by Betsy Herbert
published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 03/20/14
Of all the national monuments in the country, which is the most seen and yet the least visited? It's the California Coastal National Monument. Millions of people including residents of Santa Cruz view this monument every day. It stretches along the entire 1,100-mile California coastline, protecting tide pools, seabirds, sea lions, harbor seals and other native wildlife, and providing "a spectacular interplay of land and sea," according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the agency that administers national monuments.
Yet, until last week, you couldn't set foot on this national treasure because it was entirely offshore, including rocks, outcroppings, and islets poking through the ocean along the coast and out to a distance of 12 nautical miles.
That all changed last week when President Barack Obama designated the first shoreline addition to the California Coastal National Monument. The spectacular 1,665-acre Point Arena-Stornetta public lands on the Mendocino County coast, already a favorite hiking destination of residents there, has become the first portion of the national monument to offer public access.
The expansion last week by Obama adds coastal bluffs, onshore dunes, coastal prairies, riverbanks, and the mouth and estuary of the Garcia River.
"I love this land. I walk it everyday. It's one of my most favorite spots," said Blake More, a Point Arena-area resident.
Leslie Dahlhoff, a former mayor and council member of the coastal town of Point Arena, has long worked with this community to steward the transition of the Point Arena-Stornetta property into public hands and to facilitate its becoming part of the California Coastal National Monument.
"What has struck me most since President Obama's signing is how it has unified us as a community," says Dahlhoff.
She points out that the Stornetta family, who had owned the property for generations, had a long-term interest in preserving the property for future generations.
Point Arena is one of several official "gateway communities" to the California Coastal National Monument. Gateway communities serve as focal points and visitor contact locations for the monument, with the intent of enhancing the geographical character of a place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.
As a gateway, the town of Point Arena partners with public agencies and other regional stakeholders including land trusts, the local business community, and environmental groups in the planning process for the Point Arena-Stornetta property. These public lands are a destination for thousands of visitors every year, offering opportunities for wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreation activities.
"Our experience has been a collaborative process. We would all sit down at the table and plan our priorities and make it happen," said Dahlhoff.
She said that the property is now better protected as a national monument because of this process. To date, the property is subject to an interim management plan that allows hiking but prohibits motorized vehicles. The collaborative process will continue as the final management plan takes shape and is implemented by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The California Coastal National Monument was established in 2000 by President Bill Clinton under the federal Antiquities Act. Obama's action last week builds upon that vision and honors years of work by the local community and businesses seeking increased protection and recognition for the area.
First exercised by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to designate Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the authority of the Antiquities Act has since been used by 16 presidents to protect unique natural and historic features throughout the nation, including the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.