A Peek into the Past – GCC History

By Mike and Sheila Lunsford

GCC Organization as Shared by Mike:

Let me begin by saying that I was not the organizer of GCC.  GCC was a group project of the environmental community who responded to the idea brought up by Bob Keats.  As the President of the Board, I was representing EDC at Environmental Alliance meetings, a group formed in 1993-94 sometime by leaders of Save Ellwood Shores, Marie Dornan and Chris Lange.  It was a roundtable kind of organization inviting existing environmental groups to meet and exchange information and ideas.  At the time, environmentalists were tired of always being on the defense, defending the environment from fully formed development projects.  We were all inclined to try to get ahead of things, so when Bob Keats described his vision of preserving the Gaviota Coast, he had everyone’s attention.  The idea caught on, resulting in an Environmental Alliance initiative to conduct Coastal Conference ’94 at UCSB.  After the conference that spring, about 30 interested leaders, including 3rd District Supervisor, Bill Wallace and his Chief of staff John Buttny began meeting as the Gaviota Coast Coordinating Committee.  I was part of that group along with Bob Keats and several other Santa Barbara Surfrider members.  Bob’s vision was to promote the concept of a national seashore designation for the Gaviota Coast.  The Environmental Alliance created the nursery from which GCC was born.

Photo Courtesy of Mike and Sheila Lunsford – Gaviota Coast Early Days Refugio Trailer on the Cliff

I decline to be remembered as the organizer of GCC, because it fails to acknowledge the good efforts of so many talented people.  In fact, I like to see the creation of GCC as an example of a truly spontaneous grass-roots movement by the entire environmental community.  That is a more accurate way of describing it.  My leadership came to bear a little at a time.  First with being an active participant from the beginning, helping to form the group, then serving as the first Executive Secretary when we incorporated, then the Treasurer, then the chair of the Outreach Committee, and then when Bob was unable to continue as President for medical reasons, I became President.  There were a surprising number of community leaders involved throughout the formation of GCC.  

My ranger work on the Gaviota Coast, my internship at EDC as a law student at the Santa Barbara College of Law, and my Board membership at EDC all helped predispose me to understand and appreciate the importance of saving the Gaviota Coast from what would otherwise be the inevitable outcome of urban sprawl up the coast.   

Photo Courtesy of Mike and Sheila Lunsford – “Ranger Mike”

Here are some of the early members of GCC in the early formative years: Carolyn Barr Chandler, Colleen Beall, Marie Dornan, Elihu Gevirtz, Linda Krop, Chris Lange, Bob Keats, Larry Flor, John Buttny, Nathan Post Lee Moldaver, Keith Zondona, Kevin Mallen, Carrie Phillips, June Sochal, Virginia Gardiner, Nancy Caputo, Bob Hazard, Vie Obern and others. There were also many good people serving on the Outreach Committee through the years.  

My contribution was to anchor the organization and give long-term consistency to its efforts.  Many people want to help in such endeavors, but few want the burdens of leadership.  Accepting leadership lets others make meaning contributions without being overburdened.  In a sense, leaders give people a sense of permission to make their contributions on behalf of the organization.  I admit having a passion about the Gaviota Coast and seeing it preserved, so that helped.

A Park Ranger’s Family Life on the Edge as Shared by Sheila:

Photo Courtesy of Mike and Sheila Lunsford – Refugio Trailer at Refugio eventually fell into the ocean

During Mike’s assignment on the Gaviota Coast we lived in several park residences. One residence was a house in the shop area at El Capitan. It was a lovely location for large gatherings. We also lived at Refugio in an old double-wide trailer perched on the edge of the sea cliff. The trains rattled the trailer and all of us, but just for a few days. We were grateful that our cat became a great hunter.  A large deck, that was connected to the trailer, cantilevered out over the cliff. It was a wonderful place to watch whales and meteor showers. 

Photo Courtesy of Mike and Sheila Lunsford’s – House At Refugio

We were the last family to live in the small gray house on El Cap Point. Opportunities for sailing, fishing, beach walking, surfing, and wildlife watching were at our doorstep. We saw bobcat, hunting herons, skunks, snakes, raccoons and once examined a huge basking shark that had washed ashore. One night we rescued a newborn harbor seal that was being tumbled about in the intertidal zone. Marine Mammal workers came to the park on Valentine’s Day to pick up “Valentine.” She was raised and safely released at Naples.   We had front row seats to the gray whale migration, and watching surfers share the waves with dolphins.

 Our “front yards” provided many hands-on learning experiences for our children as well has many students, friends and relatives. Ranger Mike was always a great guide. Our friends and relatives loved visiting us. The ocean views at the park were wonderful back-drops for many birthday parties, graduation, and holiday celebrations. 

 Living in park residences meant Mike was always “on call,” even when he was off duty. We adjusted to his schedule, the closeness of the trains, the varied wildlife, and the lack of privacy. But living there provided us, our families, and friends with unforgettable experiences and cherished memories.

Photo Courtesy of Mike and Sheila Lunsford – Sharing the Coast with Family and Friends

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