November 8th, 2023
To: Nicole Oliver, Director
Bellingham Parks & Recreation Advisory Board
Bellingham Greenways Advisory Committee
City of Bellingham
Parks and Recreation Department
210 Lottie Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
RE: Completing the Coast Millennium Trail (CMT)
Dear Director Oliver and City of Bellingham Advisory members,
Since 2014, Recreation Northwest has enjoyed its partnership with the City of Bellingham’s Parks & Recreation Department as stewards of Fairhaven Park’s Hundred Acre Wood. As a Bellingham-based non-profit organization working collaboratively to fill the gaps in our public outdoor space access, infrastructure, and programming we know that public-private partnerships are crucial to being able to achieve the goals our citizens wish for in our public parks and access to open spaces.
At the end of this year, we will be completing Phase Three of our Fairhaven Park Wetland Trail and Boardwalk project. In this phase, the development of our Hundred Acre Wood Outdoor Classroom includes a public Native Plant Garden, adventure nature trail, and educational amphitheater space with a covered pavilion. Next, we have our sights set on completing The Coast Millennium Trail highlighting the Arroyo High Bridge as a key rallying point for the project, in support of the project as a whole.
The Coast Millennium Trail (CMT) Master Plan (PDF) was drafted at the turn of the century, in January 2000- hence its name. The document leads with, “The idea of a border-to-border, multi-use trail along the coastal region of western Whatcom County, Washington, is not a new concept– in fact, it’s an idea that’s been around for at least a quarter of a century…” It’s time to finish the job. We’re up for it.
As described on page three of the plan, “The CMT passes through three state parks (Larrabee, Birch Bay, and Peace Arch) and a number of city and county parks and natural areas, as well as running close to the marine shoreline in many locations. The route links urban and rural communities to a wide variety of recreation sites, natural areas, viewpoints, water access areas, historic sites, employment centers, tourist destinations, and other connecting trails.”
There have been many successes in creating this multi-modal transportation project over the past two decades, building on the ideas laid in advance. We see the opportunity to complete this project together with our community. Recreation Northwest is a willing and able partner to work with the city, and other stakeholders to reinvigorate this project to provide recreation access and opportunities; economic development; and habitat benefits in the process.
The CMT is one of the four main proposed trail corridors as outlined in the Whatcom County Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan, updated January 2016. The other corridors include the Bay to Baker Trail, Nooksack Loop Trail, and the Nooksack River Trail. The CMT is also referenced in the City of Bellingham’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PRO) Plan, updated February 2020.
There are four prominent segments of CMT in Bellingham: Squalicum Segment A, Squalicum Segment B, CMT Interurban Segment A, and Taylor Dock/South Bay Trail. We are confident that a combination of federal, state and local funding will enable this project as a whole to be completed, in its various parts. The three main segments within city limits that we would like addressed for completion are the Arroyo Park Crossing, Marine Drive Bypass, and the connection from South Bay Trail to Salish Landing.
Arroyo Park Crossing. Bellingham Parks & Recreation staff and the community have considered 3 alternatives over the years for the crossing over Chuckanut Creek through Arroyo Park. The Arroyo High Bridge option is the preferred solution we are proposing. Parks staff agree with the comprehensive benefits that a suspension “high bridge” will provide. This approach aligns with the original 1911 Bellingham & Skagit Interurban Railway’s Electric Trolley bridge crossing high above the creek below. In 2003, Bellingham Parks had considered a “Low Bridge Alternate” route, but lack of funding prevented this alternative from becoming a reality.
Marine Drive Bypass: The development of a multi-modal route, using Lockwood Open Space as an alternative to using the RR bridge crossing, has been inching along with collaboration between city, county, and port staff, along with community stakeholders. Salish Landing: The connection from Boulevard Park to future park at Salish Landing is also sitting in limbo. We would like to energize these projects as part of the larger plan and complete the connections to our communities with the Coast Millennium Trail.
We would like to complete the Coast Millennium Trail for our community and visitors. This is a potential Washington State Scenic Bikeway (RCW 79A.05.800). As I wrote to Representative Ramel, 40th Legislative District, and Representative Shewmake, 42nd Legislative District, in our Letter of Support of their bill HB 2587, “Scenic Bikeways are excellent economic drivers for both the local recreation economy industry and complimentary tourism dollars generated. Often, the trails pass through rural areas that are experiencing economic transformations- evolving from natural resource extraction to capitalizing on outdoor recreation activities and amenities. Bikes mean business.”
As the Executive Director of Recreation Northwest (2013), members of the Washington State Big Tent Coalition (2015), and a City of Bellingham Tourism Commissioner (2009), I see first hand (and have touted) the positive effects that recreation & tourism have on our local and state economies. An updated state study, 2020 Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State completed by the WA State Recreation and Conservation Office in 2020, finds that people in Washington State spend nearly $26.5 Billion each year in outdoor pursuits. Our outdated 2015 Whatcom County Outdoor Recreation Impact study touted $705 Million in recreational expenditures, listing us 8th in the state at the time.
Parks and outdoor spaces provide myriad benefits, from community-building to heat mitigation, and serve as critical public health infrastructure making equitable access more important than ever, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to RCO’s 2019 Health Benefits of Nature study, contact with nature may have greater and more beneficial impacts for underprivileged populations compared to their more affluent counterparts. Nearby nature also has important cost-saving health benefits, with every $1 spent on creating and maintaining parks and trails saving up to $3 in healthcare costs.
The current trail corridors provide access for the public to get outside and enjoy the health benefits of nature. The significant ecological improvements to the natural landscape also benefit us humans, as well, for our mental health. The trail also provides excellent transportation corridors, connecting segments of our community. We look forward to working with the City of Bellingham’s Parks & Recreation Department, Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham, Whatcom Council of Governments stakeholders, and the public to complete what was started half a century ago- The Coast Millennium Trail.
Thank you for the public-private partnership that we have established. Our mental health, our physical health, our economy, and our communities depend on access to our public lands and our care for natural areas.
Todd Elsworth, Recreation Northwest
* Credit for reviving this project goes to retirees Carol and Ray Dellecker who asked the question after returning from a bike trip on the Olympic Discovery Trail in 2020, “Why isn’t there a suspension bridge spanning Arroyo Park where the old Interurban Line used to run?” Then, they persisted in their quest to find the answer. Thank you Carol and Ray. Seems like they like to plant seeds.
Todd Elsworth is one of the many “Mossy-haired lunatics roaming the dripping peninsulas”, described in “I’m Here for the Weather” by Tom Robbins. As executive director, he works to fulfill our mission to teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.