Group leads effort to move trail off wetlands in Fairhaven Park

A nonprofit recreation group is closing in on its goal of raising $30,000 to replace an unofficial, popular trail that goes through sensitive wetlands in Fairhaven Park.

Recreation Northwest, which organizes races that include the Bellingham Traverse and Quest Adventure, is leading the project as part of its new stewardship of Fairhaven and Cordata parks.

About $21,000 had been raised as of Tuesday, Nov. 25, for the trail work. The organization hopes to reach the campaign goal by the end of the year.

“The response from the community has been fantastic. This is our first fundraising campaign and our first trail project. The support that we’ve had has just been terrific,” said Todd Elsworth, executive director for Recreation Northwest.

Elsworth will talk about the trail project and his organization’s stewardship program, which is being done in partnership with Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, during an event Sunday, Nov. 30, that begins in the upper pavilion of Fairhaven Park, 107 Chuckanut Drive. Participants also will walk the the path of the new trail and learn why it’s needed.

“It’s just a muddy mess,” Elsworth said of the current route. “What’s happening is the trail is getting wider and wider as more use happens.”

The plan is to move the trail north — out of the wetlands and onto higher ground — linking Fairhaven Park to 18th Street off Fairhaven Parkway. It would replace the existing, unofficial route that wasn’t created to standard.

“That’s a user-created trail. Users go in the path of least resistance,” Parks Director James King said of the current route, which dries out during summer but is muddy this time of year.

Construction could begin in spring, once the rain stops.

The new route, which will be north of the existing one and over an old road, will be built by Gerry Wilbour of Northwest Trails Inc.

“We will be building a trail that meets current city specifications, so it will be a nice, flat graveled trail that will provide much better access for a lot of people,” Elsworth said.

As for the organization’s stewardship role, Elsworth said that grew out of a desire to care for and preserve the places where Recreation Northwest has an impact because of its races.

Its help is appreciated.

“It’s a wonderful contribution. We have an amazing parks system and trails system in Bellingham,” King said. “We don’t always have the resources to take care of it like we’d like to. Partnerships are essential with different groups and volunteers to help us with that. To have a group like this that’s willing to step up and take care of this trail is a great partnership.”

The trail work is part of a larger project for Recreation Northwest. That includes improving access from the new trail into what’s been called the Chuckanut Community Forest, which had been unofficially used as a park for a number of years before voters in southwest Bellingham decided to create a park district of the same name to essentially tax themselves to help protect its 82 acres from development.

The forest is adjacent to Fairhaven Park. It’s to be used for nature-oriented, recreational or educational purposes.

The city of Bellingham owns and manages Chuckanut Community Forest, its unofficial name, and still must develop a master plan for its use, which is still a few years in the future, King said.