Please Take Our Survey about Mill Bend Access Alternatives

RCLC is reaching out to the community to gauge preferences about the access alternatives presented during the last public forum on April 11, 2021. If you did not attend the forum or want to review the forum proceedings, you can watch a video recording of the forum and review forum questions and answers in the section below called “Review Mill Bend Preserve Progress Forum.”  The description of Mill Bend access alternatives begins around 40 minutes into the recording below.

This on-line survey seeks your input on access alternatives to Mill Bend. The RCLC Board of Directors will ultimately select a preferred access alternative for the Integrated Conservation Plan for Mill Bend Preserve after considering preferences provided by responses to this community survey and the following criteria:

    • Requirements of our funders
    • Severity and extent of potential resource impacts
    • Level of regulatory compliance effort and cost
    • Cost to implement
    • Cost and capabilities required for operations, ongoing maintenance, and replacements
    • Flooding or wildfire vulnerability

The survey will remain open until June 25th and the results will be posted on the RCLC website by the end of July.

We thank you for your continued support and your willingness help RCLC plan the Mill Bend Preserve!

This survey was created using Survey Planet and resides on their web site.  Click the following button to get started…

Review Mill Bend Preserve Progress Forum

Redwood Coast Land Conservancy (RCLC) Board members and staff conducted a virtual Community Forum on April 11, 2021 to report progress since the Mill Bend Update in August 2020 and to introduce the latest planning alternatives developed by Prunuske Chatham, Inc. (PCI).

Community Forum Questions and Answers

This is a summary of questions by forum participants and registrants, questions by stakeholders, and answers by RCLC and PCI.

Question: There has been so much past development, commercial operations and building on the site. Are there still remnants of that activity still evident on the site?

Answer: The remnants of past industrial and residential development are mere traces of structures or buildings that can be found. A few exceptions, however, there are two old buildings and a shed, areas of old asphalt or concrete, and a couple old concrete foundations. Other remnants take the form of highly disturbed soils. Additionally, remnants of the redwood log crib foundations and walls used to create land and infrastructure for the mills at mill bend at the turn of the century are visible at the mouth of China Gulch and along the south cliff.

Question: Why was the Mill Bend property known as China Gulch? Is there any remnant of the Chinese community in China Gulch? And where exactly was it on the site?

Answer: The northwest portion of the property is crossed by a deep ravine called China Gulch. Historic records say that this name was given because Chinese immigrants settled in the area during the mid-1800’s. We have not found any physical remnant of the Chinese community or settlement at China Gulch. Much of that area, which is located at the bottom of China Gulch near the estuary, was altered by the State Route 1 embankment. Today, this location is between the intersection of State Route 1 and Old State Highway, and the new pull-out on the west side of State Route 1.

Question: Does PCI get permission from GRT to do upland and/or upstream habitat studies on Salmonids?

Answer: The physical study area of the Mill Bend Integrated Conservation Plan is entirely on property owned by the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, Caltrans, Mendocino County (road right-of-way), and Gualala Arts Center. Although cultural resources literature search included off-site resources for context, PCI has not needed access to GRT property. PCI’s analysis of aquatic and riparian habitat conservation is considering available information on habitat upstream of the Mill Bend Preserve yet will not need access to GRT property to complete concept-level assessment of potential restoration actions on RCLC property. However, we are grateful to John Bennett for sharing GIS data and historic photographs of the Mill Bend property.

Question: So far there has been no reference to the extensive diverse native submerged aquatic vegetation beds that emerge in late spring and persist all summer. These beds are rich juvenile salmonid habitat, and a target for restoration by NOAA. Will these be considered for protection?

Answer: Yes, absolutely. We are working in coordination with CDFW and NOAA, and salmonid habitat restoration is one of our primary objectives. NOAA and other agency restoration priorities are key criteria for evaluation and planning for protection. In addition to the ongoing Integrated Conservation Plan, RCLC and PCI are pursuing other ways to advance salmonid habitat restoration, including the CDFW/NOAA Fisheries Restoration Grant Program.

Question: Have there been any discussions to build canals through the large sand bar?

Answer: The Gualala River is like other sand bar-built estuaries along the Central Coast. The sand bar is a natural process and its height varies throughout the year and across years. Experience in other sand bar estuaries shows that mechanical breaching or functional modification is likely to cause detrimental impacts to the ecosystem. We also expect that sea level rise, storm intensity and wave surge caused by climate change may alter the natural processes that break and rebuild the sand bar.

