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Green is our middle name. Not only is Humboldt County home to emerald forests that stretch for miles, it is also an eco-friendly community with a unique history of conservation. Here are a few of the ways you can explore the North Coast that celebrate and preserve the environment. Good deal.

Outdoorsy Type

Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary – Terns, grebes and geese, oh my! There's an array of birds at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Just a mile from the plaza, this unique wastewater treatment facility is home to more than 300 species (many of which are migratory tourists) and boasts 5 miles of trails. There are free guided walks every Saturday, free unguided walks literally anytime and an interpretive center with interactive exhibits, free maps and literature, a bookstore, bird checklists and hosted talks. Picnic on the edge of the Humboldt Bay (not at low tide if you can avoid it), walk out to the cow pastures off Samoa Boulevard, wander the trails or repose on one of the many scenic benches before diving back to reality.

Bike Party Humboldt – If walking and looking at birds isn't your thing, perhaps bicycles are more your speed? If so, you're in luck — Humboldt County has a monthly "Bike Party." Participants deck their rides with LED lights, stylized fenders and funky paint jobs, and cruise around town. Sometimes they have themed rides and wear fun costumes. (April is space themed, in honor of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's successful return from space.) The event shapeshifts from month to month but typically it goes: Meet at a kid-friendly place that serves beer on the last Saturday of the month, imbibe (responsibly!), mingle, saddle up and roll out. Then reconvene at another family-friendly place, mingle some more, return to Point A and disband. Check out (and re-check) its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BikePartyHumboldt) for the ever-evolving details. As organizer Mark Mueller says, "Really, it's just about that joyful, childlike feeling of riding a bike. Having that freedom." Amen, Mark.

Disc Golf – Humboldt County is home to some of the most beautiful and challenging disc golf courses in the state — more than I can single out here — but these are two of my favorites. The Redwood Curtain is a moderately difficult 18-hole par 3 course that winds through the Arcata Community Forest. Be ready to throw over a large pond, through thick groves of Redwoods and down large hills. Bring a guide if you've never been and do be careful not to stomp on the ferns when you find yourself in the rough. Mad River Pump Station No. 4 is a much more relaxed, nine-hole outing located along the bank of the Mad River. The course is almost entirely flat and over half the holes are under 300 feet long. A great course for newbies and seasoned frolfers, alike. No guide required.

click to enlarge A feast at the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • A feast at the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival.

Foodies

Main Squeeze ­– Down in the idyllic city of Ferndale, Main Squeeze Juice Bar is one of the newest additions to the downtown area. Sharing a building with a jeweler, an art gallery and a live glassblower, the juice bar offers local and organic ingredients, cold pressed into delicious frothy mixtures to order. Produce fills the shelves lining the walls, less perfect than the glossy, done-up fruits and veggies you see in larger grocers, but just as tasty. Much like the town, the place is aggressively quaint. There's an old-school popcorn machine, a large, wooden tic-tac-toe board and a small selection of food. Grab a seat or take it to go and sip on your stroll through the Victorian Village.

Farmers Markets – Humboldt is an agricultural county and, as one might expect in such a place, there are many farmers markets. Three in Eureka (two in Old Town and one in Henderson Center — all of which start up the first week in June), one in McKinleyville (also opening the first Thursday in June) and one in Arcata — the ostensible flagship. They all boast live music, numerous local vendors, educational booths and GMO-free produce. Note: If you go to the Arcata market and are fine consuming animal products, do yourself a favor and get the "All the Way" bacon and brisket waffle cone from the Lighthouse Grill booth ($6). It'll be a long line but it's worth it.

Arcata Bay Oyster Festival – Saturnalia. Bacchanal. Oysterfest. It's Humboldt County's largest one-day event and it is an absolute riot, so to speak. The entire Arcata Plaza and surrounding streets are barricaded off and the place is overrun with delicious shellfish, adult beverages, music and merriment. It really is just the most fun. And zero waste, too! Subject yourself to the blistering mid-to-high-60s Humboldt summer sun and eat oysters until you can't anymore. Local merchants come out in droves selling everything from driftwood cutting boards to handmade jewelry. There's even a block cordoned off for a kids' area. Check out www.arcatamainstreet.com for more information and indispensable "Fabulous Oyster Facts."

click to enlarge Artful plant shop Sekoya. - ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Zach Lathouris
  • Artful plant shop Sekoya.

Art Lovers

Sekoya Botanicals – Have a green thumb or want to get one? Old Town Eureka's Sekoya Botanicals may just be the place for you. It's a mother-and-daughter-owned plant store where you can pot your own plant right in the shop. Select from one of the many 2-inch or 4-inch potted starter plants (or really any plant in the place) and mosey over to their potting section, which offers a diversity of vessels, accoutrement and garnishes. The owners and employees love to gush about their flora and are very helpful for those, like me, who couldn't scoop dirt into a 40-foot ditch. The walls are peppered with a rotating selection of local artists whose prints are available for purchase, should you choose.

Fire Arts Center – If a light dusting of potting soil isn't enough and you really want to get your hands dirty, Fire Arts Center may just be the place for you. A stone's throw from the Arcata Marsh, it offers a series of classes ranging from basic wheel ceramics to tile making — kids' classes, too! It has a packed showroom full of local ceramicists' creations, as well as public and private studio space for more permanent or local wheel-kickers.

