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.
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.
Tune in to see our local Mill Bend gain some fame. NBC Bay Area’s “Open Road” program, starring Doug McConnell, filmed the estuary of Gualala River recently. He interviewed Redwood Coast Land Conservancy’s (RCLC) Mill Bend Project Manager Kathleen Chasey and learned about plans for a new river park.
Doug McConnell says, “We’ll fall in love with the scenic wonders of the Sonoma Coast where big plans are underway to give everyone more access to its world-class natural treasures.”
The show will air for the first time Sunday July 19, 2020 at 6:30 PM on Bay Area NBC. It will show again on Sunday August 9, 2020 at 6:30 PM on the same channel.
The Open Road program features several locations in each episode. Here is the summary for Episode 59 with Mill Bend.
“We’ll discover mysterious and majestic volcanic spires riding a famous fault north from southern California towards the Bay Area now serving as a sanctuary for ancient and long-endangered birds with the widest wingspans in North America. We’ll fall in love with the scenic wonders of the Sonoma Coast where big plans are underway to give everyone more access to its world-class natural treasures. We’ll celebrate outdoor delights all around the Bay Area and the importance of public parks and open spaces to the health and well-being of each of us and our communities during the pandemic.”
The Gualala Municipal Advisory Council will sponsor a community forum on the Mill Bend property on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 6 to 8 p.m., at the Gualala Community Center. The forum is the brainchild of John Walton, who went to GMAC in August to pitch the idea of a forum to see if the property could be purchased and turned into community or public lands.
Walton is still working to firm up presenters at the forum, but one who has confirmed is Cindy Kennedy, the realtor who has the listing for the $2,475 million parcels. “I will be talking about the property,” said Kennedy, who added that she does have maps and “nice aerial photos” to show interested locals.
Walton was clear his preference is that the properties become public lands, and he has been thinking about the properties since Gualala Redwoods, Inc., founded in 1948 by J. Ollie Edmunds, Sr., sold the bulk of its properties in April 2015 to the Burch family of San Jose, which now operates the woodlands as Gualala Redwood Timber.
An unsuccessful bid for the 29,500-acre timber lands was made by a group of conservation organizations at the time.
However, the company held back several parcels, including the Mill Bend and Lower Mill Bend parcels, which are being marketed together, and Walton said he is hoping that this time, a consortium could be formed to purchase the properties.
In its latest newsletter, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, which was a member of the group that bid on the properties in 2015, let it be known it is interested in an easement or an outright acquisition of the Mill Bend parcels, which include 112 acres of Gualala River frontage on both sides of Highway 1 at the south end of Mendocino County.
RCLC “recognize[s] the opportunity the sale presents for protecting Mill Bend from development and improving community access to this strikingly beautiful river property in the heart of Gualala,” read the newsletter.
Walton said the forum is open to the public although he is actively contacting organizations that might be interested.