Plan for Mill Bend Preserve unveiled

Plan for Mill Bend Preserve unveiled

Reprinted with permission of The Sea Ranch Soundings
Author Laurie Mueller
Photo by Don Hess

At its Raising the Curtain event on September 17, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC) unveiled its comprehensive Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan designed to protect and restore the Mill Bend Preserve located just south of Gualala along the Gualala River.

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy succeeded in setting aside the beautiful 113-acre Mill Bend Preserve site in late 2020 after leading an intensive 3-year, $2.8 million campaign to purchase the property after it came on the market in 2017. Hundreds of people in our local community have supported the campaign to purchase and protect this impressive site.

Early on, the RCLC Board recognized the need to create a comprehensive plan to protect this ecologically important natural area. The Gualala River estuary and its surrounding wetlands, meadows, willows, and forested areas all provide rich and varied habitats which will require careful planning to preserve and protect.

The State Coastal Conservancy grant for the purchase the property included funds to hire Prunuske, Chatham, Inc., an environmental science and design consulting firm based in Sebastopol, to help guide the planning process. The resulting Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan presented in September provides a framework for long-term management of the Preserve to protect plants and wildlife and restore areas degraded by past use while allowing for responsible recreational access and strengthening the site’s resilience to changing environmental conditions.

As part of the planning process, RCLC reached out to the local community through surveys and public meetings for input on how the site should be used. While most respondents encouraged opportunities for public recreational access, they also raised concerns about protecting the site from overuse to avoid “loving it to death.” The new Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan is designed to strike a balance between preservation and restoration of the natural environment and responsible recreational public access to the site.

Managing the Preserve
RCLC also realized the need for professional staff to manage the newly-acquired Mill Bend site. With initial grant funds, RCLC was able to hire Project Manager Dave Shpak to oversee conservation planning, coordinate stewardship activities, and stabilize public access. RCLC has recently brought on board a new Executive Director, Jim Elias, to manage the implementation of the conservation plan for Mill Bend Preserve and to build RCLC’s capacity as an organization.

Jim is enthusiastic about his new role. “As a strong advocate of community-based, landscape-level conservation, I’m excited to work with the local community to put in place the elements of this new plan and to help realize the Preserve’s great potential.” Jim has dedicated his career to nonprofit leadership, including running land trusts and coordinating conservation acquisitions which succeeded in protecting more than 60,000 acres in the Sierra and Rocky Mountains. More recently, he managed finance and operations at Sonoma Ecology Center. Jim will work with the RCLC Board, key volunteers, and other members of the community to implement the various aspects of the plan.

The Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan identifies several habitat management considerations and recommends specific measures in each area to restore habitat health, support native species, and adapt to climate change. Habitats include redwood, bishop pine, and alder forests, coastal scrublands, grasslands, willow thickets and gravel bars, as well as emergent marsh and submerged aquatic vegetation. Particular attention has been paid to the Gualala River estuary and measures to restore viable habitats for steelhead, coho salmon and an array of amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, fish, and other aquatic species historically found in the estuary.

Recreational access
There are also plans to improve and connect trails throughout the Preserve to form an extensive trail network which will provide varied opportunities for recreation and environmental education. Among the plans are a seasonal trail crossing under the Gualala River Bridge to connect Preserve trails on the east and west side of Highway One without the need to cross high-speed vehicle traffic. Trails through the upland Preserve will connect the newly restored Gualala Cemetery with the Gualala Arts property. The recently restored River Rail Trail on the old lumber railroad bed extends through three riparian forests along the riverfront and connects to the Gualala Arts Center hillside trails. Short boardwalk trail segments are planned to provide access across sensitive wetland habitats. This network of trails will also connect to and extend the California Coastal Trail from the Gualala Bluff Trail to the estuary access.

Mill Bend volunteers already at work
In the meantime, under the guidance of the RCLC Stewardship Committee, RCLC volunteers have advanced several major stewardship activities while the full Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan was being developed. Most notable have been the ongoing restoration of the historic Gualala Cemetery, opening emergency and maintenance access, improving existing recreational access, and removing invasive species such as broom and pampas grass along with piles of rusted automobiles, concrete, rebar, and other debris.

Under a California Coastal Commission Whale Tail grant, Gualala River Stream Team volunteers organized by Timmarie Hammill have been monitoring the water quality of the impaired lower reach of the Gualala River and estuary to gather data important for the restoration and improvement of fish habitat in the estuary.

“Mill Bend Preserve provides so much potential to experience nature and connect people to place,” says Jim, mentioning cooperative efforts with community science partners like the Stream Team and the educational kayak trips for local school students organized by RCLC earlier this year. “I’m looking forward to working with the many people who share RCLC’s commitment to conserving, restoring and celebrating Mill Bend Preserve.”

For further information on the Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan, how to donate to the work of RCLC or how to sign up for their online mailing list, see the RCLC website at

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy hires new executive director

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy hires new executive director

Fort Bragg Advocate article:

Following an extensive executive director search, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy announced that Jim Elias would step into the role on September 6. Founded 30 years ago, RCLC’s mission is to protect and restore the natural habitats of Southern Mendocino and Northern Sonoma Counties and to connect people to those landscapes.

With the 2021 acquisition of Mill Bend Preserve—the southern gateway to coastal Mendocino County—Board of Directors President John Walton described the organization as now needing professional staff. “RCLC has always relied heavily on its board members and local volunteers to achieve its goals. However, the workload has simply outgrown us. The objectives outlined in the Mill Bend Preserve Conservation Plan, together with more emerging opportunities, call for this upward step. RCLC’s board of directors feels very fortunate that Jim is coming aboard.”

