Living fairly close to the City of Arcata, I enjoy visiting the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary whenever it is possible to slip away from the more or less demanding activities of daily life. It is a lovely place for walking, taking photographs, or just relaxing in nature. Occasionally one sees other visitors wandering along the paths – sometimes joggers, or folks just walking their dog, or their bicycle. Dogs are allowed here too, but must be on a leash.
The Arcata Marsh currently encompasses somewhere between 300 to 310 acres of freshwater wetlands, as well as saltwater marsh & tidal slough, with numerous ponds and interconnecting waterways.
Tidal mudflats and brackish marsh connect the northern end of the marsh to Humboldt Bay.
There are currently around 5½ miles of walking and bike paths that wind their way through this beautiful nature area as unobtrusively as possible. They lead one through the wetlands, alongside the bay, around the ponds, and through wooded areas & meadows.
These wetlands are located along what is known as the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for the thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in warmer climates, from California in the US, down through Mexico, Central, and South America. The marsh provides permanent homes and migratory resting places for over 300 species of birds. Some inhabit it year round, while others use it as a winter home, or enjoy it as a brief stopover resort on their journey further south.
Bird-watching may be enjoyed year round, but is said to be at its best from mid-July to early May. Songbirds are always abundant from spring through fall. A variety of raptors can be seen, whether residing in the area or visiting seasonally. Waterfowl, shorebirds and other wading birds can be found in abundance from the autumn through early spring months.
Numerous species of plants thrive here, and provide a safe habitat for a variety of wildlife. Besides migrating and resident birds, the marsh is also home to bobcats, foxes, raccoons, river otters, a variety of frogs and small harmless reptiles, beautiful dragonflies & butterflies, and fresh & salt water fish & shellfish.
Wildflowers can be found almost year round, and wild blackberry bushes and fennel are in abundance during the summer through autumn months.
The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is also home to an innovative waste water treatment facility that integrates conventional waste water treatment with the natural treatment processes of constructed wetlands.
This process takes place in basically five stages
- Primary Treatment – Sewage is held in sedimentation tanks where the sludge is removed and processed for use as fertilizer.
- Secondary Treatment – Primary effluent is then pumped into oxidation ponds where bacteria break down the waste.
- Disinfection – The secondary effluent is chlorinated to kill pathogens and then de-chlorinated to avoid damage to the natural environment it will be integrated into.
- Tertiary Treatment – The disinfected secondary effluent is put into the artificially constructed marshes where it is cleansed by reeds, cattails, and bacteria.
- Disinfection – The tertiary effluent is chlorinated again in order to kill pathogens from bird droppings and then de-chlorinated to avoid damage to natural environments.
The Arcata Marsh was at one time the site of a landfill and several lumber mills. Today the landfill has been long buried and the site reclaimed. It now supports grasslands with pine and other trees that provide an attractive haven to the various species of wildlife.
The former leach pond is now a brackish water pond, visited by thousands of shorebirds annually.
At one entrance to the marsh, one can find the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center. It sits on the foundation of a defunct mill and is home to wildlife art displays, interactive exhibits, and a book and gift shop. The Interpretive Center is operated by Friends of the Arcata Marsh (FOAM), a nonprofit organization founded in 1989, and dedicated to educating the public about the ecological benefits of waste water used in a wetlands system. Exhibits explain the operations of the treatment process, the importance of the marsh, and give information on the plants and animals that live there. Educational programs are offered for school, scout and other groups, as well as summer camp programs.
The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary has been the recipient of international recognition and numerous awards – for municipal planning design, a cost-effective public utility operation, an urban redevelopment plan, and as a natural resource project.
About the author :
Eve Anderson is an artist, photographer, chocolateer, and intermittently aspiring writer, who has traveled to and resided in many places in and about the Pacific. Currently she resides on the Lost Coast of Northern California, fairly close to Humboldt Bay, the redwoods, and not far from the Arcata Marsh.