Fire & Light – Fire & Light glassworks makes colorful tableware, vases and decorative pieces by hand, exclusively from recycled glass. It also has a showroom where you can buy first and second quality glassware. Or you can take a tour of the production facility and see how the glass is made. Unlike making laws and sausage, it's a beautiful process. Watch the molten glass ladled out of a raging furnace, rapidly cooling from sun-yellow to a rich burnt orange and being pressed into plates, bowls, cups, chalices and more. It offers daily tours, which are free and run about 30-45 minutes depending on how many questions you ask and how the glass is behaving that day. Call 707-825-7500 to schedule a tour.

click to enlarge Recycled Youth. - AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler
  • Recycled Youth.

With the Kids

SCRAP ­– SCRAP Humboldt has a veritable bevy of forgotten or overabundant materials. To "inspire creative reuse and environmentally sustainable behavior," SCRAP staffers have packed their warehouse to the gills with everything from second-hand and surplus art supplies to VHS tapes to skis to refurbished vintage typewriters. Truly, I wouldn't be surprised if the inventory was infinite and spontaneously materializing. Loose your children into the re-use wilderness to hunt for craft project inspiration or sign up for one of their workshops on bookmaking, hat making, embroidery or whatever it is cooking up that month (www.scraphumboldt.org). Informational and educational posters and signs adorn the walls. It's learning and waste reduction disguised as fun.

Recycled Youth – On the north side of Arcata, there's a tiny little building that looks like it was painted by the Araboolies. Inside it has tiny little clothes for tiny little people. Welcome to Recycled Youth. A boutique children's clothing store primarily stocked by donation, it has a free box, dollar bins and racks upon racks of stylish duds for your young'uns. There's also a section of eco-conscious children's products, reusable diapers, wipes made from recycled materials and a full shelf of games, books and toys. What's more, Recycled Youth rents gear — car seats, cribs, you name it. Who wants to own all that stuff, anyway?

Arcata Community Center Playground – Playground technology has evolved a great deal since my youth and I'll be frank, I'm super bitter about it. I don't want to be that old coot who says, "back in my day," but back in my day we had a slide, a swing and rocks to throw at each other. Now, the playground at the Arcata Community Center is what I imagine kid-specific heaven looks like. It's got a jungle gym perfectly engineered for games of lava tag, man-child tested swings that are top notch (you can go so high) and a kid-sized bouldering wall. Woodchips cover the ground, which is good because they're softer to land on than rocks and kids can't really huck them at each other. For older kids, there's a basketball half-court set up on the other side of the community center.

click to enlarge Technical difficulties at the water crossing of the 2018 Kinetic Grand Championship. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Technical difficulties at the water crossing of the 2018 Kinetic Grand Championship.


Not Strictly for Tourists

Heartwood Mountain Sanctuary – Roughly 20-miles east of Garberville, hidden in the redwoods, lies the Heartwood Mountain Sanctuary. A self-described utopia, Heartwood is really a place of many names. It is a "learning village," a "community hub" and an "eco-retreat destination." It offers a laundry list of classes — from ceramics to permaculture systems to paper making and activities. Hike, swim and sweat out your impurities in the sauna, do yoga in a yurt or get a massage. Heartwood is also home to a totally organic vegetarian restaurant featuring a seasonally rotating menu, with many of the fixings grown on-site. Guests can stay at one of several dormitories or opt for a more private stay in a bungalow among the fir trees. Camping, too, is available for those who want to immerse themselves in nature round the clock.

Electricity feels newfangled when you're on the 200-acre campus. Mellifluous birdsong abounds and drown out what little industrial hum there is, cars must be left at the top lot and I'm all but certain it has the loudest frogs in the world. The remoteness and purpose of the place — to remove oneself from the daily grind and unwind in nature — make a day-trip sub-optimal. If you go, make it a weekend.

Once you exit the highway in Garberville, it is an hour drive over narrow, wending mountain roads sometimes just wide enough for one car, the final stretch of which is dirt (big trucks, take care; RVs, don't dare). Heartwood is thoughtful enough to include very specific directions during the booking process. Heed them. I would add: Pull over for local traffic, wave at everyone and don't get out of your car to take pictures along the way.

Serendipity Book Store – Tucked inside the Humboldt County Library is a donated book shop staffed by Friends of the Library volunteers on the second floor. The little room is packed with everything from historical nonfiction and dishy biographies to coffee table books, cookbooks and vintage comic books (25 cents each!) — even magnets crafted out of damaged books. The books mostly range $2-$3 (less for kids' books) and the cash-or check purchases benefit the library and its free programs. The sweet of tooth can grab a jar of Mad River Farms Liberry Jam ($5) at the register. Swing in Tuesdays noon to 4:30 p.m., Wednesdays noon to 7:30 p.m., Thursdays noon to 4:30 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Kinetic Grand Championship – If you're like the rest of us, at some point in your life you've drifted off into the middle distance and wondered, "Could a 20-foot pontoon catamaran with a massive metal dragon as a hull ford a channel under nothing but human power?" Well, every Memorial Day weekend, this question and many other similar quandaries are answered during the Kinetic Grand Championship. (The answer is that it can. ... Kind of.) This kinetic sculpture race is a three-day, 42-mile marriage of art and contest quite unlike anything else. Beginning on the Arcata Plaza and traversing land, sand and water toward the finish line in Ferndale, the race is an indispensable part of any late-May trip behind the Redwood Curtain. Before the starting bell, spectators can tour the contestants' vessels — most of which are built from scrap — parked around the plaza. Bring your bikes, as folks are encouraged to follow the race (www.kineticgrandchampionship.com).

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Thomas Oliver

Thomas Oliver

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Thomas Oliver lives in McKinleyville.

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