MOSS LANDING, Calif. - It's one of the last remaining estuaries on the coast of California, but much of the area known today as Elkhorn Slough was drained of water and existed as a dairy farm for much of the twentieth century.
Beginning in the ‘70s, efforts to restore and conserve the area took off.
"Tidal flow was restored to that land in 1983 and so we're seeing some salt marsh come back in that area," explained Dave Feliz, Reserve Manager.
Today, a partnership of several agencies maintains a large portion of the slough as a reserve called the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Reserch Reserve.
"A lot of research gets conducted here to learn about estuaries, to learn about how to restore salt marsh vegetation, to learn about what's going on here with the recovery of species," said Feliz.
And the species have recovered. The slough is renowned for its sea otter population as well as other mammals, but it is world famous for its birds.
"We saw one solo pelican sitting on one of the bridges and we watched him pounce off the bridge and get his lunch," described Jim Hicks, visiting from Carmel. "Then he'd fly around and come back and sit on the bridge again and go back and get seconds."
There are shorebirds everywhere, especially on the mud flats during low tide. But the reserve doesn't just cover the water.
"We have some very nice oak woodlands in the area where there'll be red shouldered hawks and acorn woodpeckers and we can hear a scrub jay in the distance, we heard some quail a little while ago," said Feliz.
Many of the area's50,000 visitors every year are children, who come to learn with the help of volunteers.
"We have a teaching lab on site with 24 microscopes and so a lot of the kids get to go in there and explore the slough in an ounce of water," said Feliz.
"We've sort of got it all here, so I'd say we're definitely a hidden gem and again what we offer is public access to come out here and hike and feel like you're really getting away and seeing a little bit of wild California."
There are over five miles of trail on this 1,700 acre reserve. More than 300 species of bird have been spotted.
The visitor center is located a few miles north of Castroville on Elkhorn Road.