In the next four years, Bellingham seeks to connect parks and open spaces, and expand trails around the city.
Land acquisition, the development and restoration of public space, and the maintenance of greenways are the focus of the 2022-2026 Greenways Strategic Plan.
The plan, passed by City Council earlier this month in anticipation of the renewal of the Greenways levy by voters next November, also includes a set of five “Greenway corridors” the program intends to prioritize in coming years. These include developing trails connecting Lake Padden and Whatcom Falls Park and improving infrastructure in Arroyo Park, Woodstock Farm and the Interurban Trail.
The program also hopes to connect Lake Whatcom to the waterfront via trails along Whatcom Creek, and to construct several new waterfront trails.
In north Bellingham, which has seen rapid residential development in recent years, the program hopes to connect Squalicum to Cornwall Park, to continue acquiring land for the Bay to Baker trail, and to develop trail corridors to connect parks and open spaces in Cordata and its surroundings.
The developments are especially important to “serve the greater number of people who are living on the north end,” said Neil Schaner, chair of the Greenways Advisory Committee.
An overview of mapped priority areas around the city of Bellingham. (Map courtesy of Greenways Strategic Plan)
Property acquisition will be key to expanding trails and connecting existing open spaces, but it will require landowners’ help.
“It comes down to being opportunistic in terms of land acquisition [to see] what comes up for sale, or who might be willing to donate land or work with us to get an easement on their property,” Schaner said.
The plan also emphasizes the need to improve the accessibility of the city’s parks, trails and green spaces. Public spaces in Bellingham “could stand to be a little more equitable, and we emphasize that in our strategic plan,” Schaner said.
The plan states that “priority consideration should be given to neighborhoods with a disproportionate number of low-income households in ensuring access to greenways.” It also recommends accessibility improvements to parks, and collecting usage data to measure equity.
“I appreciate how there’s a theme of equity woven throughout,” council member Michael Lilliquist said at a Dec. 12 hearing.
The substance of the plan “did not change drastically” from the previous one because the program follows guidelines set by the last levy, passed in 2016, Schaner said.
“We’re more just clarifying the priorities we have and the projects we’re looking to complete and making the document more accessible,” Schaner said.
Schaner expects the 2023 levy to fund the Greenways program for the next decade, three years longer than the 2016 levy. Although the size of the levy remains unclear, he said its cost will likely be similar to the 2016 one, which collected $6 million this year.
Schaner said he is optimistic that the 2023 levy will pass. The coming levy will be the fifth in Bellingham’s history, with prior levies passed in 1990, 1997, 2006 and 2016.
“Bellingham loves their parks and their open spaces, and we’re very fortunate to have them,” he said.