Secret Treasure: Sehome Hill Arboretum beckons fans of the outdoors


A forested park covering 180 acres and rising more than 600 feet high in Bellingham might seem an odd candidate for a secret treasure.

Sure, Sehome Hill Arboretum has its fans who hike its six miles of trails and climb its viewing tower. Still, for many people, the arboretum provides a pleasing green backdrop in the south half of the city, but not a place they visit much.

To spread the word, Western Washington University holds an annual "It's Your Arboretum" day with nature tours and other activities.

"Our hope is that a greater awareness of arboretum stewardship will help foster a more active community involvement in caring for this unique resource," David Engebretson, a geology professor, said of this year's May 18 event.

The hill was logged from the late 1880s into the early 1900s. Faced the prospect of renewed logging in the 1960s, WWU trustees approved creating an arboretum out of what was then Sehome Hill Park. Acreage for the arboretum was enlarged over time, and a board with campus, city, student and at-large members was created to oversee the preserve.

The tower at the top of the hill has traditionally offered views of the San Juan Islands and the Cascade Mountains. To improve the view, city workers cleared some fast-growing trees early this year and plan to remove and trim others next winter to open up more view corridors.

Still, a trip to the arboretum is worth the drive, walk or bike. Don't forget to stroll through the tunnel that workers chiseled by hand through a sandstone ridge in 1923. The tunnel allowed motorists to reach the top via Huntoon Road, but that stretch is now closed to vehicles.

Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or

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