Whatcom County Parks and Recreation (WCPR) recently approved the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Lake Whatcom Park Recreational Trail Plan. The plan proposes 99 miles of new trails. Of those 99 miles, 45 are within the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and 54 are within Lake Whatcom Park. Both of these sites are located near Lake Whatcom. The suggested trails will be available for hiking, biking and equestrian purposes. Some of the trails will accommodate all three types of non-motorized recreation, while others will accommodate only one or two of the three types.
In 2007, WCPR began to collaborate with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in order to transfer forest trust lands in the Lake Whatcom watershed to the county. This process is called reconveyance. Reconveyance allows the forest trust lands to be used for park purposes. In January 2014, the transfer became official and approximately 7,000 acres of land in the Lake Whatcom watershed were designated as new Whatcom County park lands.
In these park lands, Whatcom County hopes to increase the protection of the Lake Whatcom watershed and water quality. The project intends to create sustainable trail systems that will benefit forest and wildlife health. It also aims to minimize impacts on sensitive habitats and prevent landslides, soil erosion, and other similar environmental issues.
The process of developing a plan such as the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Lake Whatcom Park Recreational Trail Plan is very complicated.
“Development of the plan was completed in-house and was a years-long process that included staff, stakeholders, regulators, emergency services professionals and consultation with numerous parties,” explains Christ Thomsen, Parks Operations Manager at WCPR. “It is the work of these folks that now guide the implementation process.”
The implementation process is also very long. In Lake Whatcom Park, trail construction will begin in 2017, and in the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve, it will begin in 2018. It is difficult to know when construction will be complete. The areas to be constructed have been divided up, so there are four phases of construction for each location. For example, Phase I of construction in the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve focuses on expanding around the pre-existing Lake Louise Road trailhead. The phases will be completed as the funding is available.
“We currently have funding to construct up to eight miles of trail,” Thomsen says. “Construction of these trails is anticipated to be complete within the next few years.”
Funding for the project comes from Real Estate Excise Tax (REET II) funds. WCPR is also in the process of applying for a Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office NOVA grant, which would provide additional funds. The total cost of trail construction will likely be around $7.43 million. Right now, WCPR has an initial project budget of $443,000 to use to begin construction. The grant would provide an additional $200,000 to be used in the first phase of construction. Other sources of funding are donations and volunteer work.
Volunteer work is key in constructing and maintaining the trail system. In the plan, WCPR demonstrates an eagerness to work with recreationists and members of the community. WCPR considered public input when putting together their plan. Overall, the comments given by the public emphasized the importance of the trail system’s effect on the environment and a desire to be involved in constructing, using and maintaining the trails. For WCPR, the public’s excitement is a positive sign.
“We rely on recreationists for assistance in most aspects of trail development,” says Thomsen. He adds that if citizens are interested in helping out, they can contact Reid Parker, the Conservation and Parks Steward, by calling the main office at 360-778-5850.
The expansion will connect many more Whatcom County residents to the trail system. Additions in the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve will give people in the Glenhaven and Cain Lake areas access to the trail system. Those living in Sudden Valley will also have increased recreational opportunities, since the new trails will be near where they live. New trails in Lake Whatcom Park will connect to existing trails, making for a more diverse trail system. Recreationists will have more options in trail difficulty, length, and scenery. In both locations, accessibility will be supported by the improvement of trailheads, including additional parking lots, restrooms and trail system information kiosks.
The current plans could possibly be modified as more information comes in. WCPR hopes to keep consistent with its environmental goals. If changes must be made to accommodate those goals, they will do so. The process of constructing all of the new trails will take a long time, but will certainly be worth it. Whatcom County recreationists and environmentalists alike are excited about the benefits that the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve and Lake Whatcom Park Recreational Trail Plan will bring to their community.