Mill Bend attracts $1.3M in new conservation funds; $300K more needed to meet RCLC funding goal

Mill Bend attracts $1.3M in new conservation funds; $300K more needed to meet RCLC funding goal

By W.W. Keller
Copyright Independent Coast Observer
news@mendonoma.com | 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.

California agencies partially fund Mill Bend purchase; more needed to complete project

California agencies partially fund Mill Bend purchase; more needed to complete project

By W.W. Keller
Copyright Independent Coast Observer
news@mendonoma.com | May 8, 2020
Photo by Craig Tooley

The Redwood Coast Land    Conservancy (RCLC) announced this week an award of $845,000 toward the purchase of the 113- acre Mill Bend property at the mouth of the Gualala River. “We plan to raise enough funds through grants and community contributions to preserve and protect this vital property in perpetuity,” said RCLC President Christina Batt. “This grant marks an important step toward completing the purchase of Mill Bend.” The full purchase price of the Mill Bend property was $1.8 million.

Two state agencies made the grant, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Transportation Commission. $800,000 will go toward reimbursing the Allemall Foundation, the interim conservation holder of the land, and $45,000 is for further appraisal and administrative oversight of the Mill Bend Project.

“I want to thank Mendocino Land Trust and their executive director Ann Cole and the conservation project manager, Nikki Houtz in particular for their work in preparing this successful grant application as part of a combined effort to find funding for this project,” said Batt.

Sonoma Supervisor Lynda Hopkins commented, “It’s so wonderful to have something that inspires hope right now. It’s great to see that we can keep going forward to create a resource for the community for the future.”

But $845,000 is just the beginning. The RCLC calculates it needs a total of $2.7 million to complete the park, of which $1.8 million is to reimburse the Allemall Foundation, $300,000 for a comprehensive planning process, and $600,000 for long-term stewardship of the property.

“The $845,000 award announced today is part of the overall RCLC Campaign to Preserve the Mill Bend,” said project director Kathleen Chasey, “Our goal is to restore the river and improve the land so it will be preserved as a community park forever.”

The funding drive is structured to complete the purchase of Mill Bend, and to raise funds for the responsible stewardship of the property, including a comprehensive planning process for the future of Mill Bend. In addition to the $845,000 grant received this week, the RCLC has also raised $300,000 from private individuals, as lead gifts already pledged for its Stewardship Fund, for a total $1,145 million to date.

In the coming months, the conservancy organization hopes to match these funds with an additional $300,000 from the community. Chasey said the campaign will run from June to September, or until the funding goal is met.

Assemblymember Jim Wood, who has actively supported the Mill Bend conservation project commented, “Almost three years ago, when the Mill Bend parcels became available, so many people had a dream to forever preserve the beauty of this scenic gateway to the Gualala River watershed, and this grant will go a long way to making it a reality. With this generous grant of $845,000, other contributions already raised and the generosity of locals who have donated $300,000, they have more than half of what’s needed to reach their impressive goal creating the Gualala River Park. Congratulations to all for their dedication and hard work!”

Mendocino Supervisor Ted Williams, who early on supported the Mill Bend project said, “I remain impressed by the perseverance of local conservation champions. This award represents their rapid pace in ensuring estuary and wetland protection. The effort goes beyond stewardship of critical habitat, effectively boosting quality of life for residents through nature access while offering conservation education to visitors.”

“This grant, along with funds from gracious community donations, will go a long way in furthering the Mill Bend Conservation Project,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, who is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “It’s great to see support for such an important project in my district to protect its treasured natural resources from development. I have been a supporter of this project from the start, and have been glad to advocate on behalf of the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy so they can obtain vital funding for these efforts. Restoring and preserving these lands will not only bring much-needed recreational value to the area, but it will have long-lasting benefits for our invaluable coastal wetlands and uplands habitat.”

Founded in 1992, Redwood Coast Land Conservancy is a local land trust based in Gualala and supported by local contributors and volunteers. 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. It also holds local conservation easements for habitat protection and enhancement.

More information about RCLC and about the Mill Bend acquisition can be found on the RCLC website at www. rclc.org. Contributions for Mill Bend can be made to the RCLC via its website or by sending a check to P.O. Box 1511, Gualala, CA 95445.

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