Hands-on volunteers drive land conservancy projects

Hands-on volunteers drive land conservancy projects

By J. Stephen McLaughlin
news@mendonoma.com

Inspired by Lucy Olmstead's marker, volunteer Loren Adrian crafted and installed similar wooden markers to dignity graves of unknown occupants in the historic cemetery. Steve McLaughlin photo.

It takes more than tax-deductible donations and grant funding to realize the ambitious projects of the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy. On Saturday, the 30-year-old grass-roots conservation organization honored more than 75 hands-on volunteers at an event at its newest acquisition, the 113-acre Mill Bend property on the Gualala River.

President Tina Batt said many of the volunteers show up day after day and week after week to clear trails, remove invasive pampas grass, and maintain all the group’s coastal access projects, including the Gualala Bluff Trail, Cook’s Beach access trail, and Hearn Gulch.

This 120-year-old metal marker for the grave of Lucy Olmstead was found on the rotted wood plank in the background.  Adrian restored it with new wood "headstone." Steve McLaughlin photo.

After months of work by dedicated volunteers, with funds donated by those same volunteers, the cemetery has been cleared of overgrowth; headstones and markers have been restored, and signs have been placed throughout the cemetery with researched information about the lives of the people buried there. A rebuilt fence and restored sign defines the cemetery.

One of the most dramatic achievements so far has been the restoration of the historic Gualala Cemetery on the Mill Bend property, which was nearly invisible a year ago because of the tangled jungle of brush and overgrown trees.

After months of work by dedicated volunteers, with funds donated by those same volunteers, the cemetery has been cleared of overgrowth; headstones and markers have been restored, and signs have been placed throughout the cemetery with researched information about the lives of the people buried there. A rebuilt fence and restored sign defines the cemetery.

Mill Bend project manager Dave Shpak led volunteers on a tour of some of the trails and restoration in progress.  Steve McLaughlin photo.

Batt told the ICO that the cemetery has had more people “visiting for the right reasons,” that is, respectful historical interest.

During tours of the Mill Bend site, project manager Dave Shpak explained some of the environmental choices the organization must consider as it undertakes restoration and plan access improvements.

More information on RCLC and its projects is available at www.rclc.org.

RCLC hires Dave Shpak as Mill Bend project manager

RCLC hires Dave Shpak as Mill Bend project manager

By J. Stephen McLaughlin
news@mendonoma.com
Photo by Craig Tooley

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.

Gate to protect river from motor vehicle damage

Gate to protect river from motor vehicle damage

By J. Stephen McLaughlin
news@mendonoma.com

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.

Article about Mill Bend Campaign in the ICO…just $15K needed

Article about Mill Bend Campaign in the ICO…just $15K needed

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.

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