Mill Bend Springtime, Partnering for Gualala River

Mill Bend Springtime, Partnering for Gualala River

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy had an open house on Sunday April 24 as part of Earth Day Weekend, inviting the community to visit the Upper Mill Bend Conservation area.

We led guided walking tours, and were happy to be able to show our new revitalized hiking trails, the extensive clearing of invasives, the history of the Mill and Pioneer Cemetery, and our plans for expanding public access with a focus on habitat rehabilitation.

As part of the event we were joined by The Stream Team to demonstrate their plans for engaging community volunteers in monitoring our river’s water quality while promoting awareness and education about the health of the Gualala River and its estuary.

Our event was also a great chance to interact with several of our conservation partners, including Friends of Gualala River, Mendocino Coast Audubon, the Dorothy King Young chapter of the California Native Plant Society, Sea Ranch Coastal Stewardship Task Force and the Gualala Climate Action group.

We would like to thank all the visitors for their enthusiasm and interest. Mill Bend’s 113-acre preserve is a jewel that serves as the gateway to Mendocino County and our local community involvement is a game-changer.

Vehicle apparently damages Cooks Beach approach with repeated passes up and down stairs, over berm; 2nd incident this year

Vehicle apparently damages Cooks Beach approach with repeated passes up and down stairs, over berm; 2nd incident this year

Above Photo: The access steps to Cooks Beach taken this weekend after the steps and nearby berm were damaged by an unknown motorist.

Published by the Independent Coast Observer, October 29, 2021

Photos by Joel Chaban

The access steps to Cooks Beach before damage by an unknown vehicle driving up and down tore them up. The photo was taken as part of an application to the California Coastal Commission to install bollards protecting the bluff top.

The recent storm is not the only thing causing damage to local beaches. According to Joel Chaban, secretary of Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, it appears a pickup truck drove up and down the bluff top steps used as an entrance to Cooks Beach in the last few days, causing damage to the steps.

In addition, the driver drove up and down the berm adjacent to these stairs, Chaban said.

“This berm, previously eroded by a wedding party event a couple of months ago, now has several long deep gouges on the ocean side of the berm that run in several directions,” he explained.

“The earth has also been gouged along both sides of the stairs and on the stairs where it appears the tires were spinning in an attempt to drive up the stairs.”

The wedding Chaban described was done without permission from RCLC, Mendocino County or the California Coastal Commission, and had already caused erosion to the berm before the recent vehicle damage.

Currently there is no plan to do any repairs at Cooks beach, said Chaban, who is the project manager for that beach. “I will try to get down there and do some repairs on the stairs and put down some wood chips to protect them from foot traffic,” he said, adding that RCLC is in the process of applying for Coastal Commission and County permits to put up bollards to prevent any driving on the bluff top.

However, it will take several months to get the permits, he said.

“I ironically took the ‘before’ photos a week be fore the latest damage to develop design drawings for the bollards required by the County and Coastal Commission,” Chaban added. “In the meantime, the ground is wet and will get wetter! Be thoughtful and careful.”

Cooks Beach, just north of Gualala, is one of four properties in Mendonoma stewarded by RCLC. The others include the Gualala Bluff Trail, Hearn Gulch and Mill Bend.

Hands-on volunteers drive land conservancy projects

Hands-on volunteers drive land conservancy projects

By J. Stephen McLaughlin
news@mendonoma.com

Inspired by Lucy Olmstead's marker, volunteer Loren Adrian crafted and installed similar wooden markers to dignity graves of unknown occupants in the historic cemetery. Steve McLaughlin photo.

It takes more than tax-deductible donations and grant funding to realize the ambitious projects of the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy. On Saturday, the 30-year-old grass-roots conservation organization honored more than 75 hands-on volunteers at an event at its newest acquisition, the 113-acre Mill Bend property on the Gualala River.

President Tina Batt said many of the volunteers show up day after day and week after week to clear trails, remove invasive pampas grass, and maintain all the group’s coastal access projects, including the Gualala Bluff Trail, Cook’s Beach access trail, and Hearn Gulch.

This 120-year-old metal marker for the grave of Lucy Olmstead was found on the rotted wood plank in the background.  Adrian restored it with new wood "headstone." Steve McLaughlin photo.

After months of work by dedicated volunteers, with funds donated by those same volunteers, the cemetery has been cleared of overgrowth; headstones and markers have been restored, and signs have been placed throughout the cemetery with researched information about the lives of the people buried there. A rebuilt fence and restored sign defines the cemetery.

One of the most dramatic achievements so far has been the restoration of the historic Gualala Cemetery on the Mill Bend property, which was nearly invisible a year ago because of the tangled jungle of brush and overgrown trees.

After months of work by dedicated volunteers, with funds donated by those same volunteers, the cemetery has been cleared of overgrowth; headstones and markers have been restored, and signs have been placed throughout the cemetery with researched information about the lives of the people buried there. A rebuilt fence and restored sign defines the cemetery.

Mill Bend project manager Dave Shpak led volunteers on a tour of some of the trails and restoration in progress.  Steve McLaughlin photo.

Batt told the ICO that the cemetery has had more people “visiting for the right reasons,” that is, respectful historical interest.

During tours of the Mill Bend site, project manager Dave Shpak explained some of the environmental choices the organization must consider as it undertakes restoration and plan access improvements.

More information on RCLC and its projects is available at www.rclc.org.

RCLC hires Dave Shpak as Mill Bend project manager

RCLC hires Dave Shpak as Mill Bend project manager

By J. Stephen McLaughlin
news@mendonoma.com
Photo by Craig Tooley

The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy announced this week it has hired Dave Shpak of Gualala to be its first paid staffer to manage the next phases of its Mill Bend project. Shpak will come on board Dec. 7 to take over from Kathleen Chasey, who has volunteered with the project since it first started about three years ago.

Community donations, along with grants, raised $2.7 million to purchase the 113-acre parcel, which includes blufftop and riverside lands just south of downtown Gualala.

Tina Batt, president of the nonprofit RCLC, said the cost of hiring a part-time project manager was included in a state grant. Shpak will coordinate with multiple agencies to formulate a plan and develop additional grant funding for trails and habitat restoration.

Shpak is a registered member of American Institute of Certified Planners, in a 33-year career in planning and project management. His most recent position was project manager for WSP USA – California High-Speed Rail Delivery Partner. He has also been park development manager for the City of West Sacramento.

He and his wife, Susan Wolbarst (who is a reporter for the Independent Coast Observer), have been part-time residents of Gualala for 11 years, becoming fulltime about a year ago. Their son, Zach Shpak, is a nurse at Redwood Coast Medical Services in Gualala.

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