Marsh View

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Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California, USA

Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California, USA

We have this great little university town, and a garbage dump, and wastewater, and marshland.

We are right on Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Flyway.

What can we do with these elements? And while we are at it, can we provide recreation and wildlife habitat?

So many things in life are about choices. More than 30 years ago the people of Arcata, California, USA chose well. They decided not to enlarge the garbage dump next to the bay. Instead they capped it. They aggressively supported recycling and waste reduction for decades before it became universally apparent that it was a good municipal policy for cost reduction and resource utilization. Then they re-established the former freshwater marshes and integrated the function of the marshes with the last stages of the wastewater treatment system. They created a wildlife sanctuary and recreational trails. Today the former dump and the current wastewater treatment facilities are frequently used recreational areas and host many bird watchers. They are actually treasured by the residents.  Here is how the City of Arcata website describes the marsh area:

“The marsh restoration was integrated with several other projects such as the salmon aquaculture project and the alternative waste water treatment project. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary was dedicated July 4, 1981.

The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the City of Arcata’s innovative wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is 307 acres, including freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, approximately five miles of walking and biking trails and an Interpretive Center. By integrating conventional wastewater treatment with the natural processes of constructed wetlands, Arcata has succeeded in turning wastewater into a resource.

Located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, the sanctuary is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in California, Mexico and Central and South America. These wetlands provide homes and migratory resting places for over 270 species of birds. With seventy-three species here year-round along with numerous species of plants, mammals, insects and amphibians, there’s always something to see.” ( )

I was given an assignment to provide photographs of the local area to the Arcata Chamber of Commerce for a Visitor and Relocation Guide booklet. I had many local photos already but there were important scenes missing. It was winter and we had had a long spell of rainy, cloudy, foggy weather. The deadline was approaching and the light was terrible for photography. Then one beautiful Sunday it cleared. I followed the highlights of the sun all day. I photographed what it shone on; aiming west in the morning, working the shady community redwood forest at mid-day, and aiming east toward town as the setting sun shone on Arcata.

This photo is from the marsh looking northeast toward downtown and Humboldt State University on the hill. Dark clouds moved in above the community forest and provided a nice background for the sun spotlighting Arcata. I stood at the top of a ladder for three hours as the clouds moved overhead. The light varied dramatically and the water surface changed with the winds. A large snowy egret had landed in the dry cattails on the little island in the foreground. I was hoping that he would fly low over the water and be reflected in the marsh pond. But I guess he was resting and the sun set before he moved again. Sometimes chance elements come together unexpectedly, but other times your plans for a composition don’t work out. It was a beautiful evening at the marsh so I had no real complaints. This is the cover photo on the Visitors Guide.

You can see other California photographs in the Photo Gallery at my website:




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