An important event for the future of parks on the coast is coming up on June 28th. The Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District will hold a Public Forum addressing the use of the Regional Park (2 miles out Hwy 20 at Summers Lane) at Cotton Auditorium from 6:30-8:30 pm. Concerned citizens and residents are encouraged to attend and express their interests in use of the Park. This is the only large park owned by the District, which includes the whole Mendocino Coast, and has been underutilized and abused for many years.
The Park has a desolate history of being used by illegal Off-Road Vehicles, which have broken through the forest to run on the old trails and dirt roads, causing deep cuts in the surface and loosening the dirt to erosion. Newman Gulch, which supplies drinking water to Fort Bragg, cuts across the property and receives much of this sediment. The Park was also proposed to contain a golf course, and many of the taller trees cut down for fairways. That proposal died, but new plans for an Off-Road Vehicle Park have brought new challenges to the Park. Despite the impacts, much of this property can be allowed to recover and can be protected in a manner that values its natural significance, while at the same time serving to educate the public about the uniquely special habitats that are found there.
The Sierra Club has a great concern that the entire Park will be dedicated to Off-Road Vehicles to the exclusion of any other activity, and that the botanical resources will be destroyed. Specifically, the California Native Plant Society has stated their concerns: “The 586-acre property off of Highway 20, which the MCRPD and the California Recreational Alliance plan to develop as an Off-Highway Vehicle Park, contains one of the rarest plant communities in California, and one that is unique to our Mendocino Coast, the pygmy forest . . .. only 1480 acres of pygmy forest remain.” The property contains approximately 20% of all remaining Mendocino Pygmy Cypress Woodland (“pygmy forest”). Additionally, other sensitive natural communities including Bishop pine forest exist on the property. CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife estimates a majority of the Regional Park is comprised of sensitive natural communities. The Regional Park rests on soils that are essential to the maintenance of that habitat. Pygmy soil types are ancient soils perched on a very flat and sandy terrace and retain water in a wetland type regime. Disturbance of the surface causes quick erosion and downcutting, which can drain the vegetation of needed moisture. The Park already has some roadcuts of 12-30 inches deep and at least one 6’ deep.
The MCRPD has received a grant for restoration in the Park, which is mainly to be used for fencing. While fencing is a good idea, the plan for it was proposed with no environmental review, using an “exemption” for the State Parks Off-Highway Vehicle grant. Therefore, there is no document that directs the restoration in avoiding damage and protecting sensitive plants. In fact, the MCRPD Board already allows continued use of the Park for Off-Road Vehicle training and trail rides. The “restoration” would not include improving or decommissioning the damaged roads at all, but anticipates continuing their use by ORVs and dirt bikes. A new EIR in the works is addressed to only the ORV proposal, not other desired activities.
The Park is simply not a good place for off-road use, with issues of water pollution, sensitive plants, neighborhood noise and exhaust, and incompatible activity. The public has an interest in developing its only Park in a responsible way for the enjoyment of all sorts of activities, and the neighbors are very concerned about the impacts to their neighborhood. Please attend the public forum on June 28th at Cotton Auditorium at 6:30-8:30 pm to voice your interests.
Sierra Club, Mendocino Group