Last hostel in Whatcom County to close at the end of 2013

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 26, 2013 

BIRCH BAY - The only hostel in Whatcom County will close at the end of December after the Birch Bay Lions Club lost its lease for the space at Bay Horizon Park.

The Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department declined to renew the agreement for the 40-bed Birch Bay Hostel & Guesthouse upon the end of the two-year lease, according to parks Director Michael McFarlane.

McFarlane said there were issues of compatibility with other programs at the park, and the hostel struggled to pay its bills.

"This is not a direction we're looking to go with the park," McFarlane said.

"We just think there's probably a better model on that site," he added. "We don't have one but, certainly, time was coming due for renewal of the contract and it just made sense."

Birch Bay Lions Club has operated the hostel since 2003, although it's been at the park - the former Blaine Air Force Station - since 1982, when another organization opened the hostel.

The hostel also raised money for the Lions hearing and eyecare programs as well as its Camp Horizon, which serves teens and adults with disabilities, according to Ken Lord, who has managed the hostel for the past four years.

He agreed with McFarlane's description of the hostel's problems.

"It's been a struggle this year. Last year we did much better. This year was kind of hard. It comes and goes," Lord said of financial challenges.

He acknowledged there were issues with the hostel's compatibility with other programs in the park.

Camp Horizon, which is operated by the regional Lions clubs, leases buildings on the same property, and so does Northwest Park and Recreation District 2 for its community recreation programs.

The hostel sits in the middle of it all.

McFarlane called the combination an "odd mix."

Lord said there were some conflicts with people at the hostel not getting along with people at the camp, adding that they couldn't watch people 24-7.

Still, Lord said hostel backers were in it for the "long haul" and had planned to get the hostel more media attention in the coming year.

"We really enjoyed being of service to the community," said Lord, who also is president of the Birch Bay Lions Club.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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