Chuckanut Community Forest
Plan the future of the Hundred Acre Wood
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
A parks district born in turmoil begins a new chapter in planned maturity.
The City of Bellingham Parks Department seeks public input for the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District Master Plan. The city is building a steering committee of community members to help organize these suggestions next year.
The community park, evocatively known as the Hundred Acre Wood, is located in south Bellingham between Fairhaven Park, the Interurban Trail, and Arroyo Park. Together, the assemblage creates significant trail connectivity and opportunities for recreation in the foothills of the Chuckanut mountains.
The Chuckanut Community Forest, with access from Fairhaven Park, is a beloved natural forested area. The property—originally slated for development—was purchased in 2011 with Greenways levy funds and park impact fees for $8.23 million, funding that has been partially repaid by nearby residents through an approved park district levy.
“This is the first stage of a planning process that will include a variety of public engagement opportunities,” Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department Director Nicole Oliver said. The adoption of a final plan will include review by the city’s Parks Board and City Council members.
At the time of purchase, the city and the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District established a conservation easement to protect the property from development and described the need for a master plan prior to the dissolution of the park district, Oliver explained.
The district was created from public outcry to save the urban forest from development. The Greenways funds used to help purchase the property have been partially repaid through the creation of a junior taxing district approved by voters.
Authorized by the state legislature, a Metropolitan Park District creates a structure for the management, control, improvement, maintenance and acquisition of parks and recreational facilities. Importantly, this tool helps build a funding mechanism for parks. The levy, which passed in 2013, also created a governing board of five elected members who live within the junior taxing district. As the 10-year levy sunsets, the board will pass governing responsibility for the forest to Bellingham City Council and the Parks department.
The proposed master plan project steering committee—composed of Chuckanut Community Forest Park District board members, community members, recreational users and city staff—will use public comments to plan the future of the urban forest.
Prior to its acquisition as an urban forest, the city considered a proposal to partially re-zone the property that would have left 25 acres for multifamily housing. At the current allowable density, more than 300 units could have built on that acreage. The proposed re-zone was withdrawn, and the levy has nearly paid down the Greenways Endowment fund used for the purchase.
“Given the sensitive nature of the extensive wetlands on the property, a sale for development would compromise the ecological integrity of the most sensitive areas as there will be few appropriate places for trails and other recreational activities that do not affect the wetlands,” CCFD board members warned in a press release.
“Now that the $3.23 million is nearly paid back to the city’s Greenways Fund by park district residents, the community needs to create a master plan so that the district may dissolve with a dynamic, long-lasting plan in place to guide the future of the forest,” Oliver explained.
“Our community’s commitment to acquiring this property ten years ago made this forest a jewel of the Bellingham park and open space system,” Mayor Seth Fleetwood said. “We look forward to hearing from community members and building a master plan that will guide and protect this special area long into the future.”
The master planning process will include obtaining public input on current and future use preferences and will establish a project boundary and name for the forest. Master plans will highlight key priorities of protection, education, restoration and access, and will provide guidance to the city about potential future uses of the urban forest.
Anyone wanting to have their voice heard on the future of the Chuckanut Community Forest is asked to take a moment to fill out the survey at http://www.engagebellingham.org. The survey will be open through the middle of September. The planning effort is expected to continue through the end of 2021 and will include an open house followed by a formal legislative review in early 2022.