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Redwood Coast News

March 2024

Good News for Mill Bend Preserve:

$1.66 Million Public Access & Restoration Grant

Awarded by State Coastal Conservancy

By Jim Elias, RCLC Executive Director

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy got great news on February 15. The State Coastal Conservancy awarded us with a $1,660,000 grant to create a Public Access & Restoration Design Plan grant for the 113-acre Mill Bend Preserve. The grant will fund a comprehensive plan that will serve as a blueprint for the future of the Preserve.

Since taking ownership of the property in the fall of 2021, RCLC has taken incremental steps to expand its system of trails and rehabilitate and enhance the Preserve’s native habitats. In 2023, we built two new trails and added a hand-crafted wood bench, thanks to ambitious and talented volunteers. The Design Plan will determine locations for yet more trail routes, intended to showcase but not disturb native plant and animal habitats. New trails will include accommodations for visitors with limited mobility. There will also be public restrooms, picnic areas, and extensive natural, historic, and cultural interpretive features.

We’re especially excited about extending the CA Coastal Trail through Mill Bend Preserve, from the southern terminus of the Gualala Bluff Trail. One day, we’ll be able to leave town on the Coastal Trail, follow it through Mill Bend Preserve, Gualala Point Regional Park, and through The Sea Ranch (albeit having to use the narrow pathway across the bridge – an obstacle begging improvement).

More than just trails, a 1,000-foot boardwalk will culminate in a viewing platform perched over the heart of the estuary. Interpretive features will describe how a healthy estuary sustains the life of an ecologically intact riverway. Educational panels will help visitors identify raptors, waterfowl, shorebirds, river otters, and the myriad plant species that sustain them.

The Design Plan will also draw up a road map to address the conditions left behind by 100 years of timber mill operations. Still spotted with asphalt, the upland mill site limits water infiltration and impairs plant and animal habitats. One day, the site will celebrate nature, instead of undermining it.

Recently-restored Gualala Cemetery will continue to tell the stories of the European settlers who came to the region, worked in the forests, developed ranches, and built towns. We are also committed to making Mill Bend Preserve a place where visitors can learn how Pomo communities—past and present—have viewed the role of the Gualala River in their lives. For that, we are seeking Native guidance.

Prunuske Chatham, Inc, based in Sebastopol, is once again RCLC’s environmental engineering partner. As you may recall, they helped us develop Mill Bend Preserve’s Conservation Plan. We will need their technical expertise again, particularly as we prepare materials to satisfy California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements.

We will also be seeking input from you, Mill Bend Preserve’s stakeholders. In the coming months, RCLC will initiate a community outreach process to share plans and invite comments. We want your input.

As you can probably tell, there will be many interlocking pieces necessary to build a comprehensive Public Access & Restoration Design Plan. While we’re all eager to realize on-the-ground progress, it will take time to get it right, and to get the necessary approvals from the Coastal Commission and other agencies. Hence, the Design Plan is scheduled to be completed by December 2027.

 In the meantime, come enjoy Mill Bend Preserve and the ongoing trail and habitat improvements you're enabling. We can all take pride in the progress.

RCLC Welcomes New Board Members:

Introducing Andrea and Jennifer

By Mark Escajeda, RCLC Board President

The exceptional scenery of Northern California’s coastlands can only be matched by the extraordinary people who live here. From this deep pool, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy has drawn two individuals with commitment and passion to serve as our newest board directors.

Andrea Lunsford needs little introduction to many. The Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor of English Emerita, Claude and Louise Rosenberg Jr. Fellow, and former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University lives full-time on The Sea Ranch. She has served on a number of TSR committees and is an important Gualala Arts Center community member and contributor. 

Originally from a small town in the foothills near Knoxville, Tennessee, Andrea lived amidst nature, growing up playing on surrounding family farms. The downswept arms of a large weeping willow on her grandparents’ property enclosed a “magical kingdom,” as Andrea imagined back then, where she spent hours listening to birds, watching for worms and insects, and reading. “I fell in love with trees then,” she told me.

