Fantasy Island

Santa Cruz Island Project

Waves crash against the jagged coastline, wildflowers bloom below rugged mountain peaks, and the small island fox seeks fruits and berries in the lush central valley. Santa Cruz Island, some 20 miles off the California coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara, provides visitors with a rare glimpse of old California, before the 16th-century arrival of the conquistador.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the College’s Santa Cruz Island environmental service project, which is part of the College Outdoors program. Over the years, more than 100 Lewis & Clark students have trekked to this isolated island to help the Nature Conservancy restore and protect the natural habitat.

“There’s a lot of hiking and a lot of poison oak,” says Joe Yuska, leader of the program and director of College Outdoors. “But it’s true biology fieldwork.”

Chris Ellison ’05, Kate Stirr ’06, and Lindsay Heneage ’04 assist the Nature Conservancy on Santa Cruz Island.


Each year during spring break, 10 to 12 students and Yuska make the pilgrimage to the island. About half of them are returning students who can mentor those who are making the trip for the first time.

“There’s an indescribable magic to Santa Cruz,” says Kelly Atkins ’06. “During the trip, I gained an appreciation for the amazing biodiversity that is supported by this unique island habitat.” 

Fieldwork projects vary from year to year. This spring, students mapped the island’s oak groves, noting location, height, percentage of cover, and overall condition. Their findings were fed into the Nature conservancy’s ecological database for the island.

“The sharpness of the Lewis & Clark students, as well as their undeniable work ethic, puts them among our best volunteer groups anywhere in the state,” says Erik Aschehoug, project ecologist for the Nature Conservancy. “They’ve greatly expanded our ability to achieve conservation success on Santa Cruz Island.”