Arcata Marsh. | Photo by Jett Williams

#ExploreHumboldt: Arcata Marsh

Try and lose yourself in the Arcata Marsh for the best experience.
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Try and lose yourself in the Arcata Marsh for the best experience

Welcome back to the #ExploreHumboldt column, your source for accessible natural areas to visit in your spare time. This week, we’ll look at a unique, double-duty location that serves as a wastewater treatment facility and a beautiful habitat for countless bird species: the Arcata Marsh!

This 307-acre sanctuary is located in southern Arcata, and can be accessed from South G and I streets. This places the marsh within a 15-minute walk or a five-minute bike ride from campus.

The Marsh’s interpretive center provides information on the wide variety of bird species that frequent the marsh, and how the marsh filters Arcata’s wastewater into clean water that can be released back into the bay. | Photo by Jett Williams

Any trip to the Marsh should start at the Interpretive Center. There, you’ll find installations detailing the many exotic bird species that stop at the marsh on their migratory journeys up and down the coast. So far, over 300 unique bird species have been spotted in the marsh this year. Some of these are extremely rare, or are typically found on the East Coast.

From the Interpretive Center, multiple trails spiderweb out to every corner of the park. In total, there are about 5.4 miles of mostly gravel trail, with some paved sections. Strategically-placed maps ensure that you won’t get lost and provide interesting information on the park’s science and history.

But, as with any natural area, the best way to get a lay of the land is to get lost. Around every corner is another table or bench overlooking a scenic view, or an enclosed shelter for birdwatchers to observe the local wildlife.

Organized nature walks are a good way to experience the marsh in a social environment, with experienced birdwatchers who can point out and identify rare bird species. | Photo by Jett Williams

If you want a recommended route to get started, begin at the Interpretive Center and head north along the west side of Butcher Slough Log Pond. Turn left and follow the trail as it winds around Brackish Pond.

This time of year, Brackish Pond is covered in a layer of green algae that gives it a surreal look and is a hotspot for birds. Stop at the bird viewing station on the northwest corner before heading south past Gearheart Marsh, and looping back to the Interpretive Center.

In addition to being a nearby natural spot to get out to for some nature time, the Arcata Marsh serves as a wastewater treatment plant. Algae and bacteria help to purify the water as it moves through the different ponds of the marsh.

One can spend hours wandering the marsh, checking out the different ponds and looking for exotic bird species. The marsh is expansive and rarely crowded, offering ample opportunities for seclusion. | Photo by Jett Williams

Eventually, the water is sterilized with chlorine and flows back into the Humboldt Bay. This system allows Arcata to manage its wastewater production while providing a refuge for local wildlife and a local park for residents to enjoy.

If you’d like to check out the Arcata Marsh with the help of experienced and knowledgable guides, there are several guided marsh walks available. Friends of the Arcata Marsh meets every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. at the Interpretive Center for a guided marsh walk.

For those looking to learn more about the many bird species that call the marsh a temporary home, the Redwood Region Audubon Society meets for guided birding walks every Saturday at 8:30 a.m. This walk meets at the I street parking lot.

The Arcata Marsh is an amazing free resource for students in need of a quiet oceanside spot to explore and relax in. Get it while you can, and don’t forget to #ExploreHumboldt!

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