Now Hiring: Land Steward

RCLC’s projects continue to expand. RCLC is looking to hire a Land Steward.

The Land Steward’s top-line priority is to protect, improve, and manage RCLC properties. This includes restoring native plant and wildlife habitats, and ensuring safe and enjoyable visitor experiences to RCLC’s publicly-accessible properties and trail easements. Mill Bend Preserve (MBP) will be the primary property responsibility, but tasks may also include Gualala Bluff Trail, Cooks Beach, Hearn Gulch, and the Gualala Cemetery. 

RCLC is shifting to a new level of restoration activity at Mill Bend Preserve, previously the site of multiple timber mills. The Land Steward will be asked to coordinate and implement these initiatives, toward realizing the Preserve’s potential as a regional hub for celebrating the vitality of native habits and inspiring natural lands enjoyment and education.

Apply today!

Now Hiring: Communications Manager

RCLC’s projects continue to expand. In an effort to share land protection and restoration progress, and update you on upcoming events, RCLC is looking for a talented Communications specialist to join our small but growing team. If you love North Coast nature and telling its story to other nature lovers, or know a Communications pro who does, take a look at this new position.

Apply today!

Coastal Conservancy awards Mill Bend $1.66 million for restoration, public access designs

Coastal Conservancy awards Mill Bend $1.66 million for restoration, public access designs

Copyright 2024 by ICO
By Noah Leffler

Gualala’s Mill Bend Preserve has undergone significant changes since logging operations on the site ceased in the 1960s. The site was purchased by Redwood Coast Land Conservancy in 2021, and efforts are currently being made to ensure the 133-acre property is a vi- able habitat for myriad plant and animal species as well as a space visitors can enjoy for years to come.

Among the projects are an estuary restoration plan being funded by a $404,000 California Department of Fish and Wildlife grant. Most recently, the California Conservation Corps spent several weeks performing wildfire resiliency and fuel mitigation work, paid for with a $307,000 endowment from the State Coastal Conservancy.

The latter agency recently awarded Mill Bend another grant on Thursday, Feb. 15, this time for $1.66 million to create a Public Access and Restoration Design Plan.

This will fund a comprehensive plan that is the next big step in sealing Mill Bend’s conversion from a former mill site to a nature preserve, said RCLC Executive Director Jim Elias. “The plan is going to be the blueprint for restoring biodiversity, [establishing] habitat friendly trails and for showcasing the ecology of the north coast,” he said. “It’s a huge step forward in realizing Mill Bend Preserve’s potential as both a haven for nature and an educational and inspirational resource for people.”

Sebastopol-based environmental engineering firm Prunuske Chatham, Inc., is preparing the plan. According to Elias, highlights include 2.6 miles of new trails — some of which will link the preserve to neighboring Gualala Point Regional Park — as well as 1,000 feet of estuary boardwalk, three new public restrooms, five picnic areas, three trailheads, and historic and cultural signage.

A significant part of design completion will be ensuring plans comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

“It’s not just a simple matter of putting trails’ on a map or identifying where we want to do restoration,” Elias said, adding, “It’s getting the necessary approvals so that we can take those steps.”

The grant will also facilitate outreach to the preserve’s neighbors and visitors, and Elias said to “stay tuned” as engagement opportunities are currently in the works.

“Mill Bend Preserve has always been a community-based project,” he explained. “Without the community, we wouldn’t, have been able to acquire [the property], so we’re absolutely going to want the input from a wide range of stakeholders.”

Design plan completion is slated for December 2027.

Corps comes to town: Ukiah-based crew reducing fire fuels at Mill Bend

Corps comes to town: Ukiah-based crew reducing fire fuels at Mill Bend

Published February 2, 2024
By Noah Leffler
Copyright Independent Coast Observer

“Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions and More!” Such is life for members of the California Conservation Corps, and nowhere does this motto ring more true than on a “spike.” Named after the remote railroad camps of yesteryear, spikes are when Corps members deploy for environmental projects or in response to disasters.

A group of 12 young adults and their supervisor recently made a trip from the Corps’ Ukiah center to Gualala for a week of spike-living at the Mill Bend Preserve, where the hard work and low pay were in abundance. And though some might consider 10-hour days cutting vegetation while living out of tents less-than-austere conditions, the dirt and sawdust-covered crew was more than up to the task when the ICO came to visit.

