A 24-acre park along California Creek that will provide a kayak launch, trail access and habitat conservation for salmon and migratory shorebirds is becoming closer to a reality.
Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2 (BBBPRD2) purchased 12 acres, the second of two land transfers, from Whatcom Land Trust (WLT) for the California Creek Estuary Park on February 24. The day-use park, situated off Drayton Harbor Road, will include a kayak launch, 3/4-mile trail, picnic shelter, environmental education stations, restroom and 50-car parking lot.
WLT, a Bellingham-based conservation nonprofit, began looking at land with high ecological value around California Creek nearly a decade ago. This started what both groups described as a beneficial partnership: WLT, which could move more nimbly as a nonprofit, purchased land for BBBPRD2 to operate as a park while the district applied for state grants from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to purchase the land.
“We were able to essentially be a bridge owner for the park district so they didn’t lose out on the opportunity to get this property because of timing issues,” WLT conservation director Alex Jeffers said.
WLT purchased the first half of the California Creek park in 2017, and transferred the land to BBBPRD2 in 2020. In total, WLT has purchased 100 acres along the estuary that extends to Bridge Way, though not all of it will go to the parks and recreation district.
The park area is environmentally significant for a slate of reasons, including the estuary and side channels of California Creek that are important habitat for salmon rearing and mudflats at the mouth of Drayton Harbor that provide feeding grounds for migratory shorebirds. Protecting California Creek water quality will also benefit Drayton Harbor shellfish harvesting, Jeffers said.
The park will also offer easy public access off Drayton Harbor Road and can be used for environmental education and field trips, said Ted Morris, BBBPRD2 capital projects specialist. Morris has worked as a BBBPRD2 volunteer since he helped restart the district in the mid-2000s and worked as a WLT volunteer coordinator for a few years after retiring from being the head park ranger of Birch Bay State Park.
The park will protect 900 feet of Drayton Harbor shoreline and 1,800 feet of California Creek shoreline, according to a press release on the land purchase.
WLT placed conservation easements to ensure critical habitats, such as the mouth of California Creek, were protected from park development.
Whatcom Conservation District and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association assisted WLT and BBBPRD2 with restoration. The organizations removed invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes and English ivy, planted thousands of native trees and shrubs and added wood debris to the creek mouth for salmon, Jeffers said.
BBBPRD2 has the opportunity to acquire surrounding property in the future. Jeffers said WLT could transfer another 30 acres to BBBPRD2, but the district would need to secure additional grants to buy the land. Morris said it’s unlikely the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office would provide grants for open space without a project plan.
“We keep that possibility open. If there was a benefactor or a way to have 30 more acres, I’d love to do that,” Morris said. “I’m just not sure if we’d be able to get a grant to do that and, with our budget, we survive on a 10 cents per $1,000 levy so we don’t have a lot of money in the park district to purchase those types of things.”
BBBPRD2 received $1.3 million in grants and has spent about $800,000 from the grants and some district funds.
In addition to restoration, the parks district has done most of the preliminary work, such as removing four buildings on the property and completing site plans. Now, Morris said, the district is waiting on Whatcom County to approve the shoreline and environmental permits. Though wary of delays, Morris said he hopes the park is finished by the end of 2024.
“I would love to begin construction sometime this summer,” he said. “If we’re able to do that, and everything falls into place, I’m hoping we might be able to finish construction by the end of next year.”
The park will also serve as a trailhead for the future Bay to Bay International Trail, a bicycle and pedestrian trail connecting the south end of Birch Bay State Park to Peace Arch Historic Park. Morris, who started working on the trail over a decade ago, said nearly all of the trail easements have been secured to California Creek but trail construction and additional Blaine easements are needed. Morris said he would eventually like to move the trail off the roadway, and hopes someday it could connect to Ferndale and White Rock, B.C. trail systems.
“We’re excited to be able to provide this day-use park for the residents of Birch Bay and Blaine as well as all of the visitors to Whatcom County,” he said. “It’s going to be a great park when we finally get it done.”
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