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One-of-a-kind nature park for kids (well, their parents are allowed, too) being built on South Coast

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden's Executive Director, Steve Windhager in an area of the garden's new "Backcountry" garden which includes boulders reclaimed from the 2018 Montecito debris flow.

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden adding four-acre "Backcountry" garden with activities targeting kids.

We’re walking over a wooden bridge which takes us over Mission Creek, in Santa Barbara County’s Mission Canyon. We are deep in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

On the west side of the creek, we go through an unlocked gate to a large clearing. We are just a few miles from downtown Santa Barbara, but it feels like we are in the middle of a beautiful forest.

This is the gateway to the Garden’s latest project, a four-acre area to help connect families, and especially kids to nature in a fun way. The Backcountry project is set to open in June. It will be filled with nature activities for kids, and families.

Steve Windhager is the Botanic Garden’s Executive Director.

"Our new project that we're calling the Backcountry has been under development since 2014." said Windhager. "We started to feel like it (the Botanic Garden) was a place that people would look, and not touch. We wanted to change that."

He is taking us on a tour of the project area. We come to a spot where there are some huge downed tree trunks. "We're enhancing the natural features of this space. This is an area called the Fallen Forest," said Windhager.

"We're going to be taken some of the downed logs that have fallen in the garden over the years. We're going to be attaching them to the steep slopes, so you can get the experience of climbing a tree, without damaging a living tree."

A soft mulchy area is being created below the logs, so if you fall off, you won't get hurt.

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden's "Backcountry" will include areas where kids can do things like climb (safely) on and around fallen tree trunks.

Another area has some huge boulders. These were actually brought to the garden as part of efforts to clear some of the areas impacted by the deadly, and destructive 2018 Montecito debris flow.

At the heart of the Backcountry garden on the west side of Mission Creek is a spot which will be called Base Camp. Kids can drop their parents off in a safe place, while they go explore.

And, while the kids are exploring, the Botanic Garden will have a team of people stationed throughout Backcountry, serving as rangers of sort providing safety and education.

The price tag for the project is $4 million. But, only about a million of that is for construction. The Botanic Garden is creating an endowment for the project, because it will be expensive to provide seven days a week staffing for the area. The good news is the fundraising effort has already passed the $3 million mark.

Plans call for Backcountry to open in June. Garden officials are hoping they are creating something that will bring families back on a regular basis.