The spike was the first of two eight-day visits to the preserve, during which the Corps members’ efforts will be focused on making the 54-acre parcel more wildfire resilient. The work, which is being funded by a $307,000 California Coastal Conservancy grant, benefits not only Mill Bend’s landscape, but the neighboring community and Gualala Arts Center as well.

“Wildfire doesn’t know property boundaries,” said Jim Elias, executive director of the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy. “In addition to the wildfire resilience gains we’re going to achieve…it’s improving native habitats for plants, for animals, and it’s really part of the whole restoration effort we’re in the midst of here.”

“[We’re trying] to move forward in time to make the preserve a place we can celebrate nature in and really treat it as a living lab opportunity,” he added. “It’s the early stage of that process, and we’re glad to have the Corps here.”

The first priorities are thinning and reducing fuels at the preserve’s entrance and around its buildings. A follow-up spike next week will target more densely forested portions of the property.

According to project manager Nicolet Houtz, the work will remove “ladder fuels” that can ignite and spread fire to the trees’ canopy.

However, the Corps’ stay in Gualala will entail more than just 80 hours of pruning, chipping and brush removal.

“Part of what they like to do when they’re working on a property such as Mill Bend is learn about the natural environment, the work they’re doing and the reasons behind the work that they’re doing,” she said. “It helps them grow and learn, and they can use those skills and information when they eventually move on from the Corps for future work.”

That future work can include jobs with state and regional parks, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, CalTrans and Cal Fire to name a few, said Project Coordinator and Conservationist 2 Anthony Burger. “[The Conservation Corps] is a good door to getting into those agencies.”

“It’s a work-learn program,” he added. “We’re kinesthetic — we touch it, feel it, taste it, smell it become one with it.”

His crew wasted no time getting down to business. On just their second day at the preserve, stacks of cut branches and debris lined the main road from the entrance to the cottage. In some spots, what was once a wall of limbs and pine needles even gave way to a view of the Gualala River and beach.

“An oceanside view at work? That’s something I’ve always wanted,” said Marc Martinez amidst the cacophony of chainsaws.

This being his seventh spike, the 21-year-old is no stranger to the outdoor labor and camping. Though the work can be tough, he said his nearly yearlong service in the Corps has been a unique opportunity to branch out from his hometown of Hanford in California’s Central Valley, and he hopes to parlay his experience into a career in environmental science.

Due to Wednesday’s forecasted storms, the crew packed up camp a day early to head back to Ukiah for some well-deserved R&R. In the span of seven days, Corps members were able to cut at least 150 cubic yards of material and pull several more of invasive broom. Their final Mill Bend spike is slated to begin Wednesday, Feb. 7.

ICO Telescope Article December, 15 2023

ICO Telescope Article December, 15 2023

Published December 15, 2023
Independent Coast Observer Telescope Column
Copyright Independent Coast Observer

Cool, damp weather did not keep over 40 attendees from enjoying Redwood Coast Land Conservancy’s Wreath Making event held at Mill Bend Preserve on Saturday, Dec. 2.

Using fresh cut greens from the 113-acre property, children, parents and grandparents created their own holiday-inspired creations while enjoying spiced cider, fruit and baked treats.

In addition to crafting wreaths, participants strung popcorn and cranberries, fashioned pine cones into seed-covered bird feeders, and assembled small pieces of driftwood into tree-shaped decorations. Everyone took home something personal to brighten the season.

“We were delighted that many families from Point Arena to the Sea Ranch participated in this event and we are looking forward to hosting future nature activities for kids and families in the Spring,” said event organizer Cheryl Harris.

The event was centered originally within one of the preserve’s historic, timber-mill-era buildings, a structure recently upgraded with a new roof and installation of an energy-efficient heating system, but clearing weather allowed people to expand activities to picnic tables outside.

“We hope an activity like today’s wreath making event, bringing community members of all ages onto Mill Bend Preserve, can serve as a template for future efforts reconnecting people to place,” said Mark Escajeda, RCLC board president. “Mill Bend has been a gathering place for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. We’re happy to help it become that again.”

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