on they hope to have some options.

Bellman said some of the trees are Canary Island Date Palms while others are Fan Palms.

Goleta History blogger Tom Modugno said the ones that fell are Canary Island Date Palms.

Although they are not native to the area like Moreton Bay figs he said they are still special.

"The Gaviota Coast is a gem and that is one of the most shining gems on the Gaviota Coast and state parks is dragging their feet on saving them and it is a travesty, really," said Modugno.

Modugno said they were planted by Nelson Rutherford, the grandson of Goleta pioneer and rancher Stephen Rutherford about 100 years ago.

The family eventually sold the property to the state for a little more than $100,000.

Photographer David Pu'u said it is known as the place of refuge in Spanish.

"One of the first people to discover the place was Juan Cabrillo as he was headed down coast exploring the California coast."

It has been a big part of the photographer's life.

"I learned to surf there in 1967 when my Hawaiian father actually taught me to surf there," said Pu'u, "Donna and I got married there in a Chumash ceremony a few years back, special place, I will miss the palms."

Chris Wittak feels the same.

"My dad used to take us out to Refugio for picnics and for camping and those palms were an iconic symbol of that state park and now they are gone, " said Wittak, "I won't be able to take my granddaughter there."

The trees that fell were about 60-80 feet tall.

During high tide what is left of their trunks are in the water.

The park has been getting some flack for not moving them or replanting them.

Due to their age their root systems are quite large.

A forester came out to do assessments on them last week and environmental scientists are looking into the damage, too.

"These palms have been kind of our erosion barrier for a very long time."

She said people are aware the climate is changing and seas are coming up and causing a lot of erosion.

"Unfortunately that has done damage to the palms over time."

They will probably try to remove the fallen palms.

Bellman said their goal is to find to keep the iconic aesthetic at Refugio State Beach intact.

She said they can't have people withing 1.5 times the height of the trees so they want people to stay at least 150 feet away from the trees that are still standing.

It recovered from the Refugio oil spill in 2015 and visitors hope it can recover from winter storms.

"Since 2016 was the first time they started falling."

There appears to be oil in the soil around them.

Some people blame bureaucracy for failing to protect the trees since the spill.

It is likely to be awhile before the park reopens.

Article Topic Follows: Santa Barbara - South County

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Tracy Lehr

Tracy Lehr is a reporter and the weekend anchor for News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Tracy, click here


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