Opening of Squalicum Creek Park fields, trail delayed to allow grass to grow

It took virtually no time after the city reopened part of Squalicum Creek Park in mid-January for people from Bellingham and neighboring cities to flock to the new attraction.

But not all of the park is open to the public yet, partly due to trouble growing healthy grass on roughly three-quarters of the site at 1001 Squalicum Way.

Parks and Recreation employees were initially confident three large fields and a trail through the park could open as early as June, but it looks like that opening could be delayed until later in the summer, said Bellingham parks’ Jonathan Schilk, who has helped design the park.

“Our grass isn’t coming in that well,” he said. “Squalicum Creek Park was a gravel pit, and that’s the kind of soil we have to deal with.”

Signs and some fencing dissuade people from walking on the new grass, Schilk said, but not everyone is paying attention to the barriers.

While the parks department staff is strategizing how to help the grass grow better after a drier-than-expected winter, visitors are reminded to please stay off the grass so there’s no further damage.

The Birchwood Neighborhood park’s newfound popularity is partly due to an overhaul it underwent throughout 2014: Crews installed a picnic shelter, a lighted basketball court, a fenced dog off-leash area, new parking stalls, a trail, and new playground equipment, including a very popular zip line.

“If you don’t look at the grass too closely, it’s an amazing transformation ... We already have a broken spring on the zip line,” Schilk said. “It’s still functioning but ... it’s so hugely popular that it’s already worn out.”

Lynden resident Sidney Terwisscha took her son, Kowen Terwisscha, 8, to the park Saturday, May 9, to ride on the zip line. She said the playground offers more for older kids to do.

“(The park) is amazing,” she said. “ It’s one of the best ones probably in Whatcom County.”

Volunteers have helped plant hundreds of plants near the southwestern corner of the park, and, in general, the park has a more open feel after crews buried power lines that used to hang on poles above the roughly 34-acre site, Schilk said.

Schilk said he wanted the community to understand that “recycling a landscape is a really huge, complicated job.”

“It would be really great if (park users) would remember that Squalicum Creek Park is a work in progress,” he said. “When they see something that looks a little bit rough, we’re working on it.”

Bellingham Herald photographer Evan Abell contributed to this article.