The Coats Millstone Nature Reserve is a 0.25 hectare property encompassing part of a ridge rising above Descanso Bay. The reserve is an old sandstone quarry. Today, its young forest and water-filled millstone holes provide habitat for various birds and animals.
The different tiers of the ridge offer very different habitats for plants on the reserve. The escarpment is covered in Douglas-fir, broadleaf maple and young cedars. Mosses and lichens cover rocky outcroppings, while salal, kinnikinnick and honeysuckle blanket the forest floor. The forest around the lower millstone pools hold red alder, small lady fern, wall lettuce, and fireweed.
The historic quarry on the Coats Millstone Nature Reserve was purchased by the Coats family from the MacDonald family in the 1920s, and remained in the family until the time it was donated to the Islands Trust Conservancy. Historians on the island say the sandstone quarried from the property in the 1920s was used for the construction of Gabriola House in Vancouver, the San Francisco Mint, and repairs on the parliament buildings in Victoria. Millstones quarried from the property in the 1930s were used in early pulp mills in B.C. and Scandinavia. Pieces of old machinery and blasting holes drilled in the rock are visible reminders of the quarrying process.
The mossy remnants of this early industrial site were protected by Clyde Coats in 1993 when he donated the property to the Islands Trust Conservancy.
An unmaintained trail passing through Coats Millstone Nature Reserve offers views of Vancouver Island, Texada Island and the Coast Mountains. However, the steep cliffs and deep millstone holes make this site very dangerous. The millstones occupy much of the upper ledge on the site and the moss-covered ground is slippery, leaving little space for walking. In 2004, the Islands Trust Fund closed the reserve trail because of these dangers. Anyone venturing into the reserve should use extreme caution.
The Nanaimo Area Land Trust and Gabriola Historical Society co-hold a conservation covenant on the Coats Millstone Nature Reserve.
The Islands Trust Conservancy's primary management concern is the safety of anyone visiting the Coats Millstone Nature Reserve. The millstone ponds create a hazard as they are up to 1.3 meters deep with steep slippery sides. Also, the millstones ponds leave little room for walkers navigating along the cliff edge. The Islands Trust Conservancy has closed trail access into the reserve in the hope of reducing foot traffic on the site. We will continue to monitor access to the property and carefully consider additional steps to address safety and liability issues.
The management plan for Coats Millstone Nature Reserve can be viewed here.