After school, Andrea chose to move, as it turned out, in a very big way. “I had never been west of the Mississippi River, and had no idea of what the Northwest was like,” she remembered wondering, bound for her first postdoc position in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I realized instantly that the climate and the habitat suited me so much better than the southeast,” she happily realized. “I instantly felt at home between the ocean and the mountains, between the foggy rain-soaked months and the sun-filled ones, between the squirrels that came to visit every morning and the bald eagles soaring overhead.” 

Today Andrea’s home fronts the northernmost Sonoma coastline, a public access trail between her and waves crashing onto the rocks beyond. “I am home,” she said serenely, “here, at last.”

Jennifer Dumpert grew up in Buffalo, New York. Her childhood experiences of nature included visits to, as she described them to me, “the ultra-crowded beaches of the Jersey Shore and swims in Lake Erie.” The latter stopped when the lake became too polluted to enter, a human-caused ecological collapse that occurred when Jennifer was a teenager. 

“I never knew the joys of camping until my young twenties,” Jennifer recalled. While attending college in Toronto, “ I took up with a group of friends who would drive to Canadian lakes with canoes and tents and exploratory spirit to spend a week wandering the waterways.” She has continued traveling since, seeing wonders of the world, yet, had always returned to whichever large European or North American city she called home at the time. “I never even had a backyard,” the full-time Gualala resident explained. “Now I live next to the mighty Pacific, that wild, powerful ocean that carves such incredible beauty all along our coastline.” 

Jennifer loves her redoubt against the might of nature, a small compound of buildings built for the point of land upon which they sit. She had tidied a portion of her yard under evergreens to create a place of solace, where the natural world reigns. “Sometimes when I walk along the bluff trail, or through Stornetta lands, or climb down to Hearn Gulch, I remember lying on a towel on the sand in New Jersey with hundreds of people packed on every square inch of the beach, the smell of coconut suntan oil and the sound of dozens of portable radios.” Our second newest board director smiles. “I remember to once again feel so very, very grateful for our incomparable little stretch of paradise here in Southern Mendocino.”

California Conservation Corps Bolsters Mill Bend Preserve Wildfire Resistance

Partnering with the California Conservation Corps, RCLC accelerated efforts to make Mill Bend Preserve safer from catastrophic wildfire. This work is made possible thanks to a wildfire resiliency grant from the State Coastal Conservancy. 

This past January, a crew of twelve corps members tackled wildfire threats in the Preserve’s uplands. The team took down ladder fuels overgrown during years of neglect, reducing large branches to wood chips with Chewy, RCLC’s brush chipper purchased through the same SCC grant. More remotely, corps members practiced lop and scatter, reducing branches to smaller pieces they spread across the forest floor to mimic natural limb and needle loss. 

This month, corps members returned for a second “spike,” this time focusing on invasive plants, known accelerators of wildfire intensity. Building on previous volunteer efforts, the crew removed dense stands of French broom and overturned densely rooted jubata grass tufts, ingeniously applying come-along winches in the process. 

Performance quality lived up to the Corp’s outstanding reputation. Formed in 1976 – making it the nation’s oldest conservation corps – the CCC has performed 74.1 million hours of natural resource work and served 11.3 million hours in disaster response zones. The Corps has allowed more than 120,000 determined 18-25 year olds (for veterans, up to age 29) year-long opportunities to acquire and hone skills transferable to jobs in natural resource management and countless other career paths. 

As they did at Mill Bend Preserve, crews often camp on-site. Days of physical labor are rewarded with calorie-dense, communal meals, laughter shared among friends, and warm nights sleeping in waterproof tents. 

RCLC has taken another measurable step toward genuine wildfire resilience at Mill Bend Preserve. With partners like the California Conservation Corps, the work continues.

Photos courtesy of Anna Bride and Noah Leffler

In Memory

RCLC lost two dear friends in 2023. We can’t do their memories justice in a newsletter, as their contributions to the organization and the greater community went far beyond what words can tell. Anne Hanlon and Marcia Nybakken were part of our family. Anne edited this newsletter, posted to our Facebook page, and helped plan many lovely events over the years. Marcia was a steadfast supporter and contributor, making each of us stronger through her behind-the-scenes efforts. They left a lasting impact on us, and the Mendonoma Coast. We miss them.

Anne Hanlon

Marcia Nybakken

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