The Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary once was the site of a landfill and several lumber mills whose pilings are still visible. Closed and capped in 1973, the landfill was rechristened “Mount Trashmore,” and it now supports grasslands and Monterey pines that attract wildlife. Klopp Lake was created when bay muds were excavated and used to cap the landfill. The view from Klopp Lake to the south allows visitors to imagine the Arcata Wharf, which reached far out across Humboldt Bay’s shallow waters to transport lumber products to ships that could not reach the shore. The Log Pond, a remnant from the lumber mill, where floating logs were once de-barked, is now a popular location for black-crowned night herons. The Interpretive Center, built on the concrete foundation of a defunct mill, houses art shows, exhibits, a book/gift shop, an information desk, and restrooms.

The Arcata Marsh we enjoy today would not exist were it not for Arcata’s pioneering wastewater treatment plant and two important experiments conducted there by Humboldt State University and the City of Arcata.

In the mid-1970s, the State of California cracked down on the discharge of wastewater into bays and estuaries unless “enhancement” of the receiving water could be proven. This law effectively made most wastewater plants in the Humboldt Bay area obsolete. The Arcata Wastewater Treatment Plant, which originally discharged primary-treated effluent into Humboldt Bay, was then the site of an experiment by HSU fisheries professor Dr. George Allen. Dr. Allen had been doing research at the plant since the late 1960s, raising fish in a combination of wastewater and bay water. His experiment taught the state and regional water boards that trout and salmon could be raised in nutrient-rich, secondary-treated wastewater — in other words, that wastewater can be a resource.

The second experiment at the plant would show the state how wastewater can be further enhanced through a natural system of marshes. In 1979, the regional water quality control board required the city to demonstrate that constructed wetlands can treat wastewater to the level of secondary treatment quality. In 1980, Dr. Robert Gearheart, an environmental engineering professor, and HSU students designed and implemented Arcata’s “Pilot Project.” The project consisted of twelve 20 x 200 ft. wetland cells that were built to be operated with varying vegetation and flow rates. The successful results of the Pilot Project were presented to the regional and state water boards, and, in 1983, approval was granted to the city to design, construct, and implement a full-scale wetland treatment system.

The constructed wetlands introduced other benefits: wetland habitat, research, and opportunities for environmental education. Friends of the Arcata Marsh addresses the third, environmental education.

See a brief timeline of the Marsh since 1949 here. (You can find history of land use at the Marsh since the mid-18th century on the City of Arcata’s website.)

George Allen and the California Water Board

Humboldt State professor George Allen, right front, and the California Water Board