About Place- By Tom Ratcliff, Project 387 Board Member
Project 387 is located on the south coast of Mendocino, the exclusive home of the Pomo Indians until the early 1800’s when Russian fur trappers established Fort Ross to harvest the abundant sea otter population. Subsequent occupation by European settlers was slow to develop until the need for construction materials to build San Francisco became intense. By the 1880’s the logging of the old growth redwood and Douglas Fir forests in the Gualala area was a major industry. Multiple sawmills were established locally in the area to transform the trees into dimensional lumber to be shipped back to San Francisco on schooners. Tan Bark Oak harvesting was another industry developed at the same time as the acidic bark from these trees was used in tanning hides. Eventually a thriving salmon fishing fleet was based in Point Arena, just north of project 387.
Workers migrated to the area and lived a primitive life in cabins. They were self reliant for food and just about everything else as there were very few services. Some basic foods and supplies were available, delivered by boat from San Francisco. Point Arena was the center of commerce. By the 1920’s it had a bank, post office, meat market and mercantile among other businesses. Its main street today remains faithful to its original character. Gualala, just a south of Project 387 was the site of a large saw mill, the Gualala Hotel, and several bars.
My family first came to the area in 1925 when my grandparents purchased coastal property as a second home. There were so few people in the area, It was possible, even in the 1950's to walk down the middle of the coastal highway for 20 or 30 minutes before a car or logging truck came along. We threw our garbage over the cliff (even though we were Sierra Club members) and everyone unloaded beer cans and snuff tins straight out the window of their vehicles on their way to and from work. We wore red clothing during deer hunting season for protection and got shot at on occasion anyway. This was a rough culture and a tough life.
Though resource extraction was the historic economic model of the white population, things gradually started to change through a combination of back-to-the-land people in the 1960's plus the development of second homes at the Sea Ranch, just south of Gualala. This brought a larger permanent population of people and services into the area just as the timber business was giving out, to be followed by end of the fishing industry in the 1990's.
Now, life on the coast is no longer about resource extraction. The uniqueness of place, its beauty and biological diversity is valued both to those who live on the coast and those who visit. Tourism plus a healthy number of permanent residents and weekenders has transformed the way all of us relate to the land. Increasingly, these lands are viewed as a resource to be preserved. The State of California has set up three Marine Protection Areas in the vicinity of Gualala where fishing is prohibited to protect endangered rock fish populations from over fishing. A visit to the beach areas similarly reveals native and endangered plants plus a variety of marine life, including harbor seals, cormorants, and occasional elephant seals. Even the sea otter once abundant along the coast is making an occasional re-appearance.
Timber harvest practices have likewise been altered to be more responsive to issues of sustainability and to secondary environmental damage caused by erosion. This has encouraged many native plants from orchids and lilies to mushrooms and rhododendrons. If you are lucky you might spot a bob cat or stellar jay.
Like everyone else, we quit throwing our garbage over the cliff decades ago. I still have a red flannel shirt, but along the coast, you're way more likely to see a deer than a deer hunter.