Hundred Acre Wood Property Acquisition
Housing proposals titled “Chuckanut Ridge or Fairhaven Highlands” were controversial development proposals among Southside Bellingham neighborhoods. A group of citizens banded together to fight the real estate development of the forest and successfully stalled progress. Then the economy turned in 2008. Fast forward to 2011, when the City of Bellingham purchased the property and that’s where we’ll go from here…
On August 15, 2011, Bellingham City Council voted unanimously to purchase an 82 acre parcel located on Bellingham’s Southside for parks and open space. Known locally as the Hundred Acre Wood, the property has seen considerable informal use as a park for many years, with its healthy second growth forest, thriving wetlands and peekaboo views. The community has cherished these woods for many years— expressing love each time the property has been threatened by development.
In order to purchase the property, and bring to an end twenty years of community struggle to preserve this land, Bellingham City Council voted to purchase the land using a combination of funding sources (Greenways III Southside acquisition monies, Southside Park Impact Fees, and a $3,232,201 inter-fund loan from the Greenways III maintenance endowment). City Council looked to the Southside citizens to find a way to finance the loan repayment. A group of Southside citizens proposed to ask the residents of Bellingham’s Southside to create a Metropolitan Park District that would levy a small property tax dedicated to repaying the inter-fund loan. With much volunteer effort, the Chuckanut Community Forest District (CCFD) was formed in February 2013 to levy a small tax of .28 per $1,000 of property tax valuation for 10 years.
In December 2013, Bellingham City Council unanimously approved the sale of a conservation easement to the CCFD. The transfer was in effect a zoning change that removed the acreage from the city’s inventory of developable land and instead preserved it for use as a forested park in perpetuity. The use of the park is intended for nature-oriented, recreational and educational purposes. For decades, even though this was private land, this space has been used by the public and trails have been formed to support human travel and exploration. Many of the trails that criss-cross the property travel through precious wetlands and leave negative impacts on the landscape.
Chuckanut Community Forest Ownership Map
This City map shows the redline boundaries of the borders of the “Hundred Acre Wood” that would be formalized by the park district known as the Chuckanut Community Forest.
Chuckanut Community Forest Ownership Map
Above as shown on Page 8 of the CCF Baseline Documentation Report (2015)
Since the City of Bellingham owns the space and the Parks and Recreation Department are the managers of the already popular Fairhaven Park, they must contend with how to keep it safe and accessible. Unfortunately, the budget to create a master plan for the proper management of the land was not be laid in place for many years to come. Fortunately, now the time has come in 2022! See details on Chuckanut Community Forest Master Plan @ Engage Bellingham.
This lack of funding and low prioritization of a Master Plan from the City, meant that the trails that passed through wetlands and up steep slopes would continue to degrade the landscape and ecological devastation.
Here’s where Recreation Northwest comes in!
Todd Elsworth started Fourth Corner Productions, privately in 2001 to host the Bellingham Traverse and other public events for community benefit. Recreation Northwest was founded in Bellingham, WA. in 2013. As a founder and executive director, Elsworth, built the organization on the solid foundation he had created in 2002 with the Bellingham Traverse multi-sport race and other subsequent events being hosted locally and regionally. The Trail Run leg of the Bellingham Traverse was moved from Arroyo Park to Fairhaven Park in its 5 year in 2006. This would become the new transition area and set a course that ran through up through the park and into a section of the adjoining private property- the Hundred Acre Wood.
Recreation Northwest, with Elsworth at the helm, was able to leverage these Traverse assets to create a new non-profit business- with a founding mission based on the tenets of Stewardship, Education, and Fun. Bellingham Traverse had a “Gentleman’s Agreement” with the private landowner (Greenbriar) to use the “trails that didn’t exist” in their woods. The event was able to access the hidden labyrinth of the trail running network that lay beyond the upper shelter and the green dumpster (pictured below) for those who remember. (Photo source)
The community endearingly referred (and many still do) to the area as “The Hundred Acre Wood”, reminiscent of the simpler times of Pooh Bear and his friends in the forest.
In 2015, Recreation Northwest headed up a volunteer effort to build proper trails connecting the City of Bellingham’s Fairhaven Park to the Chuckanut Community Forest. The network of well-traveled, informal trails, routed directly through wetland areas. The main wetland is an emergent, forested, and scrub-shrub wetland that is seasonally flooded and provided a well-developed understory with good interspersion of habitat.
Two individuals are recognized by the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District for their work to save this special place. Both Robyn and Joe had a special relationship with Recreation Northwest. We received special permission to include their names on our Recognition Rock Bench.
The following are the words to describe them from the CCFPD In Memoriam webpage:
Robyn du Pre, who passed away in March of 2015, was on the steering committee that led to the creation of the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District. She and her husband, Dan Remsen, guided and inspired hundreds of people to work on turning the Hundred Acre Woods into one of Bellingham’s finest parks. Robyn’s efforts to protect the people of northwestern Washington and the ecosystems they depend on were recognized far and wide. Her wit, her warmth, her determination to serve the public good will long be remembered. Happy Trails, beautiful spirit!
Joe Yaver, who passed away last November 29, 2016, spearheaded for many years the efforts to save Chuckanut Ridge as an urban park for the people of Bellingham. He lived to see it. For decades, Joe urged mayors and city officials to behave in responsible ways toward our environment. He kept to the fire the feet of concerned citizens, and he spared himself no labor to promote sound civic policy. Those who loved him have long cherished the hope that someday, somewhere in the forest, hikers will find a space cleared for a bench, with the marker “Joe’s Place.”
Both are memorialized on our Recognition Rock Bench, if you missed that earlier. XO!
NOTE: This content is gathered from a variety of archival documents that we used for the project. Please let us know if the words we have published are not original. We would like to give credit where credit is due.