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Trail plan for new Lake Whatcom park goes before County Council

One piece of a proposed new Whatcom County park is on Stewart Mountain, foreground, on the east side of Lake Whatcom. A County Council committee will hear a draft plan for what to do with 8,844 acres of land transferred from the state last year.
One piece of a proposed new Whatcom County park is on Stewart Mountain, foreground, on the east side of Lake Whatcom. A County Council committee will hear a draft plan for what to do with 8,844 acres of land transferred from the state last year. The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom County’s newest park would have 98 miles of trails split between both sides of Lake Whatcom under a proposal being heard by a County Council committee Tuesday, Feb. 23.

That was among the details found in the draft trail plan for what’s now being called Lookout Mountain Park and Lake Whatcom Park.

The names are working titles to delineate two separate parcels of land that are actually one park. It was created by the transfer of 8,844 acres of forest land around Lake Whatcom from the state to the county last year.

One parcel is on the slopes of Stewart Mountain on the east side of the lake, referred to as the Lake Whatcom Park side in the draft. The other is on Lookout Mountain on the west side.

The goal of the transfer was to balance non-motorized recreation — hiking, running, biking and horseback riding — and watershed protection for Lake Whatcom, which is the drinking water source for more than half the residents of Whatcom County, including Bellingham.

Also important is protecting wildlife habitat, including for the marbled murrelet, a rare and endangered seabird that has been documented in the area.

“A lot of various user groups were very engaged in the process and provided some very helpful comments in shaping the plan,” said Rod Lamb, design and development supervisor for county parks. “The result, this draft plan, is a good balance between conservation and recreation.”

98 Miles of trails proposed for new Lake Whatcom Park

10Miles of Whatcom County trails already exist in area

The park’s terrain is characterized by steep slopes, deep drainages and abundant streams, according to the draft. Elevation is 300 feet along the lake to nearly 3,000 feet along the ridges of Stewart and Lookout mountains. There are small patches of old-growth forest.

The proposal is expected to be finalized this year, perhaps in late spring.

Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department officials said it’s unknown how long it would take to build out the entire trail system.

“It’s difficult to estimate that because we don’t know what the available resources are to construct them at this point,” Lamb said.

The 98 miles of trails include an existing 10 miles of county parks trails.

There also are trails created by people, some of which could be incorporated into the new system. Lamb said more work is needed to determine how many miles of those trails would be included.

Details of possible trails, which would range from easy to difficult, include:

▪  On the west Lookout Mountain Park side, proposals call for a total of 54.4 miles of trails. A higher concentration of mountain bike trails would be developed on this side because of its proximity to Galbraith, and the existing mountain bike network there, as well as to residential development.

A trail link to Squires Lake Park to the south also is proposed, part of the goal of connecting to existing public trails, parks and communities.

This portion could provide regional connections to the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, Lake Whatcom Park trails, and Blanchard and Chuckanut mountains.

▪  On the east Lake Whatcom Park side, there would be 43.6 miles of trails. Parks officials said a high priority would be to link the Hertz Trail from where it now ends south to meet up with Blue Canyon Road.

For both parcels, the plan concentrates the highest level of trail development near existing trailhead parking and existing high-disturbance areas such as the Bonneville Power Administration electrical transmission corridor and the Wickersham Truck Trail road, both of which are on the Lake Whatcom Park side.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

Go to the meeting

The Whatcom County Council’s Natural Resources Committee will hear the draft Lookout Mountain and Lake Whatcom Park Recreational Trail Plan on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

The committee meets at 9:30 a.m. in Council Chambers, 311 Grand Ave. in Bellingham.

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