By W.W. Keller
Copyright Independent Coast Observer
firstname.lastname@example.org | May 22, 2020
Photo by NOAA
The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy announced Tuesday it has won two new grants totaling $1.3 million for the Gualala River Mill Bend Conservation Project to create a park reserve for the community at the Gualala River estuary.
RCLC has taken the lead role to secure funds for the Mill Bend acquisition, planning and stewardship, and is conducting a $2.7 million Campaign to Preserve Mill Bend, said RCLC President Christina Batt. “We plan to raise enough funds through additional smaller foundation grants and community contributions to preserve and protect this vital property forever.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded the project $1 million through its National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program. These funds will mainly be used to reimburse The Allemall Foundation, the interim conservator for the Mill Bend acquisition. The land is presently held in trust by the Gualala River Park Conservancy, LLC, a subsidiary of the foundation.
In a second grant, the California State Coastal Conservancy awarded $300,000 to RCLC to support an initial site assessment and develop a conservation master plan. Lisa Ames, the project manager at the Coastal Conservancy, characterized the Mill Bend acquisition as a first step in protecting and restoring the “critical and degraded wetland and upland habitats at the mouth of the Gualala River, which has been impaired for decades.” She said, “This project wouldn’t be possible without the overwhelming support from the community, the leadership of the RCLC and funding from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Natural Resources Agency, and numerous local groups and volunteers. I’m thrilled that the Coastal Conservancy is able to support this project, which will benefit wildlife and people alike.”
“We are fortunate to share conservation goals with our federal and state partners,” said Kathleen Chasey, the RCLC project manager. “The Mill Bend project will clean up a degraded area from a century of timber mill use. This will enable wildlife habitat restoration, estuary enhancement for steelhead and salmon, removal of invasive species, and thoughtful public access, including a new one-mile segment in the California Coastal Trail.”
The idea for a Gualala River Park first appeared in Sonoma County Park planning documents in the 1950s. But it only moved to the front burner two years ago when The Allemall Foundation stepped up with $1.8 million to secure the Mill Bend land, which had not been on the market for more than 70 years. The idea of a public park enjoys robust community support. Two years ago, over 1,000 people signed a petition to create a Gualala River Park.
After the land was secured, the RCLC recruited a Technical Advisory Committee to help evaluate and plan for public use of the land. The committee is comprised of community conservationists, environmental experts, state and federal park officials and scientists, and forest managers.
As presently envisaged, a Mill Bend trail would connect the Gualala bluff trail to the north in Mendocino County with the bluff trail in the Gualala Point Regional Park to the south in Sonoma County.
The total funding goal for the Mill Bend project is $2.7 million, according to a RCLC press release. Just two weeks ago the California Natural Resources Agency awarded $800,000 to the organization through its Environmental Enhancement & Mitigation Program. With today’s announcement, total grant funding for the park reached $2.1 million.
“The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy has laid a foundation for success by diligently building community support and funding for the Mill Bend project over several years,” said Rep. Jared Huffman. “With these new grants, the project is finally in position to move forward. I applaud this project and join in celebrating this great news for our environment and future generations.”
In addition to the three grant awards, the RCLC has set a goal to raise $600,000 for stewardship activity, one half of which has already been pledged. “The three organizations that have funded the Mill Bend project,” said Chasey, “require that substantial stewardship funds be in place to demonstrate adequate resources to manage and protect the property in perpetuity.” Over the past several months, the RCLC quietly contacted key donors who have pledged $300,000 in lead gifts. The launch of the campaign to raise $600,000 was slated for March but was postponed until now because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
California State Sen. Mike McGuire, an early supporter of the Gualala River Park said, “The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is doing great work and these latest grants to protect 113 acres of sensitive habitat at the mouth of the Gualala is fantastic news. The state has been grateful to partner with the Conservancy to preserve the property and help increase public access along our beloved coast.”
A letter of support from the executive director of the Allemail Foundation to the Coastal Conservancy indicated the foundation plans to have a continuing role in the Gualala River watershed. “The Allemall Foundation … recognizes the strategic importance of the Mill Bend estuary and uplands as the gateway to future watershed acquisitions and restoration opportunities that will benefit the river and surrounding forested lands.”
Additional information about the RCLC and the Campaign to Preserve Mill Bend can be found on the RCLC website at www.rclc. org. Contributions to RCLC can be made via its website or by sending a check to P.O. Box 1511, Gualala, CA 95445.