My first visit to Tennant Lake Park held a few surprises for me. Nestled between the Nooksack River and I-5, it’s just south of downtown Ferndale but it feels worlds away. It’s still one of my favorite little adventures in this area, and it all starts by turning from Main Street onto Hovander Road, then taking Nielsen Road south.village books

Signs lead to a small parking lot among open fields dotted with trees, and a large building housing an Interpretive Center. Its exhibits offer a tour through the natural history of the area. Along with photographs, maps and other illustrations, you’ll find stuffed and mounted examples of local wildlife and a couple of rooms full of hands-on activities meant for kids (but enjoyed by all ages). The center’s hours change with the seasons, so it’s best to call them at 360-384-3064 if you’d like to make sure the on-site naturalist is on duty.

The amount of variety is as amazing as the colors on display. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle.

Passing under an archway at the edge of the parking lot, you’ll find yourself on paved pathways that curve their way through a series of raised garden planters. There are hundreds of varieties of plants on display that each produce a different aroma and give this part of the park its name: the Fragrance Garden. Every breeze that passes brings a different mix of scents – some exotic and some familiar – from the trees, flowers, shrubs and bushes that surround you.

Standing a couple feet tall, the planters are designed to bring the display to you. Rather than just standing above the garden and looking down at it, the herbs and spices are brought up close so you can interact with them. The display is maintained as naturally as possible, with minimal use of mild chemicals, so you can feel safe leaning in to let the lime thyme tickle your nose, or running your fingers through the chocolate mint to experience its textures. Small signs identify each attraction, so you know you’ve just enjoyed a pelargonium grossulariodes – or coconut-scented geranium.

Just past the fragrance garden stands the Viewing Tower. At 50 feet tall, the staircase inside is an easy climb and the platform at the top is high enough to give a panoramic view of the area. Just to the east is Tennant Lake, with Mount Baker rising in the distance behind it. To the southwest is Hovander Park, with its mix of fields, livestock meadows and farm buildings. All around and in between are the fields of the surrounding farmland. And if you visit at just the right time of year, giant rolled bales of hay add a romantic pastoral touch to the scenery.

Prepare to lose yourself in your surroundings as the boardwalk winds its way through the wetlands. Photo credit: Steven Arbuckle.

Leading past the viewing tower and away from the fragrance garden is a quaint, unassuming little trail, often traveled by rabbits, birds and more. After crossing a wooden bridge, it turns and enters a stand of trees, where the magic really begins. The Wetlands feature a mile-long wooden boardwalk just a few feet wide that winds its way through the grasses, trees and foliage that press close in on either side.

Each time I have visited, walking just above the wetlands, it’s easy to forget where I am. There’s nothing here that resembles Ferndale or Bellingham, nothing to remind you of the interstate or the forests that make up so much of our surroundings. Depending on the time of year, the water level may be lower – leaving the water-loving plants to rise and sway in the air – or higher, rising to the underside of the boardwalk and providing gorgeous moving reflections of the surrounding plants and the ribbon of sky overhead. Bugs skitter over the water’s surface, birds swoop along the path and flit away again and smaller critters rustle in the fauna as you pass by.

About halfway around, the boardwalk emerges from the foliage and you’re standing on a platform just above the edge of Tennant Lake. At some times of the year, the lake is kept clear by the flow of water from the mountains. At other times, the relative stillness allows it to be covered over by flowering greenery. Either way, stepping out of the narrow path and into the lakeside vista is impressive. And then it’s back into the shade of the wetlands for the rest of the trip back to the start of the trail. There’s a second path, with signs marking it as wheelchair accessible, that crosses a footbridge and follows a shorter trail to another platform extending out over the lake, affording a similar view.

At a leisurely pace, leaving time for taking pictures and other distractions, this walk takes about half an hour and attracts folks of all ages – though I would advise keeping the young ones close by, since too much curiosity could turn your leisurely stroll wet and muddy. The park is open until 8:00 p.m., and the wetlands trail is closed during waterfowl hunting season, which lasts from early October until late January.

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