County may spend $2.7 million for park land in Birch Bay, Maple Falls

The County Council will consider spending a little more than $2.7 million to buy land for parks in Birch Bay and Maple Falls.

The requests will go before the council Tuesday, Oct. 28.

If approved, the money for both land purchases will come from the Whatcom County conservation futures fund, which was created in 1996 when residents voted to tax themselves.

The biggest chunk is for up to $2.5 million, including closing costs, to buy what is known as the Vogt Property in Birch Bay for a regional park and community center. The 4.1 acres is at 7954 Birch Bay Drive. The private property was appraised at $2.4 million.

On March 11, the council responded to requests from the Birch Bay community and asked County Executive Jack Louws to look at buying property in Birch Bay for a park and community center.

“There’s a lot of interest. I think they’ve long wanted a community park right there on Birch Bay Drive,” said Michael McFarlane, director for the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department.

In May, the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to recommend that Louws buy the Vogt property. In June, Louws signed a purchase agreement with the property owner, GGB LLC.

The property’s centralized location would make the park a regional draw — important for a coastal community that relies on tourism and recreation along its shorelines — and serve Birch Bay residents for years to come, according to county officials.

That location also would fulfill the 2004 Birch Bay Community Plan, which recognized the need for park properties on the east side of Birch Bay Drive within walking distance of the shoreline to provide public parking and restrooms in a park-like setting, according to county officials.

Community supporters have said permanent restrooms and parking are needed to, in part, provide for the needs of the many visitors who come to Birch Bay during the summer, when the area’s population could double or triple during a busy weekend.

After Tuesday, the next step will be for the community to raise money to help develop the property, McFarlane said.

In Maple Falls, a group is raising money and working with the county to buy land for a much-desired community park within walking distance.

“We don’t have any parks near anything,” Maple Falls resident Nora Short said. “We need a park, somewhere where we can gather.”

Short helped start the Maple Falls Park Committee.

“They fully understand what the community was looking for,” McFarlane said.

The request going before the County Council is for $235,000, the appraised value of the land, to buy 4.2 acres from the Mount Baker School District. The site was the former home of a Maple Falls elementary school, 7849 Silver Lake Road, that was closed years ago and then later burned in May 2013 to help train firefighters.

Supporters said the park would serve Maple Falls residents as well as the nearby communities of Glacier and Kendall. They envision a playground, sports fields, places where people can grill, and a fitness trail on the perimeter of the park.

The park also would provide needed parking for the trailhead for the area’s segment of the Bay to Baker Trail.

Should the county buy the property, the Maple Falls Park Committee would raise money to develop and maintain the park.

“The excitement has been spreading and people are really looking forward to this park,” Short said.