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.”
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.