Question: What is today’s Salmonid population? What is the current fish population in the estuary and river?

Answer: CDFW has been conducting annual spawning surveys; the most recent information available shows very low salmonid populations. CDFW considers Coho to be extirpated generally from the South Fork Gualala River, with some suitable habitat remaining in the North Fork. Steelhead populations also vary; in 2010 the adult steelhead count in the Wheatfield Fork counted 126 adults, balanced by a high of 1400 in 2008. The most recent juvenile steelhead count in 2002-2003 found 4,500 – 5,000. Steelhead populations are trying to hold, but overall the populations are extremely depressed.

Question: I would greatly appreciate more information on the partnership with Action Network and its environmental and cultural outreach program. Will this potentially provide an opportunity for children to participate in the restoration of native plants and salmonid habitat?

Answer: We are looking for funding in partnership with Action Network to start the Environmental Cultural Outreach Program. This program is primarily geared toward K-12, and their families. Funding will be determined in the summer of 2020 yet is earmarked for a River Festival. However, our aim is to leverage this support into an ongoing program. Additional funds will be sought with partners, local native tribes, and the Gualala Arts Center.

Question: How well can Salmonid restoration succeed without also addressing degraded conditions further upriver, including tributaries such as the Little North Fork and the North Fork?

Answer: To recover a salmonid population in the watershed it is important to consider every section of their habitat. What we know RCLC can do is on this property. The more salmonids we can rear the more we can assist in adults returning. In the case of the Gualala River, the estuary is of particular importance for juvenile rearing and adult survival before return to the ocean. Our goal is to advance the restoration of this estuary and our hope is there will be other opportunities to restore further upstream in partnership with other landowners, agencies, and stakeholders.

Question: What is that pond in the center of the mill bend willow area? Is it manmade, or natural?

Answer: The pond is a manmade feature that was likely part of the milling operations. However, the pond is located within the wetlands area and riparian life has grown all around it.

Question: When did the second mill in the estuary burn down? When did mill operations cease on the property?

Answer: The second mill burned down in 1947. Operations at the third mill, located in the upland portion of the property, ended in the mid-1960’s.

Question: What is the flood level at Mill Bend?

Answer: Information collected for the planning process indicates regular flooding at elevations below 20 feet, including all the willow flats and estuary access area. This low elevation is at risk of more frequent and deeper flooding from sea-level risk and storm surges.

Question: Does the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy have funds to build access improvements?

Answer: Not currently. A primary purpose of the Integrated Conservation Plan is to identify projects to improve recreational and educational access that meet the priorities and performance criteria described during the presentation. The Redwood Coast Land Conservancy will then raise funds to build, operate and maintain access improvements through agency partnerships, public and private grants, and with gift donations.

Question: When will the Integrated Conservation Plan be complete? Is there a schedule for early projects?

Answer: The Final Integrated Conservation Plan for the Mill Bend Preserve will be completed by March 2022. There is no schedule for early project implementation currently. However, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is actively monitoring agency grant opportunities to advance project-specific planning, design, environmental impact assessment, regulatory permitting, and construction.

Question: Would the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy consider a pedestrian bridge across the Gualala River to complete another segment of the Coastal Trail and to improve pedestrian and motorist safety on Highway 1?

Answer: Prunuske Chatham, Inc. has evaluated a new seasonal pedestrian bridge across Gualala River that would connect the Mill Bend Preserve with Gualala Point Regional Park campground in Sonoma County. This concept is part of the Alternative 2 for additional development of access improvements. A new seasonal Gualala River bridge would provide a way to connect the California Coastal Trail between the counties during late spring through late fall and provide an alternative pedestrian route to the State Route 1 bridge over the river. Construction and seasonal installation and removal would cause impacts to aquatic habitat and water quality that are strongly discouraged by federal and state environmental protection laws and regulations. In addition to regulatory complexity, a new bridge connection would substantially alter the type and intensity of pedestrian travel through the Regional Park campground, which would alter the character and likely require physical changes to the campground that are neither planned nor funded. A river crossing at this location would also substantially increase the intensity of foot traffic passing through the Mill Bend Preserve, triggering more intensive trail development than anticipated by the Alternative 1 minimum development scenario.

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