40th birthday party planned for Lake Padden Park

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 27, 2012 

Thousands of people know that Lake Padden Park is a great place to visit, whether they're spending time on the lake itself, walking or jogging the 2.6-mile path around the lake, playing softball, shooting a round of golf, walking their dog, or splashing in the lake to celebrate New Year's Day.

And those are just a few of the park's attractions.

But how many people know the park is marking a major anniversary, and that there are troubling signs of environmental problems at the lake?

A volunteer community group, People for Lake Padden, came up with the idea of a 40th anniversary party, in part to celebrate the park's creation, in part to spread the word that the park needs some TLC to remain healthy for future generations.

"If people have a personal attachment to this lake, the more it will be protected," said Betsy Gross, director of People for Lake Padden.

The group is cooperating with the city of Bellingham to organize the event Saturday, Sept. 8.

The lake at 4882 Samish Way was named for Michael Padden, a coal mine supervisor and a Happy Valley homesteader. Padden's heirs donated water rights from the lake to the city after Padden was killed in 1880 when a neighbor shot him during a property dispute.

The lake supplied water to south Bellingham from 1900 until 1968, when Lake Whatcom became the main water source for the city. The 160-acre lake proved a tempting site for residential developers, but Bellingham voters in 1968 approved a parks bond that included money to create a Lake Padden park and adjacent city golf course.

The golf course, initially nine holes, was dedicated in July 1971. The park was dedicated a year and a month later, on Aug. 30, 1972.

Despite the many years of busy use of the park, little data was collected to measure how the lake's water quality was holding up.

Gross, a retired psychologist, moved to Bellingham from San Diego nine years ago. As she walked at Lake Padden with friends, she began to notice algal blooms near the shoreline on occasion. A self-described amateur naturalist, she began learning about the lake and started People for Lake Padden in April 2011.

Through donations and volunteer help, studies have been done of land use in the lake's watershed, water quality and fecal coliform. A follow-up study of algae in the lake is under way.

Fecal coliform, bacteria that indicates pollution from human or animal droppings, has been found above safe limits in the lake near the ball fields at the southeast end.

Of greater concern, Gross said, is the increasing presence of algae in the lake, a sign that too much phosphorus is entering the water from runoff. As algae dies, the decaying plants deplete oxygen in the water, which is harmful to fish.

"There is more algae in the lake than there should be," she said. "It's at the highest limit of the acceptable."

COMING UP

What: 40th anniversary celebration for Lake Padden Park.

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8.

Activities: Mountain bike ride and a kids' run, both at 11:15 a.m.; bird-watching hike at 11:45 a.m.; lake swim at noon; kids' mountain bike ride at 12:15 p.m., trail run at 12:45, native plant hike at 1:15; guest speakers at 2:05; and happy birthday cake and song at 2:30.

All-day events include information booths, cyclocross demonstrations, kayak demonstrations and rides on three-wheeled, two-seat bikes.

Online: To learn about People for Lake Padden, see p4lp.org. The "Did You Notice Lake Padden?" website is dynlp.net.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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