By Oliver Lazenby
Whatcom County will receive a $1 million grant for the Birch Bay Community Park on Birch Bay Drive, but that money won’t speed up the park’s development.
State legislators approved the grant, which comes from the state Recreation and Conservation Funding Board, as part of the state’s 2017-19 capital budget. The $1 million will partially compensate Whatcom County for the $2.46 million it spent to acquire the 3.6-acre property in 2014. The property is just south of the future Birch Bay library at 7968 Birch Bay Drive.
Park construction won’t likely begin until 2020, after the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project is completed, said Michael McFarlane, director of the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department.
The park property will be used as a staging area for construction on the Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project, which aims to restore the beach and add bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to Birch Bay Drive.
The county hired a landscape architect to plan the Birch Bay Community Park in 2016. The property is currently a grass field with remnants of an asphalt driveway looping through it and has been used by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce for events, including the annual Polar Bear Plunge.
Developing the field into the planned park – an open space with trees, picnic tables, a parking lot, restrooms, showers and other amenities – will cost $4.4 million, the landscape architect estimated.
Though construction is years away, the county is applying for more funding for park construction and for the remainder of the purchase cost, McFarlane said.
Whatcom County expects the Birch Bay community to help raise some of the $4.4 million to build the park, McFarlane said. Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2 (BBPRD2) has set aside $100,000 for park maintenance costs, BBPRD2 director Ted Morris said.
Morris sees the grant as a positive sign for future fundraising.
“It’s moving forward in the right direction, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think it shows that the Recreation and Conservation Office sees this as a viable project.”