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Survey: Public wants more access to waterfront and beaches

Survey asked what more the Port of Bellingham should offer at its parks and open spaces

An aerial view of Kayakers playing water polo in Marine Park in Fairhaven with trees and the city of Bellingham in the background.
Kayakers play water polo in April 2023 off Marine Park in Fairhaven. The park is one of the Port of Bellingham's most popular destinations (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ralph Schwartz Local Government Reporter

A public survey completed last month told Port of Bellingham leaders something they already knew: People want more access to waterfront and beaches.

“Beach access” and “waterfront access” were the top two responses to a question about what more the Port should offer at its parks and open spaces, according to preliminary survey results provided to Cascadia Daily News. 

Port commissioners are scheduled to receive a report on the survey at their Nov. 7 meeting.

Walking trails, biking trails and green spaces rounded out the top five in the survey, according to results provided by Port Public Affairs Administrator Mike Hogan.

Responses to a range of questions about public spaces, and the Bellingham and Blaine marinas, will inform an update of the Port’s 2018 Recreation, Conservation and Public Access Plan

The Port has heard the public call for more waterfront access since well before this plan was written, dating back at least to the early stages of planning for the Port-owned Bellingham waterfront district. Current waterfront redevelopment plans include 33 acres of parks and trails, and six acres of restored beach.

Much of the waterfront is in private development, and Waypoint Park with its iconic Acid Ball is managed by the City of Bellingham, not the Port. The only waterfront space named in the survey was the bicycle pump track, but it didn’t make the list of top three Port destinations, according to preliminary survey results. Those were Zuanich Point Park, Fairhaven’s Marine Park and Squalicum Harbor Marina.

Community members also ranked what they felt was important when visiting an open space or park. The top five responses were restrooms, multi-use paths, beach access, parking and sitting benches.

photo The Fisherman’s Memorial, left, stands at Zuanich Point Park while boats moor at Squalicum Harbor in the background. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)  


For boaters at the Port’s two marinas, top needs were restrooms, waterfront access, green spaces, restaurants and “ample long-term parking.”

Overall, the Port scored well in the survey for its management of public spaces. Hogan said 91.4% of respondents were “satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with the agency’s facilities. The agency received 818 responses to its survey, conducted over five weeks in July and August — 98% of them from Whatcom County residents.

“The high response rate speaks to the public’s interest in Port open spaces,” Hogan said.

The Port owns or manages 1,600 acres of land and 300 acres of tidelands in Bellingham, Blaine, Sumas and elsewhere in Whatcom County, according to its website

Notable properties include Bellingham International Airport, Blaine and Squalicum harbors, the waterfront district, and Marine Park, and other waterfront properties on Fairhaven’s west end.

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