Birds and bird-watchers are flocking to the newly restored Carpinteria Marsh. Two of the most visible visitors are the brown pelican and the osprey, which dive like fighter jets into the muddy channels.
They’re a welcome sight because the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park is a remnant of a wetland that used to be miles wide, extending from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Pacific. A century of draining, filling and developing diminished the marsh to just 230 acres. Even downtown Carpinteria stands on former marshland.
Just a few years ago the estuary was an eyesore, a wasteland of weeds and an unofficial dump site. But after the removal of tons of fill dirt and debris and the planting of thousands of native plants, the marsh has rebounded. With development halted and limited water flow restored, the marsh healed itself.
Today the land is under the stewardship of the University of California reserve system. Every Saturday, 90-minute docent-led tours begin at 10 a.m. at the nature park entrance.
You can see habitat for resident and migratory waterfowl as well as a nursery for halibut and other fish. Herons, egrets and the long-billed curlew are among the more commonly seen birds in the reserve, where more than 200 species have been identified. Among them are endangered or threatened species such as the light-footed clapper rail.
To reach Carpinteria Salt Marsh Nature Park, exit Highway 101 at Linden Avenue and drive south 0.7 mile. Just before the avenue ends at Carpinteria City Beach, turn right (east) on Sandyland Road. Drive three blocks to Ash Avenue and the entrance to the marsh. Park along Ash.
Near the park entrance you will find an amphitheater, restrooms, interpretive signs and trails. For a mile-long walk, meander north on the path that skirts the western edge of the wetland. Turn west alongside a mobile home park to the banks of Carpinteria Creek. Most visitors turn around here, though a pathway continues inland along the creek.
After exploring the marsh, hit the beach. You can walk for miles south along Carpinteria City Beach and Carpinteria State Beach.
See more of John McKinney’s tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.