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The Douglas Avenue Trail

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Daniel Kirkpatrick guest writes. He lives in the Happy Valley neighborhood and is one of several community leaders on the south side who are respected and supported by most residents.

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One gray October day, a few people gathered for a service project on a blackberry covered hillside. As the group organized their loppers, wheelbarrows, and shovels, a few more people showed up, then quite a few more. By the time the day was fully underway, over thirty people had arrived to contribute to a neighborhood goal: Building a trail through ten-foot tall brambles along the Douglas Street right of way linking 20th and 21st Streets.

That Saturday in October 1994 was dubbed “Make a Difference Day,” a day for citizens to step up and invest effort into the greater good. It was the second year of Make a Difference Day and a year after the publication of “The Spirit of Community,” a book advocating for a renewal of a sense of civic responsibility. If the number of volunteers in this trail project in Bellingham’s Happy Valley neighborhood was any indication, there was certainly movement toward increased community engagement.

During the day, the group that started at the bottom of the hill worked upward to reach a similar group working downhill. The sea of blackberry vines gradually yielded to their efforts and by the day’s end, a brand-new trail linked Happy Valley with the South Hill neighborhood. Several volunteers worked to plant donated, native conifers, knowing that until the trees shaded out the blackberries, pruning would be a constant challenge. Others distributed city-supplied gravel to form the walking surface of the trail. As a final touch, signs simply indicating “TRAIL” with an arrow were posted at both ends.

Having been one of the organizers of this event, I can attest that the volunteers that day were in positive, upbeat spirits. Most were familiar with other pleasant trails on street rights-of way in our town. If you’ve ever walked Pine Street to reach WWU, ascended the Taylor Street Stairs, or made your way from Elizabeth Park to Maritime Heritage Park, you know how much a trail adds to the quality of a neighborhood. This was Happy Valley’s chance to create a similar amenity, and that is what we did.

That same group of volunteers would be alarmed if they knew that now, 26 years later, the City of Bellingham is prepared to sell off this segment of the Douglas Street right of way, which would destroy the trail and the now-25-foot-tall conifers.

Exactly why the City is contemplating this action is unclear. Given that pedestrian access is an explicitly endorsed use for street rights-of-way, it seems curious that this trail would be in jeopardy. Knowing that natural areas and open space are specifically-named goals of the Happy Valley Neighborhood Plan, one wonders why those trees are being threatened. Since volunteerism is a widely known and celebrated quality of our town, it is hard to say why a citizen-built trail is at risk of being bulldozed so that a developer can build a larger building on his adjacent property.

Perhaps we can find the answer to these mysteries. But if there is to be any chance of saving this trail and the trees alongside it, the process of vacating this right-of-way for the benefit of a developer needs to be halted.

I encourage anyone who feels that obliterating this trail is unwise to write to the City Council and ask them to stop the street vacation process. This is best done by sending an email to ccmail@cob.org. But do it soon! Final action to seal the fate of the Douglas Street Trail may take place next Monday December 7th.

Comments by Readers

Alex McLean

Dec 03, 2020

Thank you Daniel!

The City of Bellingham is really desperately out of touch and seems to be perpetuating this mythology that they somehow are “required” to sell these unimproved public right-of-ways to developers.

That premise is flatly false.

The Happy Valley Neighborhood Association spent all summer long improving a similar derelict right-of-way, just a few blocks from this Douglas Avenue site, and it cost the City almost nothing to allow us volunteers to provide a permanent asset to this neighborhood. 

It completely blows my mind that nobody from Planning or Public Works or Parks—nobody at all—bothered to tell the neighborhood reps that this scheme was afoot.

Portland, obviously, gets it: We should be doing this way, way differently and not liquidating these routes to the lowest bidder!

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/66082

 

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Chris Webb

Dec 03, 2020

Thanks Daniel for your work 26 years ago! In addition to the email I sent to the council i also sent an email to our parks department and suggested we get all of the trails that are shown in the Trail Guide also be shown in City IQ so this sort of thing is less likley to happen again. Trail Guide: Bellingham Trail Guide (cob.org) City IQ: CityIQ Online Map Viewer - City of Bellingham (cob.org) 

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Tip Johnson

Dec 04, 2020

It’s worth pointing out that Daniel’s map underscores the neighborhood’s long history of interest in utilizing our rights for public ways in pedestrian design.  It does seem stupidly simple.  Almost impossible to ignore.  Unless you really work at it.

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