Copyright 2024 by ICO
By Noah Leffler

Gualala’s Mill Bend Preserve has undergone significant changes since logging operations on the site ceased in the 1960s. The site was purchased by Redwood Coast Land Conservancy in 2021, and efforts are currently being made to ensure the 133-acre property is a vi- able habitat for myriad plant and animal species as well as a space visitors can enjoy for years to come.

Among the projects are an estuary restoration plan being funded by a $404,000 California Department of Fish and Wildlife grant. Most recently, the California Conservation Corps spent several weeks performing wildfire resiliency and fuel mitigation work, paid for with a $307,000 endowment from the State Coastal Conservancy.

The latter agency recently awarded Mill Bend another grant on Thursday, Feb. 15, this time for $1.66 million to create a Public Access and Restoration Design Plan.

This will fund a comprehensive plan that is the next big step in sealing Mill Bend’s conversion from a former mill site to a nature preserve, said RCLC Executive Director Jim Elias. “The plan is going to be the blueprint for restoring biodiversity, [establishing] habitat friendly trails and for showcasing the ecology of the north coast,” he said. “It’s a huge step forward in realizing Mill Bend Preserve’s potential as both a haven for nature and an educational and inspirational resource for people

Sebastopol-based environmental engineering firm Prunuske Chatham, Inc., is preparing the plan. According to Elias, highlights include 2.6 miles of new trails — some of which will link the preserve to neighboring Gualala Point Regional Park — as well as 1,000 feet of estuary boardwalk, three new public restrooms, five picnic areas, three trailheads, and historic and cultural signage.

A significant part of design completion will be ensuring plans comply with the California Environmental Quality

“It’s not just a simple matter of putting trails’ on a map or identifying where we want to do restoration,” Elias said, adding, “It’s getting the necessary approvals so that we can take those steps.”

The grant will also facilitate outreach to the preserve’s neighbors and visitors, and Elias said to “stay tuned” as engagement opportunities are currently in the works.

“Mill Bend Preserve has always been a community-based project,” he explained. “Without the community, we wouldn’t, have been able to acquire [the property], so we’re absolutely going to want the input from a wide range of stakeholders.”

Design plan completion is slated for December 2027.