By MARY CALLAHAN - Article and Photos - THE PRESS DEMOCRAT (March 9, 2014)
The Stornetta Public Lands, a breathtaking stretch of Mendocino County coast near Point Arena, will be declared part of a national monument Tuesday by President Barack Obama, White House officials said Saturday.
Obama will issue an executive order to expand the 1,100-mile California Coastal National Monument and take in the rugged, biologically rich expanse of 1,665 acres in an Oval Office ceremony with a local presence.
“It's finally happening,” said former Point Arena Mayor Leslie Dahlhoff, who was part of a 2-1/2-year grassroots campaign to protect the lands. She will be among three local residents to attend the signing Tuesday.
Boosters believe the monument designation, in addition to offering additional federal protection for the land, will raise the profile of the south Mendocino Coast and provide a much-needed economic infusion.
News of the president's decision broke in Washington on Saturday afternoon and quickly spread west, setting phones buzzing and prompting a flurry of celebratory emails and text messages around the region.
Ann Cole, executive director of the Mendocino Land Trust, said the texts she received were filled with exclamation points and hoorays.
“People are just ecstatic,” Cole said. “They've been working so hard on this.”
“This is all so very exciting,” said Scott Schneider, president and chief executive of Visit Mendocino County, who also will be at the White House on Tuesday.
Larry Stornetta, a partner in the historic dairy ranch that provided the initial acreage for the area, also plans to attend the Oval Office signing, Dahlhoff said. He could not be reached for comment.
Already afforded some measure of protection thanks to a series of public acquisitions begun in 2004, the Stornetta Public Lands are managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which will continue to oversee and administer the monument addition.
Extending along roughly three miles of coastline south of the Point Arena lighthouse and Manchester Beach, the area offers spectacular bluff-top views of the ocean and rugged features carved from landscape by wind and water over centuries.
It also includes the Garcia River estuary and important wildlife habitat for several endangered species.
The Stornetta lands will contribute to an uninterrupted, nearly 12-mile stretch of publicly accessible coastline and provide a link to the California Coastal Trail.
A committee of local residents already has begun developing ideas for trails within the parcel. Their work presumably will help inform a three-year planning process with public input that is required for the monument.
Point Arena, with a population of fewer than 500, already is one of five official “gateway communities” to the California Coastal National Monument, which is comprised of more than 20,000 seastacks, islands, pinnacles and exposed reefs between the borders of Mexico and Oregon.
As such, the town provides a vantage point for the marine monument without really permitting visitors to be “in it” in the way that extending the monument to the mainland will allow.
Supporters believe Tuesday's executive order will raise the profile of the community and the southern corner of the county, which misses much of the traffic headed toward Mendocino and other mid-coast destinations north of the junction of Highways 1 and 128.
“This is now going to be part of the national monument — the only land-based gateway to the coastal monument,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, whose district includes the parcel. “I think that's a big deal.”
Huffman, whose first bill as a freshman congressman last year sought monument designation for the Stornetta lands, said national coverage of its beauty and environmental riches already have begun drawing visitors.
The Mendocino Coast recently was listed third on a list of “52 places to go in 2014” published by the New York Times. Online, the article featured a video shot from the Stornetta lands.
An official designation as national monument “should take it to the next level,” Huffman said.
A Bureau of Land Management report estimated that outdoor recreation on California public lands contributed nearly $900 million to the economy in 2012.
On the Mendocino Coast, tourism already supports 5,000 area jobs, Schneider said.
Huffman and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, co-sponsored the House legislation, which passed unanimously last July.
But a companion Senate bill by California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein has languished in committee for more than a year.
The president foreshadowed his decision to see the proposal through in his Jan. 28 State of the Union address, in which he pledged to “use his authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.”
Two White House officials confirmed the designation Saturday but declined to be identified because the president has not yet made the announcement. The designation is part of an overall commitment “to make 2014 a year of action using his phone and his pen,” one of the officials said.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell — whose visit to the site last fall and meeting with hundreds of local residents are considered pivotal to winning over the White House — also had highlighted the president's commitment to using the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect deserving public lands in the absence of congressional action.
Jewell is expected to attend a celebration of the property's new status on Wednesday afternoon.
“Honestly, we're really excited that President Obama is following through on his promise in the State of the Union, and he's responding to the local community about having the Stornetta Public Lands protected,” said Meghan Kissell, communications director for the Conservation Lands Foundation's National Monument Campaign in Washington.
Last March, Obama named five new national monuments in Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington, disappointing local residents who had hoped the Stornetta lands would be recognized sooner.
Last month, a Washington Post story that said Obama was preparing to extend the designation to Point Arena said he also would grant monument status to the 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks region near Las Cruces, N.M. That only Stornetta will receive monument status at the moment is significant, Kissell said.
“It gives Stornetta the recognition it deserves,” she said.
“I'm just thrilled,” Schneider said, “and so grateful for everything they've done, and are doing, and that they just kind of paid attention to this little corner of the country. It's pretty awesome.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)