May 2, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matilija Canyon’s Hot Springs, revered for thousands of years by local Native American tribes as a sacred healing place, has been closed down by the property’s owners to allow for an extensive cleanup and a “resting” period for the land.
In four to six months, the hot springs are expected to reopen under the management of Ecotopia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible, sustainable stewardship of the property.
“We knew how upset some people were going to be that they wouldn’t have access (to the hot springs) for a period of time,” said Gunnar Lovelace, who owns the land along with his family and is a co-founder of Ecotopia. “We know there’s a lot of people that go (to the hot springs) who love and respect the land, but there’s a distinct and growing segment who go to party and they trash the land.”
Ojai Police said there has also been criminal activity in the area, primarily vehicle break-ins. “On average, we see about two to three vehicle break-ins per month up in Matilija Canyon,” said Ojai detective Mike Harris. “It’s the same issues we’ve had at other trailheads throughout the county.”
Lovelace said residents in the canyon are on the lookout for cars parked on the side of the road, and that they plan to alert police if anyone is seen trespassing on the property. Ojai police are supporting the efforts by responding to calls for service, and will also conduct periodic patrols. “We need to allow the land time to rest and reset the energy,” Lovelace said. “We need to slow the whole thing down, really make sure that it is reasonably safe for our staff and volunteers to come in and manage the land.”
Lovelace said surrounding neighbors and the U.S. Forest Service all agreed with a property assessment that proved the hot springs were on his family’s property. That cleared the way for them to move forward with their plans for the land.
Those plans include public access, but, Lovelace emphasized, “The era of using the land without giving something back is coming to an end. One of the concerns that’s arisen is whether or not we’re going to be charging money and try to commercialize it. That’s never been our aim with this property. What we’re interested in doing is creating an exchange network … if you want to come use the land, you’ve got to give something to the land, be it your time, a service, an in-kind gift, help pick up trash or it can be a financial contribution.”
Local Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie supports the spirit and efforts of the Ecotopia group, and recently held a ceremony on the ancient site to help initiate healing the land. “We prayed, asked for guidance for what needs to happen there, how it can guide us and direct its use for the future,” she said.
Regarding the resting period, she said, “I think it’s really necessary. The litter, health issues, no restrooms, that kind of stuff. It’s just practical stuff right now, and then we’ll go from there. It’s going to be a change, but a change for the better.”
Tumamait-Stenslie also addressed the issue of giving back to the land in exchange for use of the hot springs. “Some people argue with this purchase — ‘Oh, they’re going to be charging money to go there now?’ And I’ve said to a couple of people, ‘Well, what if I bought it, what if my tribal group bought it? We would need money to do the things we’d need to do for the land.’ We’re not a federally-recognized tribe, we don’t have federal aid or grants … so we would need to ask for everybody’s donations to help support us. And I think that’s what Gunnar is looking to do — be stewards of the land.”
Lovelace said his family has studied the site for about two years now and has met extensively with neighbors, the U.S. Forest Service and other community representatives to determine the current state of the land and receive input on what to do once the resting period ends. As Tumamait-Stenslie pointed out, “There are lots of questions that are unanswered — and we have to ask them.”
To that end, Lovelace and the Ecotopia group will host a community meeting Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Yoga Nest, 2240 Maricopa Highway (parking is available on the highway). Ecotopia representatives will give an overview of their vision for the land, then will host a question-and-answer session and receive feedback from attendees.
“We need input from the community,” Lovelace said. “This is basically an opportunity for the community to meet the parties who are interested (in helping restore the land). This is about the community seeing itself and becoming involved in a real way.”
Editor’s note: This article was revised June 21, 2103 to remove an inaccurate contact web address.