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On a perfect warm and sunny day at the edge of the continent, even a pod of humpback whales that breached repeatedly offshore seemed to be conspiring to showcase the spectacular coastline that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell had come to see.

Like the stickers worn by many gathered round hoping to win Jewell's support for expansion of the California Coastal National Monument onto land, it was if the whales themselves were urging, "Yes."

A three-hour hike with local conservation leaders, government officials and Bureau of Land Management personnel took Jewell along chiseled ledges overlooking cliffs and craggy seastacks in the surf, then down to the water's edge below a rock wall over which incoming waves crashed perilously close, in view of curious harbor seals.

At a two-hour meeting in a packed City Hall, she was feted by more than 300 schoolchildren and adults, unanimous in their enthusiasm to have the land she had just walked become part of the 1,100-mile marine monument.

Jewell, by her inclusion of the tiny community of about 450 people in a brief cross-country trip touting the president's commitment to land conservation, made it clear her department has a profound interest in the future of the 1,664 acres proposed for inclusion in the monument.

She reiterated the president's pledge to act when Congress does not to set aside and preserve unique, deserving lands for future generations, imparting a palpable sense of hope that had many in the audience talking in terms of "when, not if," the land was included in the national monument.

But it is, Jewell said, beyond her power to commit to an executive proclamation bringing the Stornetta Public Lands on Point Arena's doorstep into the 13-year-old national monument.

She added, "I wouldn't be out here if it wasn't a high priority."

Jewell's visit to this hamlet on the southern Mendocino Coast caps a decade of collaborative action to preserve a more than 2-mile stretch of coast now owned by the public through a series of land purchases beginning in 2004.

Under the Bureau of Land Management, part of the Department of Interior, the land is open for public access and, thanks to an addition of 409 acres this summer, completes a 12-mile stretch of publicly owned land running north from the Point Arena Pier.

Point Arena already is an official "gateway community" to the monument of 20,000 rocks and islands off the coast. But expanding the monument to encompass the mainland property provides both a "toehold" for the monument, supporters say, and a higher profile for the community and its coastline, as well as a much-needed economic boost.

"My guests return with amazement in their eyes" — and questions about why they have not heard more about the area, said Elaine Bryant, an innkeeper in nearby Elk.

A bill introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who accompanied Jewell on Friday, to add the Stornetta Public Lands to the monument passed the House of Representatives last summer, amended to include provisions requiring additional congressional action for any further expansion. A companion bill sponsored in the Senate by California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein has stalled, however, and, with the changes in the House, would require reconciliation, if passed.

But under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president has the authority to proclaim the subject land part of the monument — a path, expansion supporters say, that would be smoother and faster.

"There's a lot of uncertainty in the legislative process," Huffman said Friday. Having Jewell visit the area "is basically sending a message that we're going to make it happen one way or another."

Jewell's background includes oil and gas engineering and banking. An avid outdoorswoman, she was chief executive of REI when tapped to head the Interior Department earlier this year. She's from Seattle and has spent time on the Oregon Coast down to Crescent City amid her many travels, but said she's spent "not enough" on the North Coast.

"This is different — more rugged, less accessible in some places," she said.

For Point Arena, that's part of the problem, advocates of monument expansion say in interviews. Located in a corner of the county south of where Highway 128 connects inland travelers to Highway 1, "it's not on the way to anywhere," said former Mayor Leslie Dahlhoff.

"We are so set apart from the other nine Bay Area counties," Ann Cole, executive director of the Mendocino Land Trust said. "We really need something to bring people here."

"When you tell the president about our coast," Fort Bragg activist Rachel Binah said, "tell him there is a fierce urgency of now."

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.