When The Natural Environment Was An ‘Eyesore’

Since the 1940s, culvert pipes allowed just a trickle of water in to McDaniel Slough. They have ben removed and the estuary opened to the bay. KLH | Eye

Since the 1940s, culvert pipes allowed just a trickle of water in to McDaniel Slough. They have ben removed and the estuary opened to the bay. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

Note: Two weeks ago, the City opened McDaniel Slough to the bay for the first time in 120 years. The previously landlocked wetlands will now complete its transformation from cow pasture to tidal estuary, and will again serve as habitat for birds, fish and nature-loving humans. 

The environmental turnaround is only possible because of a comparable change in attitudes toward nature, and recognition of its importance to not just the natural world, but human life. 

The McDaniel Slough Restoration Project’s Environmental Impact Report includes historical citations from the Arcata Union. Some refer to McDaniel Slough, others to nearby wetlands on the Arcata Bottom. 

Hilarious, horrifying and outrageous by today’s standards, the conquer-the-west mindset of the 1890s Union commentary well explains the mindset behind the casual destruction of vital wetlands treasures. – Ed. 

Feb. 20, 1892 

No richer or more productive land than this is to be found in any country but it cannot be utilized while salt water flows over it. One or two attempts have been made to dike small patches of this land, but in only one case that we know of was the dike built in such a manner as to keep out the salt water long enough to give the land a fair trial.

Recently, however, work has been commenced with a view of making a success of this undertaking… a contract has been left to build over 500 rods [1.56 miles] of dike, which will reclaim pretty much all the marshland and convert the entire 320 acres into one farm, all of which can be cultivated.

June 16, 1892 

Steps will be taken to ditch the slough on the west side of town, in accordance with the suggestions of this paper some weeks ago. Looking for proper drainage, the first and most important step for the preservation of health, no time should be lost in attending to this slough…

The first owner who took up this marsh as swamp and overflowed land never dreamed that this large stretch of country, from Arcata to Jacoby Creek, inhabited only by the festive clam and the busy little crab would someday be pasture for hundreds of cattle…

Reports the EIR: “In the spring of 1893, the Arcata Land Improvement Company was incorporated for the purpose of reclaiming marsh land west of the Harpst & Spring dike. Incorporators were M.P. Roberts, George Zehndner, John Harpst, O.H. Spring, Sylvester Myers and John C. Bull. The company purchased a ditcher and dredger, described as a three-quarter yard Barnhart machine with a 20-horsepower engine. It was the company’s intention to reclaim 1,500 acres extending from the west side of the Arcata railroad, which ran from the Plaza to the bay on a line that would approximate I Street if extended, around the edge of the marsh to the Deuel [Liscom] slough. Diking operations began in April, 1893 at the mouth of Daniels [sic] Slough, working eastward to the railroad tracks. “Throwing up” about 200 feet of dike daily, the dredger was “doing good work” and reached the railroad in early May. The dike was 20 feet wide and five feet high, and local residents were encouraged to take the train to “examine the machine and see it work.”

An Arcata Union clipping.

An Arcata Union clipping.

Aug. 19, 1893 

For many years, residents of Arcata owned the tide lands adjoining the bay south of town, using them as an inferior pasture occasionally, but the salt water made the feed very inferior and the land covered by the tide twice a day served only as a breeding place for mosquitoes and was an eye sore as one approached the place by the railroad.

But this is all in process of change. Over a year ago, certain men in Arcata determined to redeem their marsh land, if possible, and immediately commenced to dike against the tide beginning just east of the railroad embankment and working east… but this land does not constitute all of the tidelands adjacent to Arcata.

West of town is a body of some 600 acres owned by Messrs. John C. Bull and M.P. Roberts, Harpst & Spring, George Zehndner and S. Myers. These gentlemen appreciated the fact that their money could be devoted to no better or worthier object than the reclamation of these waste lands from the clutches of the bay…

A little over a month ago, work was begun at the railroad and from their west the company is engaged in building a substantial dike. By means of the machine the company is enabled to build much cheaper than they could by hand and direct a much more substantial structure.

The dike is 30 feet wide at the bottom, five feet high and about 12 feet wide on top. Over a mile has been built at the present time by means of an ingenious arrangement of floodgates which close automatically against the incoming tide and open when the tide falls below the level of the water inside the dike, the water is thoroughly drained from the land.

As this land consists of a mass of decayed vegetation, the deposits of past centuries upon it, when drained it will prove the richest in the county and will be available for other dairying or planting purposes. It will raise the largest crops of hay, potatoes, mangel wurtzel beets, or in fact, anything which maybe planted upon it.

At the present rate of progress, if no accidents occur, the work in hand will be completed in a year and 600 acres of the best farming land added to the visible wealth of the county. This enterprise, successful as it is, should lead to others taking advantage of the waste land between Arcata and Eureka and along the bay south of that place, until thousands of acres of the best lands in the state have been brought under cultivation.

The McDaniel Slough Restoration Project, which attempts to reverse the wholesale destruction of the estuary documented above.

The McDaniel Slough Restoration Project, which attempts to reverse the wholesale destruction of the estuary documented above.

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