Ted Halstead: One Man's Battle Against Armies Of Nighttime Dumpers – May 13, 2010

As Arcata celebrated Godwit Days last month, Ted was out on Liscom Slough cleaning up the latest mess.

Liscom slough is a tributary of Humboldt Bay. The coastal trail crosses Liscom slough on Jackson Ranch Road. At 50 years of age, I was in search of a comfortable bike ride that would allow me to get daily exercise and provide me with a feeling of getting away from the stresses of daily life.

Little did I know what I would see when I looked off the bridge on Jackson Ranch Road and into Liscom Slough. There below was a mass of auto parts of every description, bags of animal parts too numerous to mention, pay phones and newspaper vending machines, along with a variety of everything from ammunition to costume jewelry.

Three vehicles that had been driven into the slough were also evident. The slough over time had become toxic from the incredible diversity of discarded objects. It was not uncommon to find ten auto batteries at a time dumped in the slough. Once, when driving by, I noticed a cooler of methamphetamine chemicals floating next to shore. It was very common to find 50-gallon garbage cans of marijuana shake going in and out with the tide. Other times it would be tires on rims or computer monitors floating just at water surface level. All of these items, if not retrieved, would enter the bay with the outgoing tide. Some unusual things that I found: a bowling ball and pins, a parachute, a semi-truck bumper, sex toys and an envelope with $1,000 cash.

Liscom Slough is drainage for agricultural lands. It eventually terminates in the Mad River slough near the Sierra Pacific mill. The upper reaches are home to many amphibians and migratory waterfowl that rely on this ecosystem for food and shelter. When the slough becomes an estuary, it becomes a nursery for many aquatic organisms.

I have observed as many as 1,500 juvenile crabs pass under the bridge in one hour at low tide during the summer months. Juvenile smelt, herring and anchovies can be seen in large numbers swimming through the eel grass under the bridge. Also, if one looks closely, one will see sponges of several varieties and oysters. The bat rays that live in the bay swim up the slough with the tide to eat mollusks and crustaceans.

Sardines scurry around in a divot in the bed of Liscom Slough made by a car someone dumped there. The inadvertent habitat creation was offset by the toxins also dumped in the fragile waterway, including PCB-laden lighting ballasts, paint and roof tar. Photo courtesy George Ziminsky.

I’m getting a little ahead of my story. I decided to slowly remove whatever garbage and junk I could from the slough over a period of almost 10 years. First the cars were sledge hammered apart and hauled off in my small Toyota pickup.

Todd Van Herpe, owner of the Humboldt Bay Oyster Company, put on his waders and helped clean the channel of debris. If only more individuals that benefit from the natural resources that Humboldt Bay provides were responsible stewards the way Todd is, then the bay would be far better off. Slowly, a coalition of concerned agencies under the guidance of the Humboldt Baykeeper took action.

Three “No Dumping” signs were installed, notifying the public of their increased responsibility to do the right thing and not the easy thing. Human nature being what it is, the occasional relapse will occur but improvement has been made for the slough. Eel grass beds have returned, and a greater variety of bird life has been observed.

If you’re looking for a wonderful place to kayak, bird watch, paint, bike, run or walk, Liscom Slough will not disappoint. It is a beautiful place that is worthy of a better fate.

Ted Halstead is the conscience of the Arcata Bottom.


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  2. Ian Ray said:

    Ted Halstead, would you participate in further Internet discussion threads devoted to your cause? I would be willing to help purge detrimental dumping and be part of the overall awareness of and remedy to our local dumping problems. I have problems myself with people’s pollution near our shared water resources. I have spoken with several thoughtful, local individuals from whom I have accepted collections of garbage and recyclables. This material I have taken responsibility for was formerly deposited along our waterways by careless individuals. I have since taken it upon myself to further investigate and clean the damage done by these thoughtless people in an effort to fight direct environmental damage.

    I feel very close to this as the species which inhabit our coastal waterways are constantly in jeopardy due to human effluent. Having participated in wading with our commendable Oyster farmers, I would like to see a growing effort to protect expanses of local, non-recreational land.

    Ted, I applaud your efforts and hope that other people see what you are doing truly makes life better for us and future generations of inhabitants, human and non-human alike. A possibility for financial contribution would be welcome, our PayPal accounts could use such a cause. If there is one, please let us know.

  3. Jan Griesenbrock said:

    I read with great interest your article and your efforts to make this beautiful area better. I too am originally from Muscatine, Iowa; later South Dakota and now Maine. Each place I’ve lived has their own unique qualities and beauty. Thank you for leading this effort in the Eureka and Arcata area. I have thoroughly enjoyed my brief visit here and hold special what you have done for me, my family and this community. Thank you.

  4. Randi Day said:

    While doing a search for articles related to shoreline cleanup and Northern California I came across your article. What good work you are doing in your community and for those of us who enjoy the beauty and benefits of nature. I live in No. Cali in the SF Bay Area and really love the Pacific Coast. We have coastline cleanup days throughout the year around the bay and the trash does pile up.
    Thanks to you for being a steward of this beautiful Pacific Coast.
    I was reading the comments and noticed you mentioned in response to a reply from C L Kobel, that you grew up in Muscatine,IA. I am from Muscatine too. I am not certain just how we all came together around your article, we escapees from Muscatine, but three of us are here! You, me and Cheryl ( C L Kobel ). You and Cheryl are writers, she is a recently published novelist and poet and you a writer of note in this article that drew me here. I can only claim this little reply.
    Ted, I am glad you made it to California and appreciate the good you are doing for all of us.

    You might want to check out your friend’s website

  5. Ted Halstead said:

    I grew up in Muscatine, IA, on the Mississippi River, in response to CL Kobel.

  6. C L Kobel said:

    Thanks for all you are doing and for what you have done over the years to make a difference in the environment around Humboldt Bay. I think the key word is “doing!” It is easy to talk about cleaning up the environment but taking action is the key. I live in Arizona and see the effects of “dumpers” on the beautiful desert landscape daily. Picking up the refuse of others seems to be a nation/world wide theme! Many years ago I used to live in SE Iowa along the Mississippi River and saw the same things back then as we see now in other environments. Some patterns never seem to change. I was wondering if you were familiar with that area of Iowa as well?

    Our generation was taught at an early age to clean up and pick up after ourselves and to leave a clean environment for those who follow. Too bad that part of the curriculum was left behind. As a retired teacher of almost 30 years, the words of the Beatles “I Believe in Yesterday” still ring true.

    Keep up the good work, Ted, and know there are others out there who share your cause as well…yesterday, today and in the future.

  7. Philipp Wickey said:

    Thanks Ted,
    I live in Colorado and am always picking up trash near streams. It really makes feel better knowing that somewhere someone else is doing the same (or even more).

    Thanks Ted and thanks Arcata Eye for printing this.

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