Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Whatcom Falls

Whatcom Falls
The third of my walks in Bellingham and another old favourite - the three mile round trip of Whatcom Falls Park.  This park is yet another of Bellingham's gems and as with the South Bay Trail an old railroad plays a part.  We parked up in the main car park and headed down the hill to find the old stone bridge that is perhaps the most famous feature of the park (maybe even more than the falls after which the park takes its name).  The park itself started life in the early 1900s and was quite well established by the mid 1930s when the bridge was built.  It was funded from the Roosevelt programme to get the country moving during the Depression.  The Chuckanut sandstone was mostly provided from a burnt out building downtown.  The fish hatchery next to the bridge was built around the same time from the same funding source.

On this hot summer's day the Falls were rather non-descript as the river level was so low.  The creek can be pretty full of water especially when the flow is being regulated by flood defence needs at Lake Whatcom, about a mile upstream.  Being low had its uses though - it was far easier for children to paddle in; a very useful attribute on this hot day.

Railroad Track
After crossing the stone bridge we headed downstream on the path high above the water level.  The steep sided valley of Whatcom Creek means that it isn't too easy for the path to stay close to the river side.  The shade of the trees was very pleasant for our walk and the sound of birds vied with the sound of the rushing water below.  We passed by a space in the trees which looked rather unusual.  I remembered that this was where the Whatcom Falls disaster happened.  In 1999 a buried pipeline burst, spilling 200,000 gallons of gasoline into the valley.  The inevitable happened and it caught fire, creating a fireball that was to sadly claim the lives of three young people who were in the park at the time.  The burn area is healing now but the scars to the landscape can still be seen.

Further on and we came to the Whirlpool.  This deep part of the creek as it turns the corner is a favourite place for youngsters jumping in for a cool off and so it proved today.  There were throngs of teenagers jumping from higher points than seemed wise but they all seemed to know what they were doing.  Laughing and shouting was the order of the day and it was great to hear so many people enjoying themselves.

We climbed up and away from the whirlpool and up to one of the many railroad trails that exist in the city.  There was a time when railroad was by far the easiest way to move materials around, especially lumber.  The line that came up through the park was built by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul and Pacific Railway in 1916 and linked Bellingham Bay with Larson's Mill nearby.  We walked alonmg the trackbed for a short distance when our way was blocked by the severing of the trestle that once took the railroad across the creek below.  The twisted rails of the old railroad are still evident but there is a safe distance between the end of the embankment and the former tracks so dissuade anyone from exploring further.  The railroad has been closed for more than 50 years but a section lives on at the other end of Lake Whatcom, operated as a heritage railway by a group of enthusiasts.

Whatcom Creek
Our onward path was via another railroad trackbed for the short distance towards Bloedel Donovan Park, a small park across the road that is on the site of a former lumber mill (and presumably a big customer of the railroad).  We didn't cross to the park but instead double backed down Whatcom Creek towards the car park.  I don't remember this path from the last time I came here - in fact much of this end of the park seemed new to me.  The path went down the backs of houses that are located along Electric Avenue.  The gardens were mostly immaculate and rather a joy to see over the fences!

Whatcom Pool
As we headed downstream the creek got wider until it reached a bend.  By here a large pond like pool had formed and curiously this area is available for fishing, so long as you are under 14 years old!  We didn't see any takers - presumably they were all having fun at the whirlpool even further downstream.  We stopped to enjoy the scene for a moment.  Having strolls rather than proper hikes allows you to do this!

Whatcom Pool
At the far end of the pool we crossed the low bridge that disguises a small dam.  This is from the time when the water treatment works was near here and water was taken away from the river for treatment.  Drinking water is still extracted from Lake Whatcom but treatment is elsewhere now and the original treatment house is an oddity in the park closed to where we left our car.
Black Squirrel

Crossing the bridge here wasn't really necessary as we could easily have found our way back to the car on the same side of the creek.  However, by crossing the bridge we got to see a black squirrel and a crazy lady who told us all about the wildlife she had seen over the last few months.  She was pretty harmless but full of enthusiasm and wild hair :)  Black squirrels are pretty common in these parts now - they have rather moved in over the last few years and stolen the territory of the grey ones.  I think they are actually a different variety of the same species.

For my children though the main benefit to crossing the river by the bridge was that we had to recross it further downstream using whatever stepping stones we could find - it proved quite a fun activity!  On the other side we passed the hatchery that was built at the same time as the other features of the park.  It was empty and devoid of life - I wasn't sure if this was a permanent thing or it was just the wrong time of year.  It had rather a melancholy feel about it in any event.  It marked the end of our walk and while I thought we might be talking about the life cycle of salmon the children were more intent in checking out the play area!

Crossing Whatcom Creek
This might be a walk modest in length but it is packed full of interest and worth a look even if you are only passing through Bellingham.  I shall certainly be visiting the next time I come!

Former Treatment Plant

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