As a boy, Ted Halstead loved to play along the Mississippi River near his home in Iowa. Sometimes he just contemplated the scenery and wildlife.
“I grew up really enjoying nature,” he said.“I would sit on the dock and look at all the fish.”
After military service, a few years of travel and adventure and with his life before him, young Ted yearned to settle in a place where he could surround himself with natural splendor, perhaps more varied than where he came from.
“I wanted a place with mountains and ocean, where I could go to school,” he said. “I settled on Eureka.”
Here, Halstead found the natural connection he had craved, and love too—he met and married Pamela, a schoolteacher at Fortuna High School.
On reaching the half-century mark, Halstead undertook another life-changing search.
“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,” he said. That was when he discovered Liscom Slough on the Arcata Bottom.
The vast Bottoms landscape offers views of migratory waterfowl above and aquatic life below. Liscom Slough serves as drainage for the ag lands and as habitat for a number of species in the Humboldt Bay ecosystem. Upper reaches provide food and shelter to amphibians and birds, while the downstream estuary teems with 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,” Halstead said. “Juvenile smelt, herring and anchovies can be seen in large numbers swimming through the eel grass under the bridge. 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.”
Unfortunately, the sensitive slough has become popular with humans who care little for its aesthetic or environmental values. To them, it’s a dump, as Halstead learned one jarring day when he looked off the bridge that crosses the 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,” Halstead recalled.
And there was more: a bowling ball and pins, a parachute, a semi-truck bumper, sex toys, an envelope with $1,000 cash, dirty diapers, a didgeridoo, Jack LaLane-brand weights, a player piano and a walk-in safe.
Halstead took responsibility where others didn’t, collected the debris and took it to the waste transfer station.
The material ranges from disgusting to downright horrible in its impact.
“Once, when driving by, I noticed a cooler of methamphetamine chemicals floating next to shore,” Halstead said. “It was very common to find 50-gallon garbage cans of marijuana shake going in and out with the tide.”
Sometimes, tires on rims or computer monitors were floating in the water.
Unfortunately, support from government and law enforcement hasn’t been sufficient to either prevent destructive dumping or capture suspects. Halstead is disappointed with the lack of enforcement, but for the past two decades, has soldiered on, tirelessly collecting and ferrying loads of debris from the slough to proper disposal sites.
He has received wide recognition and some assistance from NGOs for his efforts. Humboldt Baykeeper and Humboldt Bay Oyster Company have partnered with him for cleanup projects. The City of Arcata helps with disposal.
“If you’re looking for a wonderful place to kayak, bird watch, paint, bike, run or walk, Liscom Slough will not disappoint,” Halstead promises. “It is a beautiful place that is worthy of a better fate.”
This article was updated on 8/13/14 from the print version to reflect that Halstead grew up along the Misssissippi River in Iowa, not Minnesota. However, he did spend considerable time fishing in the lakes of Minnesota.