The Arcata Marsh
Arcata Marsh is the most imaginative use of a municipal sewer system that I have ever seen. There is, of course, Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World which uses an abandoned sewer system in Auckland, New Zealand, to house a magnificent aquarium, but that is an abandoned sewer system. Arcata Marsh is part of an active sewer system for a population of more than seventeen thousand people and it is one of the town's principal municipal parks in addition to being a world class wildlife refuge. The non-profit organization that runs it (FOAM - Friends of Arcata Marsh) claims that 150,000 visitors a year stroll along the banks of it's sewer system, and I believe them. It is the only place in the world that I know of where folks take enough pride in their sewer settlement ponds to let their family name be used in conjunction with them. The high ground within the park was once the town's solid waste disposal site. It is now covered in forest and affectionately known as Mount Trashmore.
Arcata Marsh should definitely be on your short list of places to visit if for no other reason than it is unique in the entire universe. There are, however, other reasons as well. The municipal planning implications are obvious, but if you are not a city planner, and have already had your morning jog, then you should concentrate on the birds. You don't have to be a birder to be impressed. The foggy fall morning that these pictures were taken, I counted twenty two different species of bird that I recognized, but the swarms of sandpipers were the most impressive. The ornithologists tell us that they fly in large aggregations to confuse raptors and my guess is that the tactic probably works. I have no idea how many tiny fluff balls were in the frenetic, twisting, turning acrobatics swirling around my head, but the literature says that they number in the thousands and I would not quibble just because of the impossibility of a definitive tally. The internal workings of just one of these maneuvers is infinitely complex and the smooth execution of each linked twist and every flawless turn is absolutely amazing. If you dive, you will have seen it in another medium. At one point, the sandpipers flowed around me just like a school of fish in a tropical sea. It was a magnificent moment.
As a birding "hot spot," Arcata Marsh has some advantages for the bird watcher over the average National Wildlife Refuge. Arcata Marsh is much more intimate than say Humboldt Bay. There may be a lot of birds in the bay, but it is hard to get close to them. The sewer ponds, in comparison, are much smaller and the Black Crown Night Heron is in a tree near the path, the Great White Heron sits on an old piling alongside the trail, the Mallard drake squires his mate in the nearby slough, and the Brown Pelican is fishing a few feet away form the edge of the pond. The peeps flit through the brush trail side and the raptors fly low to check them out. You may not know what the scientists call each of them, but the show that these avians put on can not fail to impress anyone who has the slightest interest in the natural world. Oh, it may also be of interest that the place does not smell bad. Apparently all of the stink is removed early on in the process of clarifying the effluent prior to discharge into Humboldt Bay.