In Bellingham, two public entities manage most of the parks, trails, and transit centers: the city government and the Port of Bellingham. The City of Bellingham’s One Percent for the Arts code has ensured the funding of public art all around the city. Although it governs a narrower area, the Port has collaborated with artists to install sculptures, murals, and experimental works along the waterways.
The Port of Bellingham operates Bellingham International Airport and port facilities and marinas along Bellingham Bay, plus port facilities in surrounding towns. With artists’ help, the waterfront continues to develop from its industrial roots into a beautiful destination.
The Port of Bellingham oversees Squalicum Harbor, a popular site for kite flying, private boating, and resort stays at Bellwether on the Bay. Two historic Port officials, commissioner Pete Zuanich and manager Tom Glenn, inspired the names of local features. Between Zuanich Point Park, Tom Glenn Common, and Squalicum Promenade, the area features much of the Port’s public art.
Zuanich Point Park is home to one of Bellingham’s most famous landmarks: a memorial to the city’s fishermen lost at sea. “Safe Return,” the 16-foot, 38,000-pound bronze statue, reads: “In memory of fishers who have gone to sea…in pursuit of their livelihood…never to return.” The red granite base lists the fishers’ names alongside bas relief panels illustrating maritime scenes.
Dr. Eugene Fairbanks created the “Safe Return” monument, which was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 31, 1999. However, the Puget Sound Gillnetters Women’s Auxiliary contributed an earlier wooden plaque memorializing fishermen in 1974. On the park’s renaming in 1995, a large historic anchor joined this plaque. The Port website states, “According to local legend, the anchor got caught in a local fisherman’s nets and, due its weight, substantially damaged both his boat and his fishing equipment,.” It reportedly dates to English vessels from the 1800s.
Squalicum Promenade, the loop around the harbor and Bellwether, displays the Double Thunderbird by master carver Jewell James of Lummi Nation House of Tears Carvers (featured photo). This 2022 story pole depicts three traditional stories in an archway: Salmon and Raven, Bear and Steelhead, and Thunderbird. Plaques underneath the pole explain each of these stories.
Bellingham’s Waterfront District has been a continuous Port and City project since the historic Georgia-Pacific paper mill closed in 2001. The most recent development is Waypoint Park, dedicated in 2017 on the old mill site. The City of Bellingham has overseen the repurposing of mill equipment such as the “Acid Ball,” which is now an illuminated art installation. The Port has worked with Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition to install the pump track and with Paper Whale to enhance the area with art.
A mural called “Honoring the Salish Sea” adorns the waterfront’s historic Boardmill Building, a 1946 structure that survives the old paper mill. Paper Whale artists Jason LaClair, Eagle Borsey, Raven Borsey, and Gretchen Leggitt created the mural with Port approval in 2022. Drawing on traditional Coast Salish art, the mural honors the Lummi, Nooksack, Samish, and Semiahmoo peoples. Additionally, it serves to excite the public for the building’s pending redevelopment under the Port.
The Portal Container Village at Waypoint Park repurposes shipping containers with artistic flair. Seasonal businesses such as a bike rental, mini golf course, brewery, eatery, and ice cream stand operate out of shipping containers on the waterfront. In 2021, local artist Sarah Finger created the mural that welcomes visitors through the threshold of community spirit.
Adjacent to these developments, a community of artists also continually paints new murals on the wall dividing Waypoint Park’s playground area and parking lot.
Beyond Bellingham’s Waterfront
The Port of Bellingham also displays public art at other facilities and parks outside the marinas.
At Bellingham International Airport, the story pole “It’s Mine” depicts two Coast Salish fishermen and a serpent pursuing salmon from opposite sides. Lummi artist Felix Solomon created the pole in 2016, using the serpent to symbolize environmental threats to salmon such as overfishing, overfertilization, and deforestation. Solomon has received national recognition from the National Museum of the Native American Indian in Washington, DC.
Outside of Bellingham, the Port operates Blaine Public Fishing Pier at Blaine Harbor. This area features Blaine Seafarers’ Memorial, the town’s own tribute to fishermen lost at sea. Just adjacent is Blaine Marine Park, which features depictions of orca whales, salmon, and a totem pole.
Just outside Bellingham Cruise Terminal, a series of interpretive signs encircle a sculpture of a seagull. These signs detail the history of the area’s earliest inhabitants, Bellingham Bay, Fairhaven, Pacific American Fisheries, Northwest Shipbuilding Company, Commercial Point Shipyard, and the Schooner Zodiac. Bellingham Cruise Terminal itself is a popular destination for concerts, weddings, and other gatherings.
The Port’s website lists more parks and trails where visitors can further discover educational and artistic gems in and around Bellingham.