I am an advocate of transparency and sharing stories. This is the story of how our organization, Recreation Northwest, came to be increasingly involved in Fairhaven Park and the Chuckanut Community Forest. It spans the time from January – May 2014.
In January 2014, Recreation Northwest became Park Stewards for Fairhaven Park in partnership with City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department. Together, we planned to have quarterly volunteer Work Parties to help maintain and improve trails in the forest where the Bellingham Traverse Trail Run and the new Kulshan Quest Adventure Race are held. This land is historically known by the names 100 Acre Wood, Fairhaven Highlands or Chuckanut Community Forest. Recreation Northwest’s Executive Director, Todd Elsworth, introduced himself to the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District Board and received their support in helping to spread the word and connect with other interested parties.
It quickly became evident to our organization that there was a much bigger need that has to be filled. Christopher Grannis, (now former) President of the South Neighborhood Association, approached Elsworth and asked if Recreation Northwest would be interested in doing more. Both agreed that with the increased use in the woods, some of the trails in the forest are doing more damage to the land and the watershed than we’d like. Erosion and sediment runoff into streams is evident in some key areas.
Grannis also gathered Tim Wahl, Greenways COB and expert Don Hunger, to talk about what the potential for engagement would like like for the property and Recreation Northwest as a stewardship organization. Elsworth was learning about all the moving parts and pieces for creating a successful first project- to set the stage for future successes. Connecting with the right people and getting the key players in place to determine the potential scope of this project took time.
Bill Hasenjaeger, COB Parks and Recreation Advisory Board contacted Elsworth and met on March 2nd to express his interest in trails and working together to tackle this newly acquired piece of public property. The public perception is that there is not a plan or funding in place at the city to take care of the newly acquired land. Elsworth was referred to Leslie Bryson, Design and Development Manager. City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Dept.
Bryson met with Elsworth on March 6th to discuss and ensure that at least in the short term, the city is working towards a “mini-plan” to take care of the evidently critical areas. The political realities of the civic Master Planning Process that needs to be carried out is well down the road. The city has no budget to improve or build trails, much less do the long-term planning in the near term.
Bryson and Elsworth agreed that a great Phase One approach to improving the critical areas of the trails that lead into the forest could start with a section of trail at the entrance from Fairhaven Park- past the upper shelter, at the green dumpster. Phase Two would have to undoubtedly require much more planning to cross the wetland area to head up the hill and access the network of trails.
James King, Director of City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation, via Bryson, gave his support for the project. Bryson explained that there were preliminary studies, permits, materials and volunteer labor that would have to be accounted for in this project. Elsworth is currently creating a budget and scope of work for Phase One.
On April 24th Gerry Wilbour, trail-building professional with Northwest Trails INC., walked the site with Elsworth, Grannis, Hasenjager and David Laws- Laws is Secretary for Recreation Northwest and recently submitted his application to join the COB Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. Wilbour wanted to determine if a reasonable trail could be built to avoid the wetland where the current trail passes through. Wilbour was able to mark a trail that he was satisfied with for a proposal- it also serves a key need of connecting Fairhaven Park and 18th Street. Wilbour has agreed to work with Recreation Northwest to provide estimates for a project overview with regards to the materials and labor required for the project. This information will be a key component in the budget. Wilbour has agreed to donate his services to the project.
Bryson referred Elsworth to Kim Weil, COB Planning and Community Development Department on April 28th. Weil identified the piece of property that the proposed trail would be using as “The piece North of Fairhaven Highlands”. Weil explained that the property needs a new wetland delineation performed- the last one was done in 1997. She identified NW Ecological Services, Vikki Jackson, as the firm who did the most recent study for the land to the south. Weil also addressed the need for a surveyor to come in immediately after to identify the wetland boundary. These two pieces must be coordinated.
As of May 5th, Recreation Northwest is finalizing putting a budget together to see what it’s going to take to have this be a successful project. The project will be volunteer driven- read that funded- in order for it to be successful. A fundraising campaign will be developed to support the project and the organization to set itself up to be prepared to transition into Phase TWO as well.
On May 6th, Recreation Northwest’s Program and Policy Committee (Dave Laws, Kurt Baumgarten, Mike McAuley, Don Hunger and Brent Molsberry) met with staff (Elsworth and April Claxton, Executive Manager) to discuss the merits of the proposal and prepare for presentation at Board of Directors meeting, scheduled for May 19th.
Elsworth was directed to get MOA with City. He contacted Bryson and has received the forms. They require a detailed budget and a 90 day commitment to complete the project. Recreation Northwest is completing the budget to determine the scope of the fundraising project.
In the interminable words of Paul Harvey, Now you know, the rest of the story.
~ Documentation by Todd Elsworth.
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.