County OKs $2.7 million for parkland in Birch Bay, Maple Falls

Birch Bay and Maple Falls will each get a new park now that the County Council decided to spend about $2.7 million for land in both communities for recreation.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday, Oct. 28, to take money from the Whatcom County conservation futures fund for the land purchase. Residents voted to tax themselves in 1996 to create the fund.

Both projects are being described as a collaboration between the county, which would own the land, and the communities, which would raise money to help with development and also play a part in maintenance.

The largest share of the request was for up to $2.5 million, including closing costs, to buy what is known as the Vogt Property from owner GGB LLC in Birch Bay for a regional park and community center. The 4.1 acres are at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, along the shoreline of Birch Bay. The private property was appraised at $2.4 million.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Whatcom County Councilman Pete Kremen said of the project during the council’s Finance and Administrative Services Committee meeting Tuesday.

The Birch Bay 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 a county memo.

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.

“We’ve never had so many people wanting something so much. It’s going to be a community effort,” Jeff Carrington, chairman for the Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District, said to the council committee on Tuesday.

The Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District has pledged money to help develop the park, according to Carrington.

The other funding approved by the council Tuesday was 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 burned in May 2013 to help train firefighters.

Supporters have 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.