Building a better view of Moorhen Marsh

MARTINEZ, Calif. – Otters, birds, and turtles might be the last animals you would expect to find living next door to the Interstate 680 toll-plaza. But, tucked between the freeway, an oil refinery and a wastewater facility hides an oasis on the mend.

“This marsh is really rare to even be here sustaining life,” said California Conservation Corpsmember Sarai Ayala.

She’s one of a few dozen Corpsmembers from the California Conservation Corps who camped for several weeks, on-site, at Mt. View Sanitary District’s Moorhen Marsh in Martinez to help develop public access to the marsh.

“We’re building this viewing platform to help people get closer to the habitat, to the otters and turtles that swim around here,” Ayala said.

The 21-acre constructed wetland is in the middle of an industrial zone and is part of the Mt. View Sanitary District Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“It’s the very first wetland on the west coast to use treated wastewater to create wetlands,” explained MVSD District Biologist Kelly Davidson. “This is the first significant enhancement of the marsh since it was built in the 1970s.”

The enhancement project included the rebuilding of levees, improving the habitat for the western pond turtle and several bird species, and upgrading visitor amenities. Equipped with measuring tapes, saw blades, and drills, CCC Delta Center Corpsmembers focused on building a new ADA boardwalk and viewing platform.

“We started off a little slow to make sure we had our measurements and cuts all done the right way,” said Ayala.

Then over the course of several weeks, a rotating cadre of Corpsmembers sawed boards, anchored them to the pillars, and installed the walking deck and handrails. The crews worked so quickly they finished construction several weeks ahead of schedule.

The boardwalk allows visitors, especially elementary school students, to get out over the water and closer to the newly constructed islands where birds nest and turtles bask in the sun on strategically placed logs.

“We usually have between 1,400 and 1,600 school kids come out each year to explore Moorhen Marsh,” Davidson said. “We really wanted to create something of a destination for students and the general public to view native wildlife in Martinez.”

Ayala added, “The platforms give you another perspective to see the marsh. It’s another way to admire the ponds and all the natural habitats that are here.”

The project didn’t just build a viewing platform and boardwalk. It also created a partnership between MVSD and the CCC’s Delta Center in Stockton. The district is exploring the possibility of contracting with the CCC to do regular maintenance on the newly enhanced wetland.

“We were just so impressed with how efficient the crews were, how professional they were,” Davidson said. “The CCC provides a real ‘bang for your buck’, which is important to our rate-payers. And, we fully support the mission of the CCC.”

And the Corpsmembers enjoyed the opportunity to not just experience the wildlife up close, but to contribute to the Contra Costa County community while learning new work skills.

“You definitely don’t expect to do the kind of work you do here,” Ayala said. “But you’re growing and getting knowledge that will lead to a good job after the CCC.”

– California Conservation Corps

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