RCLC is experiencing a growth spurt, despite its 30-year-old age. With Mill Bend Preserve secured in 2021, and the State Coastal Conservancy-funded Conservation Plan delivered in the fall of 2022, RCLC is now actively restoring native habitats and designing an expanded trails network, including natural and cultural history interpretation. Read more…
Once buried under heavy brush and fallen tree limbs, Gualala cemetery Mill Bend is being restored by volunteers from Redwood Coast Land Conservancy who are, in the process, unveiling the history of early settlers in Gualala.
Numerous attempts since 1950 were made by descendant families and community groups to maintain the cemetery, but the challenge exceeded the public’s efforts, and interest began to wane as descendants moved out of the area.
However, since Redwood Coast Land Conservancy purchased and began work on the Mill Bend site, in 2021 amid the pandemic, volunteers worked to clear the service road, trails, and the cemetery itself from years of overgrowth and invasive plants.
Open houses have been scheduled each Saturday in March to reintroduce the community to the cemetery. Volunteer coordinator Cheryl Harris is eager to show the “native shrubs which bloom in the spring“ in a place that was once a “neglected and devastated industrial” site. Visitors can expect a guided tour of the cemetery and surrounding trails, with information on vegetation, wildlife, and local history by trained docents from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Self-guided tours are also possible with the help of a kiosk plot map showing the known grave locations, and posted QR codes link people to the family histories of persons buried there. Amenities such as a doggie bag dispenser, along with milled and local driftwood benches, have been conveniently placed for the comfort of two and four-legged visitors.
As part of RCLC’s Mill Bend Preservation Project, reverence of the cemetery’s condition has been safeguarded with the addition of Mill Bend caretaker Joaquin Jacobs, who lives on-site to deter vandalism, unauthorized camping and vehicle abandonment.
In fact, the plot of the Byrne family had been the target of vandalism over the years for its distinctive hand-forged iron post border connected by a chain, likely constructed by family blacksmiths. Family lore says the original chain to the plot was removed some years ago to tow a car and was never returned. Descendants also report that the original wooden grave marker was stolen in the 1940s, replaced, and then stolen again in recent years.
Local cultural anthropologist and vice president of RCLC Kay Martin is managing the cemetery restoration project. She reveres the site, she said, which has been documented as the final resting place of pioneer families that settled along the Mendonoma Coast to work in the lumber mills since 1877. “It’s been a rewarding experience,” she said, overseeing the transition of the cemetery, conducting the research, contacting descendants, identifying unknown graves, and piecing together family narratives.
To help bring the past forward, Gualala descendants of William Thomas Hitchcock contributed a large volume of historic documents. Stories confirm records revealing his fatal injury as the master reinsman of the stagecoach driven between Cazadero and Point Area, during an accidental rollover of his carriage in 1911.
This story and the story of two infant children of Gualala ferry boat operator Rufus Niles, also interred there, are on RCLC’s website. www.rclc.org/gualala-cemetery. Niles operated the ferry until the first wooden bridge was installed over the river in 1892.
After 1948 the cemetery was no longer an active burial site, although three burials did occur between 1966 and 1995. There are 77 documented records of persons buried at the cemetery, and a memorial plot was erected to honor all people buried without a current known grave location.
Martin said to replicate and restore missing or damaged plot perimeter borders can cost up to $1,500 just for materials. Volunteers Perk Perkins restored all the stone and metalwork, and Eric Agnew is responsible for onsite landscape and carpentry restoration.
Community members and families have helped defer costs, which Martin estimates at $20,000 to date. For volunteer opportunities call 707-294- 6423.
The January storms that left many without power for days scoured all the sand from Cooks Beach, leaving only rocks. That was the startling news from Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC), which manages the Cooks Beach conservation easement.
In addition, the storm eroded the trail and pounded the stair railing with giant logs, leaving the railing bent and twisted, according to RCLC’s Joel Chaban. “Then subsequent storms moved rocks up the beach and piled them onto and against the concrete stairway,” Chaban said.
The organization is in the process of repairing the damage. “Last weekend, volunteers spread wood chips donated and delivered by The Sea Ranch Association along the trail,” Chaban reported. “The chips help prevent further erosion and provide a barrier to muddy spots along the trail,” he said.
The damaged railing will be replaced “soon,” he said. However, before the railing can be replaced, a “ton of rocks” and a few logs need to be removed from on and around the base of the stairs.
The organization is still looking for both volunteers and donations to finish the repairs. Donations to RCLC help to pay for the repair and maintenance of Cooks Beach trail and stairs. You can sign up as a volunteer or donate at rclc. org.
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 rclc.org.
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.
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 https://www.rclc.org.