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Boulevard Park Reopens

Boulevard Park on the Bellingham city waterfront is again open to the public. The construction fences are down and the paths are again accessable to all. And the new artificial beach looks good - and looks like it will survive the winter storms.

While the park has been officially open all summer, most of the park along the shoreline was closed as the city parks department tore up the old beach of broken concrete chunks and brought in genuine rock, boulders and sand for a new beach. The entire park is artificial, being a land fill from the late 1800s when it was created as a lumber mill. Once the mill shut down, the area was vacant for decades. Over the years it has had various uses, one being the building of a 60 foot concrete sailboat. The building that Woods Coffee is now in was the pottery studio for Whatcom Community College. The park itself opened in the summer of 1980 and saw its first event that August in the Bellingham Maritime Festival. I was one of the group that put on that festival and helped run it for the next several summers. The park quickly became the most popular in the city, as it remains today.

There is more to the history of how the park was developed. To me, the most interesting is how waterfront industries blocked the creation of the park for a dozen or more years. Politicians and civic leaders said we had enough parks and no one would even go to a park on the bay. Of course they were worried people would get to the warerfront and see the extent of water pollution from the mills and other industries. Once the park did finally open, one could not find a single person who was ever against having a park there.

Here are some photos of the new beach - a cobblestone one with a sand upper area. The parks department has made a nice improvement to the park.

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Oct 27, 2013

If this eliminates that horrible stench at low tide, I suppose it may have been worth it.  The “beach” has considerably eaten into the grassy area.  Let’s hope that BNSF doesn’t start nibbling on the opposite side for a rail spur.  We could end up with a Boulevard Path instead of Bouvevard Park.

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Wendy Harris

Oct 28, 2013

I do not share your praise of the Parks Department, or this project. This is part of the city’s piecemeal efforts to open up the entirety of Bellingham Bay shoreline to the public without consideration of wildlife or habitat impacts.

At the end of your photo is where the landing for the controversial overwater walkway will be placed, to connect Boulevard Park to the Cornwall Beach Park and the rest of the waterfront shoreline. This is being done to promote the mixed use businesses planned for the waterfront. Cumulative impacts for Bellingham Bay were not considered because this project is part of a different city neighborhood boundary.

Where will the bird and marine mammals go as larger amounts of people and pets access the shorelands and take to the waters in kayaks and other watercraft?  The Parks Department has the gall to submit grant applications claiming this is a habitat restoration project. Intensified human use and human presence has one of the largest impacts on loss of habitat, but the city refuses to provide any form of compensatory habitat mitigation whatsoever.

The fragile shorelines are not just our fun playground. They represent the rapidly dwindling habitat of Puget Sound and we have a responsibility to protect biodiversity and habitat. I am not against public access to the shoreline, but it must be balanced against the need to protect habitat and keep humans away from certain areas.  We need to prioritize and plan for the limited land and unlimited suggestions for human use.

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Tip Johnson

Oct 28, 2013

This will do nothing to reduce the low tide stench.  It originates in a hydric slurry of suspended pulp and bark solids that remains trapped in a gyre between Boulevard Park and the foot of Cornwall.  It extends as far west as Squalicum Beach.

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Dick Conoboy

Oct 28, 2013

@Tip - well, one has to have had some hope… :-)

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Alex McLean

Oct 30, 2013

One of the most proven ways to convert hard-nosed conservatives and their rabidly anti-environmental attitudes is to allow them access to the places us hippies claim are worth saving, worth caring about.

Wendy Harris has been on this anti-human tirade for several years now without realizing that she is a resident in a full-bloom CITY of nearly 90,000 human souls. By her litmus we would all be hermetically sealed in our windowless domiciles where, at her prodding, we would study the white papers on limpid mortality rates and the bathymetric surveys of Bellingham Bay while devoutly eschewing the anesthetics of pornography and cat videos on You-Tube that might make our lives worthwhile. Perhaps a playlist of Mutual of Omaha nature documentaries, yes, but no actual interaction with the environment would be allowed lest our toxic presence should, automatically, ruin its purity. 

The rotting, creosote-soaked pier—a vestigial remnant of the polluting industry mentioned in Servais’ essay—will likely never be removed if Harris’s “controversial” overwater walkway is not built. While it is true that the money spent by Greenways for this future endeavor could be spent somewhere else, it is patently not true that it would, or could, be spent on habitat restoration of the sort that Harris claims. What is more likely, since this money comes from the “development” side of the ledger and not the “property acquisition” side, is that we would invest in more astro-turf for our busy and wildly popular parks ball-fields.

