After a long absence, a swim dock and lifeguards will return to Lake Whatcom park

Watch crews install a new dock at Bloedel Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom

Crews install new dock floats Friday, May 18, 2018, at Bloedel Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom. The project is part of a $350,000 overhaul by Bellingham Paks and Recreation.
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Crews install new dock floats Friday, May 18, 2018, at Bloedel Donovan Park on Lake Whatcom. The project is part of a $350,000 overhaul by Bellingham Paks and Recreation.

More than a decade after they were taken out, lifeguards and a swim dock will return to Bloedel Donovan Park — though not in time for this summer.

The City of Bellingham last paid for lifeguards to be at the park — where hundreds gather on hot summer days to picnic and swim in the lake — in 2004, and they were removed because of budget cuts. That was at about the same time the old swimming dock was taken out.

The new swim dock would be in the same area as the old one.

The Bellingham Bay Rotary Club is leading the effort, which involves raising the $500,000 needed to rebuild what has been described as the beloved “H” dock on the shores of Lake Whatcom.

Safety and water access for all children regardless of family income were other reasons why the project was needed, chiropractor Eddie Hansen, a member of the Rotary Club, told The Bellingham Herald for an earlier article.

The club has raised about $400,000 so far, and Hansen was confident about coming up with the remainder.

What sparked the idea for this project was seeing kids lining up and jumping from the Electric Avenue bridge into Lake Whatcom below, while motorists were driving by Bloedel Donovan Park, Hansen said.

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A rendering of the proposed dock in Lake Whatcom for swimmers at Bloedel Donovan Park in Bellingham. City of Bellingham Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Rotary members had hoped to have the dock built in time for this summer, but the process has taken longer than expected.

“The wheels of government are incredibly slow,” Hansen said.

The project moved forward another step when the Bellingham City Council voted 6-1 on Monday, June 3, to accept the Rotary’s gift of the dock.

“Am I tickled pink? Yes. I am super, super happy,” Hansen said to The Bellingham Herald. “We’re really excited that we’re starting the last chapter. The hard, heavy lifting, I feel at this point in time, is done.”

The council also agreed to pay for lifeguards at Bloedel Donovan Park, during the busy, warm summer months.

The lifeguards won’t be at the park until summer 2020, and the dock will be there as well.

Paying for lifeguards will cost the city at least $50,000 annually and up to $90,000, depending on whether the dock has two slides as proposed by the club.

There also will be start-up costs of up to $80,000, including putting showers back in, according to Leslie Bryson, director of the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.

Mike Kapuscinski, aquatics director for the Treasure Valley Family YMCA, gives specific tips for keeping children safe around swimming pools and water — and addresses myths about drowning.

Rotary also will raise money for the start-up costs.

City Council member Michael Lilliquist voted no.

He didn’t object to the ideas behind the project but was concerned that the city was “continuing to treat our drinking water source like it’s not a drinking water source.”

“We should be gradually moving away from recreating on it,” Lilliquist said of Lake Whatcom.

Council member Pinky Vargas supported the dock and the city paying for the lifeguards, saying a busy Bloedel Donovan is packed with families and people of varying ages and races, and it offered a place to play for those who are low income as well.

“They don’t need to buy a bike or a boat. They can go there for free,” Vargas said.

Hansen has said there’s no place in Whatcom County where children can swim for free and have lifeguards watching over them.

The Bellingham Bay Rotary Club will apply for permits in the coming weeks, with the intent of putting in the dock this fall, Hansen said.

Then there will once again be a safe swimming area that people of all incomes can take their children to, he said.

How to help

To learn more about the project to rebuild the “H” dock or to donate, go online to docksforkids.org.

Proceeds from Bellingham Bay Rotary’s Brewers by the Bay on Saturday, June 8, will go toward the dock. The event starts at 6 p.m. at Depot Market Square, 1100 Railraod Ave., in Bellingham.

Tickets are $25 per person in advance and $30 at the door. Find them online at eventbrite.com.

Tickets will get you entry to the event, beer tastings, a commemorative tasting glass and live music.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.