By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
Next week, people can start plotting the future of 25,000 acres of public land in Del Norte County that hosts second growth forests, huge stumps of old growth redwoods, the shells of old logging mills, hundreds of miles of abandoned roads and streams critical for endangered salmon.
Mill Creek Addition needs a management plan and a public meeting will kick off the effort 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Crescent Fire Protection District Station on Washington Boulevard. A public tour at 9 a.m. on June 23, at the site off Hamilton Road will show off its assets.
"Everybody has their own ideas of what they want to do," said Petra Unger, a project manager with EDAW, the firm that Redwood National and State Parks recently contracted for $250,000 to plan the park's future. "We're just really barely getting started here."
To Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the nonprofit Save-the-Redwoods League, the process offers a chance to make sure that the site returns to its former glory.
"To see it restored to a wonderful, ancient, redwood forest," Hartley said.
It also offers a unique chance to envision a forest 1,000 years from now by integrating different types of stream, road removal and habitat restoration work in one large area.
"It's one of the few places that's bringing all of these disciplines together," Hartley said.
Rick Hiser has been leading tours to see the forest and the salmon spawning in its creeks.
"The possibilities for hiking, biking, horseback riding Â– there's 25,000 acres in there. That's a lot of land," Hiser said. "There's probably uses that I haven't even thought about."
He noted the old mill sites that could offer campground and RV facilities.
"That's a market that needs to be tapped into," Hiser said.
Don Amador, the western representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition that seeks to ensure access for off-highway vehicle riders and other outdoor enthusiasts, aims to map out space at Mill Creek Addition for riders.
"It's the remote nature of the area that we find particularly suitable for off-highway vehicle recreation," Amador said.
Grant Werschkull, executive director of the nonprofit Smith River Alliance, plans to make sure that the plan includes fishery monitoring and stream and habitat restoration projects for endangered salmon that sparked the effort to buy the addition and save it from further logging.
"We would be heavily interested in seeing how those would be restored," Werschkull said of streams and salmon populations.
Werschkull also wonders about tourism and education possibilities for the site that includes old vacant mills that might host museum exhibits.
"People are literally driving right by it as they come from the south on (U.S. Hwy.) 101," Werschkull said.
A large addition
The nonprofit Save-the-Redwoods League donated Mill Creek Addition to the Redwood National and State Parks in 2002, after buying the land from Stimson Lumber Co.
The move followed the park's revision to land management plans in 2000 that guide the other 105,500 acres that make up Redwood National Park, run by the National Park Service, and the state-run Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
Crafting a management plan for the Mill Creek Addition could take about two years, with a draft likely to come out by the end of 2008. The State Park and Recreation Commission must approve a final version.
The plan would allow the parks to use money for development and construction, such as for campgrounds, interpretive facilities or a lodge, said state park superintendent Bruce Lynn.
The addition adds a piece to the puzzle of the larger park system.
"What is unique to this is just the sheer size of it," Unger said of the parcel.
Next week's meeting will not collect public comments for the record, but will detail existing conditions and resources at the property. Natural resource managers already working on projects at the site will review their progress on road removal, stream and habit restoration.
Hartley expects such projects at the addition to draw visitors who will want to see forest restoration in action, as less than 5 percent of the ancient redwood forest remains.
"I'm just excited to be able to have that dialogue with the community and to help place Mill Creek in that broader perspective," Hartley said. "Restoring the old forest of the future."
The public has already shown interest in the planning process. Lynn has heard concerns about plans for the elk herd and a request from the International Mountain Biking Association to get involved in the management plan process.
Hiser, too, expects the public to get involved.
"It's only limited by people's participation," Hiser said.