BELLINGHAM - Almost 9,000 acres around Lake Whatcom will be converted into a county park for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.
The Whatcom County Council voted 5-2 late in the evening on Tuesday, March 12, to "reconvey" 8,844 acres around the lake from the state to the county. The state is managing the land for timber harvesting. The county will use the land to preserve the forest and provide low-impact recreation.
Council members Barbara Brenner and Bill Knutzen voted against the land transfer.
The vote was no surprise, as council members had mostly tipped their hands in previous meetings, interviews and other public statements.
The decision came after a three-hour public hearing. Most of the 82 who spoke were in favor of the reconveyance, saying it would create a historic recreational site and protect the city's drinking water supply.
Opponents, while outnumbered, were just as vocal, saying county officials had no idea how much the park would cost, and property taxes were sure to increase. The park was unnecessary, they said, as people can use the trails on the reconveyed properties today.
Many opponents asked the council to put the reconveyance to a public vote. The council considered the idea, but it was voted down 4 to 3, with only Kathy Kershner, Knutzen and Brenner in favor.
The next step is to take the newly adopted resolution to the state Board of Natural Resources for its approval. The board doesn't have the option of rejecting the reconveyance if all legal requirements are met. County officials have said there is no reason for it to be rejected.
Once the reconveyance is complete, the county Parks and Recreation Department will start planning for development of the park. About 55 miles of trails are proposed. Construction will happen as money becomes available, Parks Director Mike McFarlane has said.