Once the site of a gravel parking lot, Lagoon Park – the six-acre wetland habitat nestled along Manzanita Village’s coastline – is now recognized as an award-winning example of architectural landscape.

Selected from among 500 national and international projects by the American Society of Landscape Architects Professional Awards, Lagoon Park was among eight to receive national distinction for 2008. The project, titled “Living at the Edge of Wilderness,” transformed the formally barren lot into a fully restored California grassland, home to native coastal sage scrub and bluff vegetation. The wetland habitat also features vernal pools and marshes, as well as a system that filters and cleans runoff.

According to a press release, Van Atta Associates, Inc., the architectural firm responsible for the restoration process, was commissioned to recreate the area while abiding by preservation guidelines and working within a strict budget.

The ASLA jury panel said Lagoon Park deserved recognition for successfully crafting an aesthetic and functional landscape.

“Proof that you don’t have to have a huge budget to do fabulous things,” the jury said in the press release. “To create an ecosystem that will thrive is incredibly difficult, and this landscape architect paid a lot of attention to detail throughout the project. It is heavily used by students and sends the right message.”

Since completion, the wetland has served as both a site of recreation and an outdoor laboratory for UCSB students. Student researchers have claimed portions of the area in order to develop sub- habitats within the park and study grassland planting techniques. The wetland also provides an environment to study the impact of wetland habitats on the nutrient levels in water runoff.