Wildflowers now carpet Hearn Gulch bluffs as nature reclaims damaged areas

By Dave Scholz, Hearn Gulch Project Coordinator

The long process of designing a formal public access to the Hearn Gulch Headlands and Beach while, at the same time, protecting the property’s abundant environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHAs), is nearing a successful conclusion.

In many respects, this project has illuminated an ongoing issue along the California coast: the sometimes-conflicting goals of access versus protection. And, in this case, after working through both the County of Mendocino and now the California Coastal Commission permitting processes, we feel we have achieved the proper blending of those two goals at Hearn Gulch.

Checkerbloom (sidalcea malviflora)
photo courtesy of Gary A. Monroe

There are six ESHAs identified within the six acres of land acquired by RCLC at Hearn Gulch: four California Native Plant Society endangered (List 1B) plant ESHAs, one riparian corridor ESHA, and one seasonal wetland ESHA. In addition, there is potential for a seventh ESHA that will require on-going evaluation, most likely for a number of years.

How do we protect these areas and still provide access to the public? The solution to this puzzle is elegant in its simplicity. Both access and protection will be achieved by scaling back the normal mandatory improvements (fences, signs, pathways and parking spaces) and by allowing continued public use of the existing CalTrans Highway One right of way for parking.

Coastal Morning Glory
(Calystegia purpurata ssp. Saxicola)
photo courtesy of Doreen L. Smith

The process of protecting the California coast’s exceptional natural heritage can take many twists and turns and may, on occasion, require creative solutions along the way. Mendocino County, the California Coastal Commission and CalTrans have worked together with RCLC to provide improved public access at Hearn Gulch while protecting sensitive habitat from unnecessary disturbance.

RCLC has just received both the prerequisite amended CalTrans encroachment permit and the new California Coastal Commission development permit. Once the budget for the scaled-down development plan is determined, RCLC will identify what additional funding may be required beyond the existing grant money already received from the Mendocino Community Foundation for the Hearn Gulch project.