The grass is starting to fill in at the new Squalicum Creek Park in North Bellingham, though the signs politely ask to “Keep Off the Grass”. This park has become the secret hot spot for people from the nearby Bellingham Neighborhoods of Birchwood & Columbia. I’ve talked with Southsiders who were excited to have made the trek “all the way across town” to take a turn on the zipline.
Yes, in this new playground there are many toys to choose from. There are the traditional toys like swings and slides (no merry-go-rounds though) to keep the kids going. New to the lineup and popular are the zip-line and other implements that go ’round in circles and create dizzying effects for kids and adults alike.
The zip-line is safe and it’s fun to watch the kids smile as they fly through the air with the anticipated whip of the stop at the end that sends them whizzing back to where they started. There’s also a small paved area that little kids on Striders and skateboards like to practice their balance.
Beyond the playground is the bigger project at hand. The reclaiming of space from historical industrial use and re-purposing the public land for a delightful demonstration of the balance of conservation and recreation! Fish & Fun all in one. To check out the salmon enhancement project head to Willow Spring and find this sign: “You Are Here” will be your starting point.
The sign will explain that “the water flowing in Willow Spring comes from groundwater collected at the north end of the park and is transported through a system of pipes to this creek. Years of development in the Squalicum Creek watershed has degraded fish and wildlife habitat. In the past, Squalicum Creek Park has been a gravel pit, airport and concrete manufacturing plant. Now, the park balances fish habitat enhancement with the recreational needs of the community.”
It continues with the challenge, “Can you find the location of “Willow Spring” on the aerial photograph of the gravel mine?” in the 1970’s photo of Lind Gravel below.
“The Willow Spring Project improves wildlife habitat by bringing cold, fresh water into a constructed creek with meandering bends, large woody debris, pools, riffles and native plants to create off channel habitat for salmon.” This is what it looked like in September 2010. Now it is all grown in and provides needed shade for salmon and other wildlife.
Funding for the project was provided by the City of Bellingham and Washington Department of Ecology. The trees and shrubbery have all grown in throughout Willow Creek. Below, the bridge passes over the creek as the trail starts to wind through the park.
Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association has been working with local elementary schools to raise salmon and release them into the creek. The salmon start out in tanks in the school hallways so the kids have a daily connection with them. When the time is right, the kids walk the salmon down to the creek and release them in the wild. I was fortunate enough to join my daughter and her class to witness the ceremony this past spring and it was a meaningful experience for us all.
Back on the trail. Well, it’s actually a paved sidewalk, which makes it very accessible for all! The trail snakes through the park connecting the dots with points of interest along the way.
Here’s a panoramic view of the path that loops around the Northwest end of the park.
From the North side looking back at the playground there is a large expanse of field that holds great potential for the future of recreational amenities for our families.
The path weaves and winds around the mounds and there is a picnic pad out beyond the outfield. A family was enjoying the space while their daughter rode circles around them to work up an appetite for the pending picnic.
What used to be the best sledding line (back in the old days when there was snow) is now a set of stairs that connects the path to the evolving Bay to Baker Trail and Birchwood Park up on the bench. The path continues on the flat grade to the Dog Off-Leash Area, but I chose to scale the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, you have some choices. #1 Turn Left and follow the trail down to the start of the Bay to Baker Trail at Squalicum Beach. #2 Go Straight ahead and check out Birchwood Park.
#3 Turn Right and head out the next section of the Bay to Baker Trail which connects you with Cornwall Park via Squalicum Parkway.
Here’s a panorama looking back down the stairs over the park from the top of the stairs.
Back to choices. #4 Take a harder right and follow the downhill slope of the gravel path shown on the left in the photo above and directly down, below.
If the dog park is your destination, you’re in luck. The City has done a great job of creating open and safe places for Fido & Fiffy to go play and chase balls. Covered areas make comfortable places to sit and relax while your dog does what dogs do.
There’s also a basketball court that provides the space for kids and families to practice their jumpshots, three pointers and free throws out in the fresh air. You could spend a whole day at the park, with a variety of activities and not take it all in. Unless, you lived in the hood!
The popularity of this new neighborhood park in the North End of Bellingham is witnessed daily. I admittedly waited for weeks and went later in the evening just so I could get a turn on the zip-line. Squalicum Creek Park has quickly become a destination for people from near and far.
I like this place so much that I’m going to host the 2016 Bellingham KIDS Traverse there.