The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.
Bellingham, “The City of Subdued Excitement,” has grown into a bustling small metropolis over the past few decades. Noticeable traffic, longer lines at the grocery, road construction to widen and improve streets and new housing construction all signal recent growth. We live in single-family homes, tiny homes, huge homes, million-dollar condos; too many are without homes, students live in suites in high rises, families live in new apartments which seem to spring up like mushrooms.
In spite of the growth and diversity, there is one thing that connects us all: our love of and our need for open green space, parks, trails and play areas. Fortunately, in 1990 a group of visionary citizens initiated a grassroots effort which led to the Greenways Program. The idea was to levy additional property taxes to raise funds to “acquire, improve, develop and maintain greenways, open-space sites, parks, park facilities and trails.”
Since that first levy, voters have enthusiastically approved taxing themselves four times to continue this program which has grown to be the hallmark of our city. Over 3,000 acres have been opened to the public and over $102 million has been raised through Greenways funds.
Our work is not over. In November the citizens of Bellingham have the opportunity to continue the vision and commitment to the Greenways Program by voting yes on the Greenways V levy. This levy is designed to continue property acquisition, development and maintenance of properties consistent with the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan and the Greenways Strategic Plan. Designated funds will continue ongoing maintenance, operation and capital replacement needs of City park properties and facilities. This levy will also meet the needs of Bellingham today and in the future by emphasizing equity, urban trees and climate resiliency. A minimum of 10% of the levy proceeds are dedicated to increasing the climate resiliency of city park properties and facilities.
Some of the exciting future projects which the Greenways V Levy will fund include the pier at Little Squalicum Park. Redevelopment of this industrial pier will provide unprecedented access over Bellingham Bay, including up to a quarter-mile of walkway over the water. Boulevard Park shoreline and public access enhancements will include beach plantings to aid in mitigating the impacts from sea level rise and coastal erosion and increased public access to the coast through removal of rock armor from the beaches and installation of a stable walkway. Sunset Pond Loop Trail will close the gap in connecting three different neighborhoods with a regional trail and park destination site. Salish Landing will provide Bellingham another crown jewel of public space along our waterfront. All of these projects will be accessible to those with mobility restrictions.
Our beautiful parks and open spaces are for all of us! Vote yes for the Greenways V levy in November.
Please visit the Greenways V Levy Campaign website for more information on how to get involved or donate to the campaign.
— Contributed by Laurel Cook
We need to reconsider funding fixed, indoor, public recreation spaces with the Greenways V Levy. Our limited public dollars need to offer a diverse set of recreation offerings and facilities year-round. This is not about whether open space is good; this is about Bellingham investing public funds in a more diverse recreation portfolio.
During the past 33 years, the Greenways Program has been successful in taxing residents to raise funds for acquiring, maintaining and creating outdoor recreation opportunities. We now have an abundance of beautiful trails and parks. The levy has collected more than $100 million. The National Recreation Park Association (NRPA) estimates outdoor park needs for a city of 100,000 people to be 1,500 acres. Bellingham has 3,200 acres, and if you factor in Galbraith [Mountain biking trails], we are at 5,400 acres.
As much as we love our outdoor parks, Bellingham has plenty of bad weather. With up to eight months of challenging weather and atmospheric rivers, Bellingham needs public indoor recreation that allows us to keep moving regardless of how cold, dark and wet it is outside.
Let’s balance our parks in Bellingham with modern, energy-efficient, public (unlike the YMCA) facilities like pools, ice rinks, senior centers and community centers. Fixed, indoor recreation facilities integrate well with public transit systems, making them more accessible than trail systems. Trails and outdoor spaces, while free, can often create unsafe and intimidating situations for younger and solo users. Public indoor recreation facilities are a safe and controlled place for all ages, abilities and cultures to gather and enjoy:
- pools for family/recreational use and lap swimming, swim teams (Masters, club, high school)
- gymnasiums (basketball, volleyball, pickleball, multi-use)
- indoor walking/jogging track
- fitness center (cardio, free weights, strength equipment, workout classes)
- rock-climbing wall
NRPA states that public community pools should be able to accommodate 6% of the city’s population at any one time. Most cities achieve this with multiple pools. Arne Hanna Aquatic Center, our only public pool, accommodates less than 1% of Bellingham’s population. Every family should be able to have access to swim lessons, swim teams, lap swims and water exercise classes. As a coastal community and for public safety every person in Bellingham should have the opportunity to learn to swim, and we need public pools to accomplish that public safety goal.
The privatization of swimming pools and year-round recreation facilities has hurt minority groups the hardest. Without public facilities, recreation like swimming becomes exclusive, forcing the community to seek facilities outside of Whatcom County. Bellingham is the 11th largest city in Washington State — however communities smaller than Bellingham, such as Skagit, Snohomish and Yakima, have funded and built larger and newer facilities in the past 5–8 years. The $36 million Greenways levy collected from 2017 to 2022 could have funded a new pool or community recreation center serving a wider set of families year-round with ways to stay healthy and happy through our dark, rainy seasons.
Going forward, I hope that the Greenways Program can evolve their good work and precious funding to be more inclusive by growing our public indoor parks offering.
— Contributed by Brad Jones
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