Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Backcountry Receives Professional Design Award from American Society of Landscape Architects

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and BrightView Design Group have been recognized with an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Colorado Chapter for the design of Backcountry, an innovative 4.5-acre garden that encourages self-directed, unstructured nature exploration for children.

This was one of only two Honor Awards given by the Colorado chapter of ASLA in 2023, which is second only to the President’s Award. It was given for “superior professional accomplishment in a site-specific work with a construction budget of over $500,000.” The award was presented to Denver-based BrightView Design Group on August 21, 2023.

“This was a design-build project, so from the very beginning the design process was a partnership between BrightView and the Garden,” said Garden Executive Director Steve Windhager, Ph.D. “Our goal was to create an area for the unstructured, child-determined experiences that are important for not only child development, but for building an appreciation of the natural world.”

Backcountry opened in June 2022 after a two-year process and a $4 million budget, including a $2.5 million endowment to ensure staffing and upkeep in perpetuity. It is designed for all visitors, but particularly ages five to 13, to pursue nature play – climb on fallen trees, rock-hop, build forts out of natural materials, and explore a variety of ecosystems including sunny meadows, shaded creek sides, wooded hills, and more. At least 15 inches of fall-safe mulch is distributed to cushion beneath any climbing feature more than two-and-a-half-feet tall.

“Creating an escalating sense of immersion in nature, disrupting traditional use patterns, and incorporating multiple decision points for route and difficulty are key factors in the design of Backcountry Garden,” said Kurt Buxton, BrightView Design Group vice president. “Children can choose the obvious path forward or explore routes threading through trees and undergrowth, balancing and hopping on fallen logs, scrambling across rocks or ducking under limbs to rejoin the adults.”

The design also included locations for five “Casitas,” temporary outdoor playhouses built of natural materials, which were selected through a design competition. Children can pretend to be bees while crawling through a human-scaled pollinator home, or climb to the Backcountry’s highest point to navigate rope bridges to enter the “Raptor’s Perch.”


Backcountry Sponsors

Backcountry was completed thanks to generous contributions of founding donors. For a complete list, please visit:

Trailblazer ($500,000+): Kirby Jones Foundation and Steinmetz Foundation

Explorer ($100,000 – $249,000): Adams Legacy Foundation, Anonymous, Ann Jackson Family Foundation, Cabana Fund, Gerry and Bobbie Rubin, Hind Foundation, Hutton Parker Foundation,

Jacqueline and Jeff Schaffer, Mericos Foundation, Raintree Foundation, Sharon and David Bradford, and The Godric Foundation

Pathfinder ($50,000 – $99,000): Anonymous, Carolyn Kincaid, John C. Mithun Foundation,

John Mike and Marcia Cohen, Judith Stapelmann Fund, Manitou Fund, Mark Funk and Jim Owens, Mithun Family Foundation, Mosher Foundation, Peter Schuyler and Lisa Stratton;

The Robinson Foundation, and Valerie Hoffman


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