One thing I like about living in a smaller town is being able to meet the actual people in charge of things, and to learn the most interesting bits of information just because I stopped by to chat.
The city of Merced had its annual open house a few weeks ago. It was really cool to go into City Hall and meet the planning commissioners and the city's cartographer. I saw Mayor Ellie Wooten walk by, and there were members of the City Council sitting at a table. I also met the people in charge of the city's recycling program, who are also in charge of water and utilities. It's so much more personal to to meet the people who do the work than simply to call on the phone. When you've met the person with the title, instead of a person at the window, you can sometimes get your problems resolved within a week instead of never.
We got to see the SWAT team and Fire Department guys show off their latest talents, such as climbing the firetruck ladder to the top of the Hotel Tioga (10 stories tall) and rappelling down the side to practice a high-rise rescue. It's part of their new anti-terrorism training. We got to meet the county's crime scene investigation team, who said their jobs are not nearly as dramatic as the television show, nor do their cases get solved so quickly. But it was fun to check out their array of cameras and software, including night vision.
Sometimes the most interesting items come out of a chance conversation. I stopped at the water quality control booth, and asked a maintenance mechanic named Cecil Etheridge if the county was planning to start adding marshes to their program as part of river restoration. I had read in the newspaper some months ago about a guy who owns some river property west of Highway 99 who wanted to set up a private hunting range. He built a series of marshes to clean and filter the water and to provide a water stop for migrating birds. Cecil asked if I was interested in hunting, because he told me I could get permission from City Hall to hunt behind Merced's waste-water treatment plant.
I have to giggle; I'm from Los Angeles, where no one offers to let you hunt for ducks behind the waste-water treatment plant. Heaven forbid you should go hunting in Los Angeles, risking the eternal hatred of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. But sure enough, behind the treatment plant on Grove Road is plenty of acreage and open space, with a nice marshy bit just right for flocks stopping for a rest.
So if you want to hunt behind the waste-water treatment plant in Merced, get a permit at City Hall. Better yet, at the fall festivals and civic events, take a moment to talk to city employees and learn more about things such as hunting permits on county property.
Holt is a wife, mother and student at Merced College. E-mail her at email@example.com.