Last hostel in Whatcom County closes its doors

Published on Tue, Dec 31, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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The Birch Bay Hostel, with its colorfully-painted rooms and revolving door of people from across the world, is now just a piece of Birch Bay history.

After more than 30 years of hosting wanderlust-filled travelers, the 40-bed dormitory-style hostel officially closed its doors on 
December 31, after the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department declined to renew their lease for the space at Bay Horizon Park.

“They reevaluate our lease every two years,” said hostel manager Ken Lord, who is also the president of the Birch Bay Lions Club. “They decided we were no longer a good fit for the county park area.”

Lord cited money problems and issues arising between hostelers and visitors to Camp Horizon Park as reasons for the termination. “We had trouble paying our bills sometimes. Last year [2012] was a really good year for us, but this year not so much. There’s always been an ebb and flow to the business, but the hostel is just not a place that’s easy for travelers to get to.” 

But since 1982, when Hosteling International originally began operating the hostel, visitors have found their way to the hostel which provided inexpensive, community-style lodging.

“We had a great thing going here for a long, long time,” Lord said. “We met the most interesting people from all over the world and all walks of life. People from Germany, Scotland, Spain, Australia – it was incredible who you’d meet.” 

The Birch Bay Lions Club has operated the hostel since 2003, with Lord acting as manager for the past four years. 

“I wished myself into this job,” he said. “I went traveling and stayed at a hostel and loved it. I said to myself, ‘I want to manage one of these places,’ and then six months later, this opportunity came up.”

Lord said he appreciated the sense of community a hostel offers to travelers.

The Lions Club learned their lease would be terminated in October, and on December 30, Lord hosted a community potlatch, inviting folks to come and say goodbye to the hostel and help clear furniture, books and other items from the premises. 

“It’s sad,” said Robert Shaw, who attended the potlatch. “It’s the first place I stayed when I moved up here from Georgia.” 

“It’s the end of an era,” Lord said. “We’re really grateful to the community for their support and for the thousands of volunteer hours they’ve contributed.”