Mr. Elias has devoted his professional life to leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to natural resource conservation and community development objectives. Elias’ work spearheaded acquisition initiatives that permanently protected more than 60,000 acres of natural, recreational, and agricultural landscapes in the Sierra, Rocky Mountains, and Inter mountain West.

“Impactful and lasting conservation is always a shared effort. I’m honored to join RCLC’s committed team toward preserving our coastal lands and providing new points of public access,” Elias said. “On a personal note, my family and I have deep roots in the North Bay. You can often find us in the ocean, on a river, or wandering the back roads of the Coast Range by bike. I’m eager to get started.”

Meet Elias, Mill Bend volunteers, and RCLC Board of Directors members at their upcoming event, “Raising the Curtain,” on Saturday, September 17, from 1:00 – 4:00 pm. at the Gualala Arts Center, 46501 Old State Hwy, Gualala.

To learn more about Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, visit their website https://www.rclc. org, or find them on Face- book.

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy to unveil plan for Mill Bend Preserve

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy to unveil plan for Mill Bend Preserve

Fort Bragg Advocate article:

For those who are looking for a new place to hike, bird-watch, gaze at the sunset, see the changing seasons or be one with nature in this beautiful piece of paradise we are privileged to call home, there is good news: Redwood Coast Land Conservancy has been hard at work with several exciting projects brewing, which will satisfy the seeker and wanderer in everyone.

The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is excited to announce the unveiling of the Conservation Plan for Mill Bend Preserve, prepared by the environmental science and design consultant Prunuske Chatham, Inc, with funding provided by the Calif. State Coastal Conservancy. The 113-acre Preserve straddles the lower Gualala River and estuary and extends into the hillside redwood forest at the gateway to Gualala, Mendocino, and Sonoma counties. The Conservation Plan describes the property’s natural and cultural resources, the practical framework for resource restoration and preservation, and appropriate public access to this unique place on the California coast.

The new Conservation Plan provides thorough and thoughtful guidance for long-term stewardship of the Preserve, including ways to protect sensitive species and improve their habitats, prevent the spread of pathogens and invasive species, facilitate climate change resilience, and manage wildfire hazards.

Public access improvements include approximately two miles of new trails, boardwalks across the wetland and riparian areas, accessible restrooms, vehicle and bicycle parking, plus picnic and viewing areas.

The plan shows how the California Coastal Trail can be extended through the Preserve from the existing Gualala Bluff Trail to the estuary and county line. Public access will also include extensive interpretive signs and other media to share the wealth of natural and cultural histories, restoration and conservation science, and community action at the Preserve.

“We arc thankful to the many individuals and organizations that have contributed to the formation of this plan,” says John Walton, President of Redwood Coast Land Conservancy.

The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy invites everyone, especially the local community, to learn about the exciting future of Mill Bend Preserve. Stop by the interactive open house on September 17th, 2022, at the Gualala Arts Center. The event offers the choice of attending presentations at 1:15 p.m. or 2:15 p.m., plus plenty of time to talk with members of the planning team, view maps and exhibits, and enjoy the beautiful Arts Center gardens. A guided walking tour of the restored River Rail Trail will be offered at the end of the open house.

“We are eager to share the Conservation Plan with the community and look forward to implementing the plan with you,” says Dave Shpak, Mill Bend Conservation Project Manager.

Please contact Redwood Coast Land Conservancy for any questions about the community open house

Gualala River Stream Team Stewardship Project

Gualala River Stream Team Stewardship Project

The Coastal Commission recently awarded a Whale Tail Grant to the CA Urban Streams Alliance – The Stream Team. The grant is to initiate a stewardship engagement and watershed monitoring effort for the impaired, lower reach of the Gualala River and estuary, a habitat for endangered species such as young Coho salmon and steelhead.

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC) and Friends of the Gualala River (FOGR) are partnering with The Stream Team in this volunteer, community-based project. The project is inclusive, aiming to recruit and involve a broad spectrum of Mendonoma residents from Manchester to Stewarts Point including students, teachers, and members of community organizations.

Although The Stream Team is based in Chico, California, Timmarie Hamill, the Director of The Stream Team, is not new to coast. Her involvement began in 2000, when she landed a grant with Friends of the Garcia River (FrOG) to engage students and community members in conducting water quality surveys of the Garcia River. In 2003, Timmarie completed her teaching credential while working at Point Arena High School and Pacific Community Charter School as a student teacher of biology. For Discover the Coast in 2016 and 2017, The Stream Team provided a docent station to test the water quality of a creek on Point Arena–Stornetta Public Lands.

The Gualala River Stream Team Stewardship Project has four main goals: (1) Raise awareness about the Gualala River and its estuary by promoting education and engagement through environmental stewardship; (2) Establish a Gualala River Stream Team to engage the community in watershed assessment; (3) Involve a wide range of Mendonoma residents; and (4) Build organizational capacity to sustain the projects.

The Stream Team’s annual training and quarterly water monitoring events took place on RCLC’s Mill Bend Property. At the annual training in July, participants learned about: 1) habitat and water quality impairments within the Gualala River watershed, 2) life cycle of Coho salmon and steelhead, 3) effects of climate change on watershed health, 4) effective stewardship practices, 5) proper use of monitoring equipment and sampling protocols, and 6) safety measures for field work.

Quarterly water monitoring events will evaluate chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of the Gualala River and its estuary. FOGR is providing funding for The Stream Team’s preparation of the Monitoring Plan (MP) and Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). The next event is scheduled for Saturday October 22, 2022.

If you are interested in learning more about or participating in the project, click here to see details in The Stream Team newsletter.

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.

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