By Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT, March 29, 2021
(Excerpt reprint courtesy of The Press Democrat)
Standing above the Gualala River, his gaze toward the opposite bank and a sharp hairpin turn in the river known as Mill Bend, Dave Shpak recounted more than a century of environmental abuses there as somberly if they were still taking place. In a way, they are.
Though the last of three industrial-scale lumber mills — two right at the edge of the river and a third, up the hill — ceased operations in 1963, the estuary has only just begun recovering from decades of degradation that altered the river bed, diminished the aquatic habitat and denuded the surrounding embankments of native plants to make room for sawing logs.
But Shpak and the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, for which he started working this past winter, are now in charge of 113 acres of land along 1.5 miles of river just up from its mouth, a property now known as Mill Bend Preserve. They’re currently in the throes of long-term planning that puts the health of the landscape and the life it supports above all else.
Published by the Independent Coast Observer, February 4, 2021
Photo by Gail Jackson
The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC) announced the close of escrow on the Mill Bend properties last Friday, January 29, completing the purchase of the 113-acre site at the mouth of the Gualala River.
RCLC, the local land trust based in Gualala, will now take ownership of Mill Bend and determine how best to preserve and restore the scenic and environmentally sensitive river property while providing public access to the community. “Completing this purchase is a huge milestone for us,” said RCLC President Christina Batt, “and is the result of an amazing three-year community effort to acquire Mill Bend to make sure it will be protected forever.”
“RCLC is so grateful for all the hard work that went into completing the Mill Bend acquisition,” she added. “Kathleen (and Lloyd) Chasey let the effort from the very start with the support of Cindy Kennedy and Friends of Gualala River. Their collective leadership made this critical conservation project a reality.”
Batt also thanked the Allemall Foundation, state and federal grant funders, “the many local residents who contributed funds and volunteered their time, and the many organizations who partnered with us to make this purchase happen.”
RCLC purchased the land from the Allemall Foundation, the interim conservation buyer who stepped forward to hold the property when it was put on the market in 2017 by Gualala Redwoods, Inc. so RCLC could line up funds to make the purchase.
As reported in the Jan. 8 issue of the ICO, Dave Shpak has been hired by RCLC as the Mill Bend Project Manager. He will be working with planning consultants, the Mill Bend Technical Advisory Committee and other volunteers to develop a series of plans ranging from the location of trails and parking to the restoration of the river’s salmonid population.
Sometime in the late spring, RCLC plans to present another in the series of public forums the organization has periodically held, Batt said, to provide updates and to gather ongoing community input. The results of a survey taken on the interests and preferences of the local community in September are available on the RCLC website, www.rclc.org.
Although state and federal grants provide funding for major Mill Bend projects, RCLC relies on local contributions to support its ongoing stewardship of Mill Bend, Cooks Beach, the Gualala Bluff Trail, Hearn Gulch Preserve and other projects. RCLC is in the midst of its annual campaign to raise funds to support that work. More than $65,000 has been raised toward the 2021 goal of $85,000, but $20,000 is still needed to support RCLC’s work in the coming year. Contributions can be sent to RCLC at P.O. Box 1511, Gualala, CA. 95445 or made online at www.rclc.org.
Founded in 1992, RCLC is a local, volunteer-run land trust based in Gualala, California. In partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy and other funders, RCLC has set aside and protected multiple scenic areas along the southern Mendocino Coast for public access and habitat protection. RCLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which acquires land or conservation easements in order to preserve, protect, and restore natural areas for recreation, education, and research. Funding comes from public and private grants, donations from the public, and nonprofit and business partners.
Visit www.rclc.org to learn more or to make a donation. Redwood Coast Land Conservancy can be contacted at P.O. Box 1511, Gualala, CA. 95445.
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.
The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy will soon install a gate to protect the Gualala River from damage by motor vehicles, vice president John Walton told the ICO this week. He said the local nonprofit is applying for an emergency coastal permit for the installation on land it recently acquired after a $2.7 million fundraising drive.
The gate, which will block motor vehicle access only, should not impede pedestrians (even those carrying kayaks) from enjoying the lower Mill Bend property and its river beach, he said. Walton emphasized that the public is welcome to walk into and through the property, which is just south of downtown Gualala.
Tire ruts and other damage from trucks driving in the river bed have plagued the Gualala River for years. Wildlife experts say such impacts damage the river habitat for fish and the invertebrates on which they feed.
Walton said the lower Mill Bend has no restroom or other facilities, so it is inappropriate for overnight camping. In the past, trucks and campers have become mired in the soft sand and mud, he said.
With an outstanding response from the local community, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy announced this week that it has raised the $2.7 million needed to preserve the magnificent Mill Bend site at the mouth of the Gualala River as a permanent, community-owned park.
RCLC launched the final $600,000 phase of its Campaign to Preserve Mill Bend early this summer after securing $2.1 million in government grants. Kathleen Chasey, who said she has been involved in this project “from the very first day,” said the $2.1 million was to acquire the property, but the $600,000 is a stewardship fund.
