April 25, 2023

Bryan Rust
Community Boating Center

Community Boating Center Launches Wheelhouse Capital Campaign

Remember how you felt the first time you mastered something that scared you, the joy and the newly found confidence? Have you seen people light up when they connect deeply with the natural world, ride a swell, and form new friendships? Those feelings and those connections are what the Community Boating Center is all about.

After sixteen years serving the people of Whatcom County and beyond, the CBC is planning to build its first permanent structure to expand water access, the boating season, and its community. The new 1200-square-foot building will provide space for offices, classrooms, restrooms, and changing rooms with showers, along with the purchase of accessible watersports equipment, an adaptive boat for those with special needs, and two electric-powered safety boats to replace the gasoline-powered ones.

The CBC provides experiential learning and skill-building programs that strengthen community, enrich lives, and promote marine stewardship, with an emphasis on increasing boating access to underserved populations. 

Since 2007, the CBC has offered boating instruction and boating rentals, therapeutic recreation, maritime education classes and lectures, and more to youth and adults. The center partners with over a dozen local organizations and offers a scholarship program so that all can enjoy and benefit from being out on the water, including veterans, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, and young people getting out on the water for the first time. The CBC brings people from all walks of life together, fostering friendships, confidence, and personal development, while nurturing a deep connection to the sea. 

All these years, the CBC has been operating out of several small, unheated sheds, which also double as meeting space for maritime classes and refuge for CBC participants during inclement weather. The light onshore footprint has been necessary to keep the available funds going to programs, but now it is limiting the expansion of programs to serve a more diverse community and accommodate everyone who would like to participate. 

These buildings are too small to accommodate large groups, are not ADA-accessible, and, without a heat source, cannot be used throughout the year, limiting the operating season and opportunities. With more people showing up every season, the current infrastructure just cannot keep pace.

Currently, the CBC can offer only rented porta-a-potties for restrooms and does not have showers or changing rooms, despite using wetsuits for many of its programs. The current fleet doesn’t include adaptive boats or equipment to serve those with disabilities, and two of four safety boats rely on fossil fuel. As marine stewards, the CBC is committed to limiting carbon footprint and pollution of our waters. 

To answer these challenges and open the sea to everyone, the Community Boating Center has launched the Wheelhouse Capital Campaign to fund an infrastructure that can support program growth and expanded access for many years to come.

To date, the CBC has raised over 50% of the $1,000,000 Wheelhouse Capital Campaign projected budget, and construction is slated to start in fall 2023. Secured funding has come from the Port of Bellingham, the Rotary Club of Bellingham, a handful of charitable foundations, and a number of individual donors. The architectural firm that has completed the plans and the contractor who will do the construction have either donated their time or significantly discounted their fee.

The CBC’s work invites people to experience the profound lessons of the sea. It promotes a sense of place and belonging. It helps wounded souls heal. And it offers everyone the satisfaction that comes with skill-building, alongside the joy of being on the water. 

The CBC is deeply appreciative of the outpouring of support for this project and hopes now to engage the wider community. Contributions to the capital campaign can be made at Let’s not leave anyone on shore.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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