Explore the Coast

Explore the Coast

The Coastal Conservancy funds Bridge to Nature

“California’s ocean, coast, and beaches are spaces of joy, relaxation, and healing. The ability to experience the coast without fear of financial cost, physical barriers or feelings of not belonging, is crucial to how people cultivate their own lifelong connections with the coast.” -The State Coastal Conservancy’s Explore the Coast (ETC) grant program

Bridge to Nature

Wilderness Youth Project’s (WYP) Bridge to Nature program connects young people in Santa Barbara with nature and mentorship. Each school year, this program takes over 500 participants on a series of monthly field trips to the Santa Barbara coastline. Over the course of the year, students have the opportunity to explore and learn about ocean and coastal ecology, forge relationships with our experienced staff of mentors, and develop a deep and lasting connection with their natural surroundings, including the ocean and Santa Barbara coast.

Coastal Adventures

Some of our favorite places to visit in the Santa Barbara area include: Gaviota; Haskell’s Beach; Ellwood; Coal Oil Point; Sands; Campus Point; Goleta Beach; More Mesa; Leadbetter; Butterfly Beach; Carpinteria Bluffs; and many more salt marsh and beaches. 

What are your favorite local coastal places to visit?

Explore the Coast & The Coastal Conservancy

Great news!  The Explore the Coast Program of the Coastal Conservancy has extended its support of WYP through 2026. Explore the Coast Program prioritizes funding organization who:

  • Provide an enjoyable experience at the coast.
  • Reduce economic, physical, operational, or societal barriers to accessing or enjoying the coast.
  • Inspire ongoing coastal resources stewardship ethic through active learning and interactive activities.

WYP fits perfectly within these priorities.  

The Coastal Conservancy is a California state agency, established in 1976, to protect and improve natural lands and waterways, to help people get to and enjoy the outdoors, and to sustain local economies along California’s coast. It acts with others to protect and restore, and increase public access to, California’s coast, ocean, coastal watersheds, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Its vision is of a beautiful, restored, and accessible coast for current and future generations of Californians. 

The Research: Smarter, Healthier, Happier

Research conducted by the Trust for Public Land tells us that two primary factors influence people who grow up to be conservationists: “Many hours spent outdoors in a keenly remembered wild or semi-wild place in childhood or adolescence, and an adult who taught respect for nature.” WYP is raising the next generation of smarter, healthier, and happier environmental stewards by providing children with the opportunity both to spend significant time on the coast and outdoors, and to build lasting relationships with trusted mentors. 

Outdoor Equity

At WYP, we consistently witness the incredible impact that nature-based mentorship can have on kids. However, not all students have historically–or presently have–equal access to these kinds of programs. Cost and lack of transportation are two formidable barriers for many children and their families. While Santa Barbara is often perceived as an enclave of the white and wealthy, it now ranks third among California’s 58 counties in its rate of poverty (according to the Public Policy Institute of California) and nearly one in four residents — 23 percent — fall below the poverty threshold. Additionally, the absence in many organizations of meaningful training in and focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion can leave children and families belonging to marginalized communities unsupported and excluded. 

WYP therefore works to make our programming accessible to all students–and particularly those who belong to marginalized communities who historically have had less access to nature, outdoor education, and mentorship programming. This is even more critical now when kids are facing unprecedented challenges–challenges that have disproportionately affected lower income families and communities of color. 

Accordingly, we offer Bridge to Nature free of cost in partnership with local schools and other social service organizations, serving mostly low-income families. We remove cost and transportation barriers, meet students where they are, hold regular trainings for our staff related to justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and partner with numerous like-minded community organizations.

Best Day Ever

The most frequently heard quote from a kid after a WYP trip to the beach is best day ever!  And one of our most telling kid quotes is from last winter when, upon arriving at Refugio Beach and seeing dolphins in the waves, a nine year old shouted I didn’t know dolphins were real!” and then went to noteI didn’t even believe in them before!

Emilio Handall, Former Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, SBUSD, shared: Of the many high-quality programs offered to students in the area, Bridge to Nature has by far been the most engaging, informative and inspiring. Their lessons of local nature, the environment, and the natural wonders surrounding them every day, provide learning that schools alone cannot provide.

Thank you, Coastal Conservancy

Our heartfelt gratitude goes to The Coastal Conservancy for supporting Wilderness Youth Project’s Bridge to Nature program. 

You can create a Bridge to Nature too!

You can support this WYP program by making a donation online today and you can give a local kid the gift of the “best day ever.”

To learn more: 


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