Arcata, Calif.: Activists Welcome

Community spirit, political activism and environmental awareness combine in this beautiful town beside the Pacific Ocean. An appreciation of fun is also embedded in the culture.

| October/November 2013

Group of hikers in Arcata, California

Volunteers discuss habitat restoration in the Arcata, Calif., community forest.

Photo Courtesy City of Arcata Environmental Services Department

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2013 installment of 9 Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard of.

Arcata, California. As director of the city’s Environmental Services Department, Mark Andre has a front-row seat to some of the city’s most remarkable ecological offerings. It’s an impressive array, beginning with Arcata Bay, which encompasses the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary and forms the southwestern boundary of this small city on the Pacific Coast. To the west of town lies fertile agricultural land, and encircling the city are iconic expanses of redwood forest.

“There’s a tremendous community spirit, with a powerful environmental ethic that pretty much shapes life here,” Andre says. “The community is diverse, with a real mix of ages and cultural backgrounds, and there’s a tremendous sense of ownership in creating a healthy, environmentally intelligent community.”

Home to Humboldt State University, Arcata has all the amenities of a college town. The university boasts one of the country’s top environmental science and engineering programs.

Arcata owns the nation’s first community forest — 2,300 acres certified by the Forest Stewardship Council — which serves as a demonstration forest for sustainable forestry practices.

Its lumber harvest creates jobs and revenue for the city, Andre says. Arcata has succeeded in turning its wastewater into a community asset: Its effluent treatment system creates a haven of freshwater and saltwater marshes, grassy uplands and mud flats that is home to a stunning variety of flora and fauna. Walking and biking paths, an interpretive center and wildlife sanctuary draw more than 150,000 visitors each year.

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