by Jim Hight
WHERE DO WE GO NOW-- for a walk in the
woods or a stroll on the shore when we only have an hour or two?
The menu of trails in the Fortuna-to-Trinidad coastal corridor where most of us live is short but rich. Here is a guide to seven great tra ils that can be reached without gassing up for a day-long outing.
1 FORTUNA'S RIVERWALK
The Riverwalk lets hikers tread or pedal the levee on the eastern bank of the Eel River. The two-mile path offers birdwatching and spectacular views of the Eel River Valley. It's also a good spot from which to appreciate the tremendous power of the Eel River, which drains some 3,000 square miles of the Coast Range.
In summer and early fall, the river is usually a tiny ribbon meandering through a huge channel of sand and gravel created by its awesome winter flows. During winter, after a heavy rain, the river can rise to within a few yards of the levee.
To get there take the South 12th Street exit from U.S. Highway 101, head west and park near the new River Lodge Community Center.
2 HUMBOLDT BAY NATIONAL REFUGE (No horses, bikes, dogs)
Two trails in the refuge let people experience the tidal marshes and wetlands along the southern edge of Humboldt Bay.
The Hookton Slough Trail is a 1.5 mile levee trail that meanders along the slough and bay as far as the foot of Table Bluff. When the tide is high, the waters of the bay lap the shore, and grebes and cormorants dive and hunt for fish. During low tides, the rich mudflats are exposed and egrets and other shorebirds stalk the shallow channels for prey.
The Shorebird Loop Trail meanders through seasonal wetlands and the freshwater Long Pond.
Hookton Slough is open year-round, dawn to dusk, and the Shorebird Loop is open weekdays through October. Interpretive panels along both trails describe the many interwoven elements of the ecosystem.
To get there take the Hookton Road exit from U.S. Highway 101 south of Fields Landing. Follow Hookton Road to the Hookton Slough parking area, or turn north after exiting and drive past the entry station to the Shorebird Loop Trail parking area (about a mile).
3 EUREKA'S WATERFRONT PATH
It would be a stretch of the English language to call Eureka's half-mile Waterfront Path a "hike." But the path neatly defines the word "picturesque," giving pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users easy access to Eureka's inner-reach waterfront.
This is not the waterfront of industrial shipping, but the waterfront of small docks and Victorian rooflines. Visible from the path are the cypress trees of Indian Island poking over the masts of sailboats and salmon trollers moored at Woodley Island Marina.
A walk here can be extended into Old Town. Follow Second Street west four blocks to H Street, then head back toward the water and continue west on First Street. Stop for the views at the F Street Dock and the Madaket Dock on C Street. Keep walking along Waterfront Drive past the fish-processing plants and U.S. Coast Guard station to the aging (soon to be rebuilt) small boat basin.
To get there from Highway 101 (Fourth and Fifth streets) head north on L Street to the Adorni Center and park; or park at the boat ramp under the Samoa Bridge/Highway 255.
4 ARCATA COMMUNITY FOREST
The hardest part of taking a hike through the Arcata Community Forest is staying on the trails.
Consider Nature Trail No.1, for example. From the expansive grass field of Redwood Park a wooden staircase beckons pedestrians into the forest. It's a climb uphill until the ground levels out on a precipice that looks over a valley of ferns and century-old spruce, redwood and Douglas fir trees.
Hikers may feel the urge to run over the tumbled mossy trunks of fallen trees or flick a Frisbee across this fairyland.
Don't. The City of Arcata's forest stewards fight an eternal maintenance battle against erosion in this heavily traveled forest. Their main enemy: people kicking new trails down the steep slopes and into the pocket canyons.
Besides, the network of established trails should satisfy the strongest wanderlust. For a moderately challenging five-mile hike, take Trail No.1 down into the lush canyon, then up to No. 9. Turn left and go about a mile to trail No. 8, or Community Forest Loop. Go either direction to reach the junction and retrace your steps.
To get there find 14th or 11th streets in Arcata and drive up hill. Follow the signs for Redwood Park.
5 ARCATA MARSH /WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
This restored freshwater marsh offers bipeds four and a half miles of trails along marshes, ponds, wetlands and the north edge of Humboldt Bay.
Trails wind in loops and figure-eights through some of the best birdwatching territory on the California coast. Black-crowned night herons can often be seen roosting in the willows around the reclaimed logpond next to G Street. Brackish Klopp Lake and the tidal marsh flats of the bay are favored by godwits, gulls and pelicans.
The marsh is a wonder of human engineering as well as natural systems: It was built as a natural sewage processing system. Free interpretive tours are given on Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. (at South I Street) and 2 p.m. (at the Marsh Interpretive Center on South G Street). More information is available from Friends of the Arcata Marsh at 826-2359.
To get there take I or G streets south and look for the signs.
6 HAMMOND COASTAL TRAIL
This coastal path was originally a railroad, built just after the turn of the century to transport redwood logs from the Little River area south to the Hammond Lumber mill on the Samoa Spit. The last load passed in 1958, and 20 years later local trailblazers began working on what is today the Hammond Trail.
The northern section is a dedicated "Class 1" path, for non-motorized traffic only. Trail users here can enjoy views of the unusual Mad River Estuary, where water from snow melt in the Trinity Alps mixes with the Pacific Ocean. Today the river is held back from the sea and pushed several miles north by a thin line of dunes.
At its southern end, the four-mile trail crosses the Mad River on the aging railroad bridge (eventually to be replaced by a less-picturesque but safer modern structure). It follows back roads in McKinleyville to Hiller Park, where the Class 1 section begins.
To get there take the Murray Road/McKinleyville exit from Highway 101 and head west until the trail comes into view. To start in Arcata, take the Giuntoli Lane exit and follow Janes Road until you see Mad River Community Hospital on the left. Turn right on Upper Bay Road, go 0.6 miles to Mad River Road, and follow this through the pastures and dairy farms to Mad River Bridge.
7 CLAM BEACH COUNTY PARK
Clam Beach County Park is a paradise for beach strolling and running. Visible from its three-mile length are views of Trinidad Head and the wind-sculpted alder, shore pine and spruce that cover the coastal bluffs like ivy on an old New England college.
The beach is so wide that it's possible to experience multiple microclimates: the marine layer near the water may be cold and misty while the sheltered dunes are warm and dry.
To get there take the Clam Beach exit from Highway 101.
For a more detailed guide to hiking, biking and running trails, see the Run, Bike & Hike brochure published by Humboldt Visitor. It's available in Arcata at Adventure's Edge, the Jogg'n Shoppe and Revolution Bikes, and in Eureka at Picky Picky Picky, Northern Mountain Supply and the Udder Place.
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