The new Chanterelle Trail in North Bellingham’s Lake Whatcom Park is destined to become a popular hiking (and mountain biking) destination for locals and visitors alike. As part of a larger plan for trails that are all interconnected, the Chanterelle Trail is the first gem in a larger necklace of trails that will be draped around the hills and mountains surrounding Lake Whatcom.
From Bellingham, as you wind your way on Northshore Drive, you’ll stay to the right at the intersection of the Y Road and pass The Fork restaurant on your left as a mile-marker that you’re getting close to the trailhead – and a good place to start or end your day’s journey. The next waypoint is the view of the foothills that you are about to ascend and explore.
According to the Whatcom County Park’s Department, “The Chanterelle Trail ascends 1,000 feet in 2.4 miles through a mix of forest types to a scenic overlook of Lake Whatcom and Lookout Mountain. The first 0.6 miles of the trail is shared hiking and biking. The remaining 1.8 miles of trail is open to two-way foot traffic but bikes travel uphill only. Until a descending bike trail is constructed, bikes return to the trailhead via the Wickersham Truck Road.” Lake Whatcom Park | Whatcom County, WA
From the starting point in the upper parking lot, your journey begins. As a new trail, the directional and interpretive signs are fresh and offer a glimpse of what’s to come.
“The Chanterelle Trail is the first trail construction project in Lake Whatcom Park. This park, along with Mt. Lookout Park on the west-side of Lake Whatcom, was created when Whatcom County, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and with assistance from the Whatcom Land Trust, collaborated to transfer 8,844 acres of forest trust lands for park purposes. Approximately 7,000 of those acres lie within the Lake Whatcom watershed. When completed, Whatcom County’s recreation plan will include more than 95 miles of hiking, biking, running, equestrian and multi-use trails. It is expected that trail projects in Mt. Lookout Park will begin in summer 2018,” said Rich Bowers, Executive Director of the Whatcom Land Trust.
The signs at the trailhead show the elevation gain to be expected if you want to go to the top for the expansive views of the surrounding foothills, Lake Whatcom and peek-a-boo views of Bellingham Bay and the Salish Sea to the west. Interpreting the sign below, in 2.4 miles, you’ll start at 400′ and ascend to nearly 1,400′ to the location of the lookout. It’s a call to action, “Go for it!”
Signs, signs, everywhere signs…in this case, the messages are positive and helpful. The park signs are welcoming and provide insight into what you can expect on your journey-providing “intel” on average and maximum trail grade, minimum and maximum width and other informative data points.
Time to lace up those boots and hit the trail! As the line graph shows in the aforementioned photo, the trail goes up! The immediate elevation gain and direction of the trail quickly introduces you to the forest. Moss, ferns, and lushness abound in this hillside ecosystem. It’s one of those Ewok Village sorts of scenes where green dominates.
We enjoyed our afternoon stroll, exploring the flora surrounding us, challenging one another to identify the variations of vert that sprout and grow from every possible source. The position of the tree below, sitting comfortably with legs crossed on top of a decaying stump was remarkable- and photo worthy.
The new trail tread that winds it’s way up the mountain, was a community collaborative effort. I talked with Reid Parker from Whatcom County Parks Department and he iterated that this took 1,900 hours of volunteer labor over the course of 4 months. The partners included representation from the hiking community with Washington Trails Association; mountain biking with Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition; trail running with Greater Bellingham Running Club and Cascade Mountain Runners; the financial support of REI through their grant program and engaged employees; all supported by people who came out to support the work of these organizations and access to open public space.
Work began in June on National Trail Day and culminated on National Public Lands Day in September. How fitting! It is demonstrative of the intent the partners had, working together to make this be the pinnacle of parks projects that set the tone for the future of our county and region.
This is a world-class trail that was also touched by the master of trail building, Gerry Wilbour and his crew with Northwest Trails, based in Bellingham. Yes, there was also some heavy lifting that had to happen with equipment and he and his crew are the ones for the job! Building trails are not just about getting from A-B, it’s about the experience and beauty along the way. You can see that in this trail.
The trail winds up the hillside and finishes at the lookout. The large gravel pad provides space for plenty of people to hang out and soak in the expansive views that are visible from the Summit of Stewart Mountain. This perspective gives a sense of what is to come with the development of trails and parklands in and around this area.
The culmination of my conversation with Reid Parker from Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department was a personal and professional sense of pride and ownership around the future of what is to come in this space. He attributed the success of the project to the valuable community partnerships and public volunteer support that lead to incredible open public recreation space with beautiful views of the beginning of what is to come in trail building and public access to our shared open space surrounding Lake Whatcom.
In the words of one of our local breweries: Get Some! = Go out and explore the trail yourself (and bring a friend).