Community groups, Huffman, consider amenities for Philo Beach
Local Anderson Valley organizations met with industry, political, and state parks representatives to consider possible collaborations for turning Philo Beach, under the Philo Greenwood Bridge across the road from Hendy Woods, into a proper park, with easy access, restrooms, and parking.
As the county struggles to fund its public parks, community groups are gathering to figure out how to improve one longstanding informal park.
The Philo Beach is under the Philo-Greenwood Bridge, right across the road from Hendy Woods state park. It’s a beloved swimming hole that doesn’t currently have a safe approach or any other amenities. With the equally beloved bridge due for a major overhaul in the next few years, the Anderson Valley Land Trust and other local organizations are hoping to turn the area into a proper park, with restrooms, a parking lot, and an ADA compliant way to get to the wild Navarro River.
Yesterday, Congressman Jared Huffman met with community groups to approach the beach from a circuitous path that’s not quite as steep but much more muddy than the mad scramble that’s usually involved in getting onto the rocky shore. He said he sees himself in more of a supportive role for the project than anything else.
“Uncle Sam is going to pay for the bridge replacement,” he said. “So that’s the first part of it. But I think beyond that, I’m just here to support. If I can do any kind of facilitating and convening of the right people to support this collaboration, I’m happy to do that, because I understand the importance of this location.”
He heard from representatives of the Anderson Valley Land Trust, Community Services District, Board of Supervisors, fire department, State Parks, private industry, and the Hendy Woods Community, a group that called on Huffman to help them keep Hendy Woods open eleven years ago, when Governor Jerry Brown proposed closing dozens of state parks, including Hendy Woods.
“Fond memories from a dark time,” he recalled of his years in the State Legislature, when “Hendy Woods was on the chopping block…and Hendy Woods was also an example of many parks that were coming forward with volunteers and nonprofit partners to say, we will take it over. We will keep the lights on. Just give us the authority, and a little bit of support to do it. So I authored a piece of legislation that made that possible. And it was significantly inspired by the folks here at Hendy Woods, and other places up and down the North Coast.”
Yoriko Kishimoto, the president of the Anderson Valley Land Trust, is a member of one of the organizations that may be taking a cue from the Hendy Woods supporters when it comes to providing outdoor recreation for locals and visitors alike. She said the effort is a combination of providing public access and environmental protection for the river. She worries that the water quality is suffering from the lack of restrooms, as well as erosion caused by people taking irregular routes to the beach. No one organization has stepped up to take responsibility for building and maintaining the improvements, but she said, “I think it’s going to be some combination of partnership,” between the various organizations that were represented at the meeting with Huffman, and possibly some other players, as well.
Supervisor Glenn McGourty is on the Board of Supervisors ad hoc parks committee, which is feeling its way towards an answer to the question of who should maintain the public parks. “There’s a really nice state park within eyesight,” he said with a laugh, adding that, “It’s a big discussion, about who should own parks, within the Board of Supervisors…we know certainly that the incorporated cities are much better suited for being able to collect property tax to be able to provide those kind of amenities. It distresses me that the county is so poor that we can’t fix roads and take care of parks. We have some nice ones, and they’re used, and they’re a real asset, not only for us, but also for our visitors, which is an important part of our income. We’d like to see a better way of maintaining them. It’s so far kind of eluding us.” McGourty mentioned the possibility of collaborating with the federal Bureau of Land Management and the cities, especially Ukiah, to manage the county’s outdoor recreation facilities.
Plans for the Philo Beach access are also far from finalized. The idea is to piggyback on the county’s upcoming plan to rebuild the bridge, which was built in 1951 and is “functionally obsolete,” according to Alicia Meier Winniker, deputy director of engineering at the Mendocino County Department of Transportation. She said community meetings had made it clear that the arch bridge is a treasured local landmark. The plan is to replace the timber trestles and build a “sister arch,” with construction starting in 2025. The $17-19 million project is already funded by the Highway Bridges Program. The parcel that the community groups are eyeing for the amenities is the same one that the county hopes to use as a staging ground for its work on the bridge. It is privately owned by Mendocino and Humboldt Redwood Companies, which is being invited to consider selling or donating it for use as a park. John Andersen, the companies’ director of forest policy, was receptive but noncommittal.
“We’re all ears, as far as, if there’s any opportunities for public access, or sale, or donation,” he said. “I’m here today to find out what the parameters are. It sounds like everything is very conceptual at this point. But we’re willing to sit down at the table and discuss with the Land Trust what their desires are and see if we can assist in some way.”
Yoriko Kishimoto, of the Land Trust, emphasized that there’s more than one priority at stake. “It’s both meant to be environmental protection, as well as public access,” she reflected. “We have to do a lot of education as we plan this, and hopefully implement it.”