If there were a viable alternative design to the walkway which could be built for less money and less impact on the environment I, too, might hope the overwater option would be quashed. Unfortunately, there is no forthcoming answer for how else the 900,000 people who annually use the South Bay Trail will safely and efficiently access the future Cornwall Beach Park. From my perspective, ramming a few hundred square feet of concrete pilings into the mud of the bay is not such a horrid intrusion to solve this dilemma. When we factor in the massive benefits accrued to non-motorized transportation that this asset would give to this community, then my opinion is only swayed further. Since this project area is circled and identified as a specific goal of the 2006 levy—called “Future waterfront area redevelopment trail”—I see little point in quibbling over the semantics of what neighborhood owns it or if the trail is, or isn’t, part of the Waterfront District. The point is to allow people to get there, somehow, so they can enjoy this new public open space. It is not ever going to be a wildlife sanctuary. It is going to be a city park on the waterfront of the nation’s 193rd largest metropolitan area. People will be there, and a lot of people, no matter what. So, then, why not make it as easy as possible for them to get in and out?

Harris knows that building the overwater walkway will, very literally, force the City to design a mitigation plan that the Lummi Nation endorses and supports. Since this project would impact the tribe’s fishing rights, it serves logically that the ONLY sort of mitigation project that will fit the bill is one that directly addresses habitat and shorelines, the clean-up and restoration, of Bellingham Bay. I think it is significant that no land-based trail connection—one that might magically float off the hundred-foot bluff above Cornwall Beach Park and above the menace of BNSF’s railroad tracks—will deliver this same sort of guaranteed mitigation plan with the same sort of legal leverage as a treaty right. (More likely we would just dump more cash into BNSF’s account, and thus to Mr. Warren Buffet’s wallet, in order to build this fantasy sky bridge into our park.)

Personally, I share Servais’ enthusiasm for this Parks Department project at Boulevard Park. Removing concrete rip-rap from the shoreline counts as a net positive for the park and for the environment and I’m not inclined to spew my invective on the City of Bellingham when it does something right. As with the future Cornwall Beach Park, which will likely be connected to Boulevard Park via a loathed and detested overwater walkway, this effort proves that even a former industrial site can one day be a lovely place for people to sit and ponder their relationship with the Bay, with the critters of the sea, and with the environment as a whole.

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Ryan M. Ferris

Nov 01, 2013

I appreciate Wendy Harris’ concerns about habitat restoration. I saw an entire group of visitors to Boulevard Park one day mesmerized by the one family of river otters that was playing beneath the trestle one morning. I got several excellent pictures with my phone of the otters.

Quite a bit of structural work was done on this project. My two year old son and many other children cheered and were entertained by the trucks and tractors. What is important about this development is that it will keep storm surge (+sea level change) from destroying Boulevard Park.  The north end of the park will need a similar treatment. I can only imagine that will occur if/when the “overwater walkway” is built.

Boulevard Park and the overwater walkways add *a lot* to the tax coffers and appeal of Bellingham; both in retail sales and residential sales. I am at Woods Coffee a lot. It is cheaper for me to spend $400/year at Woods Coffee than rent an office downtown and I see lots of evidence that other “mobile workers” have found that calculus as well. Students, Visitors, Canadians , and others keep the parking full from very early in morning. The trestle and the pier are *almost always* full of people. You would be surprised at how early the jogging crowd starts their runs.  A hot summer night will find the benches stuffed with visitors (and lovers) until the early morning.

The “overwater walkway” should connect downtown and the neighborhoods north of downtown to Fairhaven, creating one very beautiful walk, bike, run, jog. This should stimulate condo sales on the waterfront and residential real estate sales in town.  However, I don’t think such a result is compatible with an additional railroad siding to help support 18 - 19 coal trains each day. I look at those ‘green glass condos’ (“Park Place Condos”) poised above the road into the park. All but one seems empty. I may be wrong, but I think they have been taken “off the market”. One sold for $915K in 2010. Would you pay $915K today to see 18 - 19 coal trains a day run under your nose?

There is real conflict in the Port and City plans for the Waterfront. There is real conflict in BNSF/GPT use of the railroad and economic vitality of residential retail in Bellingham. This conflict should be addressed in favor of beauty, grace, habitat restoration, and preservation.  By no means should we cede “jobs shoveling coal to China” in place of a beautiful place to live.

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