Arcata has big plans to spruce up Carlson Park in Valley West | Photo: Stephanie McGeary


Put on those swimsuits, lather on some sunscreen and get ready to hit the river, Arcata! Because the city is working on big plans for Carlson Park in Valley West that will make it the first park to offer Mad River access right in town. 

Ok, so maybe don’t get ready to jump in that river just yet. The project is likely going to take a couple of years to complete. But, thanks to a $691,000 California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) grant recently awarded to the City of Arcata, and more funding hopefully on the way, city staff is in the process of cleaning up Carlson Park and designing plans to expand its trails, add river access and build a parking lot and playground.  

Emily Sinkhorn, environmental services director for the City of Arcata, told the Outpost that last week the city finalized its formal grant agreement with the WCB. The grant funding was awarded for river access improvements, as well as supporting wildlife restoration. The money will be used to create 3,800 feet of park trail —including an ADA compliant trail and observation deck – with two access points to the Mad River, and will go toward invasive plant removal and native species revegetation. 

Carlson Park plans from the City of Arcata

The project is part of the City of Arcata’s vision to improve the underserved Valley West neighborhood. In recent years the city has been partnering with Comunidad Unida Del Norte de Arcata (CUNA) – a project of local nonprofit Cooperation Humboldt – to revamp Valley West (or North Arcata, as CUNA calls it), funding projects including adding fruit trees and a picnic area to Valley West Park, adding neighborhood murals, bringing free community dance and theater classes and community events. 

A recent Health Fair event hosted by CUNA in Carlson Park | Submitted by Emily Sinkhorn

CUNA has also been focusing a lot of efforts on Carlson Park, hosting monthly cleanups and many community events in the front lawn area of the park. Last month CUNA hosted Valley West’s first outdoor Latinx flea market, or Tianguis, which Sinkhorn said was very successful. 

“CUNA has really adopted the front part of Carlson Park, which is adjacent to Mad River Parkway, as a community space,” Sinkhorn told the Outpost in a recent interview. “And it’s really being seen as a destination for events and community-oriented activities.” 

The design for the trails and river access improvements is currently 75 percent complete, Sinkhorn said, and the WCB funding will go toward finishing the design over the next year. In addition to the new trails, the design plans include a multi-use court near the waterfront and a launch area for non-motorized boats. Local concrete company Eureka Ready Mix, which neighbors Carlson Park to the northeast, has dedicated a public access easement, Sinkhorn said, of about one or two acres, that will augment Carlson park at the most accessible river access location.

In addition to the trails and river access, the city also plans to construct a parking lot at the entrance. Currently, there is very limited parking available for vehicles at the end of Carlson Park Drive, on an unpaved and not exactly super-inviting-looking patch of road. The city also has long-term plans to construct a playground and special events area at the front of the park. But, Sinkhorn said, the city is awaiting approval for two additional grant applications to fund that portion of the plans. 

Preliminary design for playground and events area | City of Arcata

Once the city secures that additional funding, the city will work toward finalizing the design plans and there will be opportunities for community members to provide feedback on the design – most likely sometime this fall, Sinkhorn said. Once the designs are approved, the city will put out bids for construction, which Sinkhorn hopes can begin in summer of 2023. 

In the meantime, the city is focusing on cleaning up the park, which contains many active and abandoned homeless camps. Using grant funding for solid waste abatement from CalRecycle, the city is working with partners from Adult and Teen Challenge, DHHS and Cooperation Humboldt to identify what homeless camps are no longer occupied and clean up the trash and solid waste from those sites. As the project gets closer to expected construction, Sinkhorn said, the city will work with those social service partners and with the Arcata Police Department to relocate the people who are still actively camping in the park and connect them with other shelter opportunities. 

Litter from an abandoned camp in Carlson Park | Stephanie McGeary

There is still a lot of work ahead, but Sinkhorn is very excited that the city is one step closer to turning Carlson Park into an attractive destination for visitors and the community. 

“The City is really committed to improving walking and biking connectivity to Valley West…as well as improving recreational opportunities,” Sinkhorn said. “So we’re really excited that a component of the Carlson Park improvement project has been funded and we look forward to working with the community to finalize those designs.”