Chuckanut Community Forest
(Hundred Acre Wood)
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"A park is born, a really big park. And a chapter is closed on one of the most boisterous land-use debates in the history of Bellingham."
Bellingham City Council this week unanimously--and with evident relief bordering on giddy--approved the sale of the conservation easement of roughly 82 acres of forested wetlands.......
Tim Johnson, Cascadia Weekly, December 18, 2013
Economic upswings and downturns have played a significant role in the development of Fairhaven over the years. The boom of the 1890’s was followed by the recession and bank failures of 1893, halting further building projects in its central core. The final blow came when the Great Northern Railroad chose Seattle as its western terminus instead of the town of Fairhaven.
The salmon canning industry brought new hope to the economic woes of Fairhaven in the late 1890’s with Pacific American Fisheries playing a large role in the revitalization of its fortunes. The closing of this facility in 1966 heralded a new downturn for Bellingham’s southside community.
Buildings stood vacant and decaying with most of the older wooden structures that had been erected during the boom years long since demolished or burned down.
Then came the Hippie generation of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. (add link). This era may well have helped define the current character of the Fairhaven Historic District which was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. When the hippies were forced out or joined the "establishment”, new money poured into the refurbishment of many of its remaining historic buildings.
With renewed interest in Fairhaven, land developers began to plan new residential properties and focused on the forested land just to the south of Fairhaven Park. This ignited one of the most contentious battles between environmental and recreational supporters against the economic interests of area developers.
The property in question, nearly 100 acres, had seen no significant development throughout its history. There was some gravel extraction activity within the acreage, a few residential buildings around the periphery, several transient camps dotted throughout, but essentially the property was a wildlife habitat of forest and wetlands.
Beginning in 1996, developers proposed multiple plans. The first, Madrona Development Corporation of Seattle, planned 1,464 units in what they called the Chuckanut Ridge Planned Development.
Bellingham residents, especially those on the southside, united in protest, stalling development, and urged the city to acquire the property for parkland. Public funding did not materialize, and the property was acquired in 2004 by another developer, Greenbriar Northwest Associates with financial backing from Horizon Bank. Their proposal was for 739 housing units called the Fairhaven Highlands.
Once again in the history of Fairhaven, economic forces emerged to impact a major southside addition. Following the 2007 Recession, Horizon Bank failed in 2010, and the property was in foreclosure as the bank’s assets were acquired by Washington Federal Bank.
Renewed negotiations ensued with the city of Bellingham, culminating in the city’s acquisition of 82 acres of this property for $8.2 million. The purchase price was financed through Greenways Endowment funds, park impact fees, and the formation of a taxing district in the city’s southern precincts to repay the endowment fund.
After a general clean-up by parks employees and volunteers, there has been minimal development of this forested land. Recreation Northwest, a Bellingham non profit organization, has led a spirited program of trail maintenance and improvement within the park, but most likely little else will change the basic character of this property in the immediate future. The main goal of local conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts had been to keep the property out of the hands of real estate developers. Our community is the richer for their efforts.