Redwood Coast Land Conservancy buying 112 acres near Gualala River and regional park
A 112-acre swath of land just inside the mouth of the Gualala River, including 13 acres of river frontage adjacent to Gualala Point Regional Park, is on its way to permanent preservation for public recreation and habitat conservation.
Long sought by the community to improve public access to the river and ensure the natural scenery remains intact, the Mill Bend property has been acquired by the local Redwood Coast Land Conservancy through the help of a secret benefactor - an interim buyer who has pledged to hold title for two years, ostensibly long enough for the nonprofit to pay for the $1.8 million purchase.
“They’ve seen what happens,” conservancy project manager Kathleen Chasey said of the interim buyer, identified only as the The Allemall Foundation. “If you’re trying to purchase something for conservation purposes, a lot of sellers won’t wait.”
But there remains a significant fundraising task ahead, which includes securing grants from the state and federal wildlife agencies, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California State Coastal Conservancy, whose representatives all have toured the land, Chasey said.
Applications for two of the grants already have been submitted, and the land conservancy is hopeful of obtaining the $1.8 million it needs to repay The Allemall Foundation.
But in addition, it needs the public to raise an additional $600,000 for a stewardship fund to prove it can maintain the land in perpetuity - a necessity in order to qualify for public grants, Chasey said.
The land at issue includes most of the estuary upriver from the southern entrance to town, a sliver of coastal bluff along the southern shore in Sonoma County and the vacant site of an old mill in the crook of a river bend on the west side of Highway 1 in Mendocino County.
It also includes a 59-acre higher elevation piece on the east side of Highway 1, from south of Gualala to the river’s edge, where 35 acres of mixed conifer forest leads into vast timberlands.
The Redwood conservancy’s vision for the land includes extending the coast bluff trail from town, as part of the California Coastal Trail, and hosting about a mile of riverfront trail, but otherwise taking a light touch with trail development and development in general, though eventually it hopes to convert an existing house on the grounds to an education center, Chasey said.
Though much of the property is located on the Mendocino County side of the river, which serves as the boundary between Mendocino and Sonoma counties, the newly purchased land is seen as a natural extension of Sonoma County’s Gualala Point park.
Bert Whitaker, county parks director, said he and his staff already are in partnership with the land conservancy and are eager to help with everything from site supervision to opening and closing gates to helping people find the visitor center at the county park.
The goal is “this is all just a seamless experience for the visitors,” Whitaker said.
Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the northern Sonoma Coast, said the site’s shared jurisdiction was part of what made it special, in addition to its connectivity with the park and opportunity for water trails, a recent county focus.
“I think the other thing that’s exciting about this opportunity is this is an area of sort of shared community interest between Sonoma and Mendocino counties and an opportunity for local community development in a very rural area,” Hopkins said, “because the North Coast sometimes struggles with jobs and economic development. And even though there’s a county line up there, there isn’t one when it comes to the communities. The Sea Ranch, their town is Gualala. That’s where they do their grocery shopping. It’s where they get their medical care. The county line is just an imaginary line in the woods that nobody realistically pays attention to.”
The Mill Bend property was once part of about 30,000 acres long-owned by Gualala Redwood Inc. and the Ollie Edmunds family, which in 2015 sold its entire timber holdings to Gualala Redwood Timber.
Gualala Redwood outbid a consortium of conservation interests that wanted to buy the property and harvest the timber sustainably, while expanding the popular regional park and campground located near magnificent redwood groves near the river’s edge.
Though listed with the property, Edmunds held back from the sale 112 acres near town that included one parcel with development potential and another with none because of its location on and around sandy bars and wetlands.
Chasey said getting the land into conservation hands ensures that homes that could be built above the river never will be developed.
The Allemall Foundation, based in Maryland, is led by an East Coast couple whose daughter lives in The Sea Ranch and was thus aware of the precarious nature of the river property when they offered to get involved last year to ensure the land was saved from potential development, Chasey said.
“It’s so wonderful,” Hopkins said, “when a buyer steps in, because often time sellers won’t wait for a conservation buyer. They know how long it takes. Government is slow.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.
Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat
I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment.