Arcata’s new Carlson Park offers Mad River access

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

VALLEY WEST – Travel west from Arcata, and you reach the Pacific Ocean. Head to the town’s southern edge, and you find Humboldt Bay. Now, a trip to Arcata’s far northern end also delivers you to water, and in no less than a public park.

The Carlson Park Mad River Expansion Area is a 19.1 acre area mostly on the river’s wooded southern bank. Dense with willow, cottonwood and alder trees as well as blackberry bushes, it’s laced with sandy paths through the green that lead down to the river. An area designated as Carlson Park lies at the edges of the Mad River Parkway Business Center, which opened in 2013.

Interestingly, the park extends all the way across the Mad River, and includes some of the north bank in what one might have assumed was part of McKinleyville.

AT THE RIVER’S EDGE Vice Mayor Sofia Pereira, Deputy Director of Community Services Julie Neander, citizen Nancy Reichard and Parks and Rec Committee Chair Nancy Starck. KLH | Union

The new park was deeded to the City of Arcata by the California Dept. of Transportation (Caltrans), the handover becoming official in early July. There are restrictions on different areas of the property’s use.

The park and environs had been used for environmental mitigation for other projects by Caltrans. What had been for years a near-moonscape in its time as an Arcata Ready Mix gravel quarry was restored when the agency replanted the area.

A friendly cat showed up for the Parks and Rec field meeting. KLH | Union

The foliage must be maintained in perpetuity, but that shouldn’t be a problem. Ken Zanzi and Ellen Zanzi owned the property even before the gravel era, and remember a verdant landscape.

Ken told the committee and tour participants that the land was just waiting for the chance to explode with greenery.

Meanwhile, opportunities for developing the recreational resource abound. City officials are plainly overjoyed to present  to the public a lush riparian getaway plus yearned-for river access.

Constraints are few. A  “sub parcel” area at the end of Carlson Park Drive (see map) may host compatible infrastructure such as parking and recreation facilities.

The one-acre area designated for a park might host playground equipment, sports courts of some sorts and picnic areas, or other things the public decides it wants.

But the biggest draw will likely be the Mad River, public access to which has been limited.

A network of non-motorized trails offers routes to the river’s edge for fishing, portaging kayaks and other activities. These paths are to be upgraded, and possibly rerouted. The final trails will be handicapped accessible.

A relatively clean campsite was discovered, and was to be removed. KLH | Union

During last week’s Parks and Rec Committee field trip, Julie Neander, deputy director of community services, noted that boaters could enter the water there and travel downriver to Mad River Beach County Park, or even upriver to the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Park.

The area has been thoroughly investigated for archaeological resources, but nothing of significance was located.

Perhaps the rules for use of Carlson Park, posted in several areas and backed by daily enforcement, will keep the place friendly for public use. KLH | Union

Long a trashy remove for travelers around Valley West, the area has been well-cleaned by the Volunteer Trail Stewards and the city, with stringent daily patrols (mandated by the City Council) eliminating most illegal and destructive use.

Unauthorized use is still occurring in the area, though. Last week’s tour turned up a fresh, relatively unlittered campsite just off a trail to the river’s edge. The site was to be removed the next day.

At the most recent meeting of the Public Safety Task Force, the presence of a homeless encampment with a “chop shop” for stolen bicycles was observed to have moved east into a riverside area outside city jurisdiction.

Local schools are being invited to use the riparian resource for their science and environmental curriculum.

Further public scoping is planned as plans for the new park advance. More volunteer workdays will also be held.


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