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.”

RCLC’s 2023 Community Report

RCLC’s 2023 Community Report

Learn about RCLC’s recent successes, our plans for the future, and how you can help preserve the beautiful Mendonoma Coast. 


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…

2023 CR cover

Gualala Cemetery unveiled

Gualala Cemetery unveiled

By Pat O’Neill

Copyright Independent Coast Observer

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. 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.

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