“We can’t, as a land trust, take on a property unless we have a stewardship fund,” Chasey explained. RCLC is a small, volunteer-run nonprofit, and at first the idea of raising hundreds of thousands more was daunting, she said. So RCLC began quietly contacting potential donors and raised half of the needed stewardship funds before publicly launching this final fundraising phase.
When the organization did mount its campaign this year, “We went out there and asked the community,” Chasey said, “and they responded. It got people’s attention.”
“The community response has been amazing”, said Tina Batt, president of the local land trust. “More than 500 people have stepped up to make sure this beautiful piece of land is preserved as a park forever.”
Now that the funds to preserve Mill Bend have been raised, RCLC hopes to close escrow on the property before the end of the year and to start planning for the long-term preservation and restoration of the Mill Bend site.
The acquisition and stewardship of this property is a major undertaking for RCLC, which until now has been an all-volunteer organization. As RCLC began its work on the restoration of Mill Bend and the creation of trails and public access improvements, Batt said, “We have recognized that we will need to hire professional staff to oversee and coordinate the next phase of planning for the Mill Bend project.” RCLC is currently seeking a part- time Mill Bend project manager and has posted the position on its website.
The 113-acre Mill Bend site, located south of Gualala on both sides of the Highway 1 bridge, extends along the Gualala River estuary at the mouth of the Gualala River and, as the gateway to the Gualala River watershed, is the first step in long-term plans for a Gualala River Park.
“Now our next steps are the fun part,” Chasey said. “We’ve launched the next phase: the planning process,” she said.
RCLC recently presented an online community forum entitled “Mill Bend, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” to bring community residents up to date on next steps for Mill Bend and to gather input on community preferences. People who missed the forum can see a recording of the presentation on the RCLC website at rclc. org. People can also still leave feedback for the organization through a survey on the website as well.
Chasey said the group hopes to provide some initial results in January or February 2021.
Founded in 1992, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is a local land trust based in Gualala and supported primarily by local volunteers and by donors near and far. In partnership with the California State Coastal Conservancy and other agencies, RCLC has set aside and protected multiple scenic public access areas along the southern Mendocino Coast, including the Gualala Bluff Trail, Cooks Beach and Hearn Gulch Preserve. RCLC also holds local conservation easements for habitat protection and enhancement.
Contributions for the Mill Bend project can be made to the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy via its website or by sending a check to P.O. Box 1511, Gualala, CA 95445.
The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC) has announced that it is less than $15,000 away from reaching its challenging goal of raising $2.7 million to secure the magnificent Mill Bend site at the mouth of the Gualala River as a permanent, community-owned park.
In June, RCLC launched the final $600,000 phase of its Campaign to Preserve Mill after securing $2.1 million in government grants. “The public response to this final phase of our campaign has been phenomenal”, says Christina Batt, president of the local land trust. “The community has really stepped up to make sure this beautiful piece of land is preserved as a park forever”.
Once the final $15,000 is raised, RCLC will be able to close escrow on the property and start planning for the long-term preservation and restoration of the Mill Bend site.
RCLC will be presenting “Mill Bend, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”, a live online presentation on Sunday, August 30 to bring everyone up to date on next steps for Mill Bend. The presentation, which will be held at 3pm via Zoom, will also provide an opportunity for community input on improving public access for the Mill Bend site.
The 113-acre Mill Bend site, located south of Gualala on both sides of the Highway One Bridge, extends along the Gualala River estuary at the mouth of the Gualala River and, as the gateway to the Gualala River watershed, is the first step in long-term plans for a Gualala River Park. “Preserving the Land, Restoring the River and Sustaining Our Community” is the theme of the campaign to acquire this significant site for the community. Plans for the property also include an extensive network of trails and improved public access to the river.
Purchase of the property will enable RCLC to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat and provide opportunities for visitors to enjoy sightings of the many species of wildlife, birds, and wildflowers on the site, including bald eagles, osprey, otters, turtles, frogs, steelhead and coho salmon.
RCLC submitted successful grant applications for $2.1 million in state and federal grants and has raised more than $585,000 from foundations and the local community for the acquisition, project planning and stewardship of the strikingly beautiful site at the mouth of the Gualala River. Once the property is acquired, RCLC will be responsible for the ongoing stewardship of the site and for providing public access and restoring the habitat of the river and the terrain that surrounds it.
Founded in 1992, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is a local land trust based in Gualala and supported primarily by local volunteers and by donors near and far. In partnership with California State Coastal Conservancy, RCLC has set aside and protected multiple scenic public access areas along the southern Mendocino Coast, including the Gualala Bluff Trail, Cooks Beach and Hearn Gulch Preserve. RCLC also holds local conservation easements for habitat protection and enhancement. Further information about Mill Bend and the August 30 online presentation is on the RCLC website, www.rclc.org. Members of the public are encouraged to fill out the community survey which will be available on the RCLC website following the presentation. Contributions for the Mill Bend campaign can be made to the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy via its website or by sending a check to P.O. Box 1511, Gualala, CA 95445.