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Bellingham
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Free paddle event making a splash at Community Boating Center

Onlookers take in the scenic view of Bellingham Bay. // Photo by Shaina Yaranon

By Shaina Yaranon

The Community Boating Center is nestled at the end of a dirt road in Fairhaven, tucked away at the edge of the shore of Bellingham Bay. Ever since the center launched its Tuesday evening free paddle sessions, it has steadily gained recognition.

From 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Tuesday until August 14, the event features free rentals for up to an hour and reservations for kayaks, paddleboards and rowboats offered on a first-come, first-served basis. The boating center transformed the area to accommodate various activities, food vendors and a beer garden. Kayakers, boaters and paddle boarders dotted the bay. Children ran around, and parents were patient to wait their turn, supervising their kids, adjusting the straps on their life vests and chatting with other families. People jumped off the dock as kayakers talked to each other as they passed by.

“It was awesome. It was my first time here at the boating center and experiencing the bay,” Tosha Phillips said, who was visiting for the day from Mount Vernon and discovered the event through Facebook. “The community, the people, it was nice. We were all having fun. And I liked seeing everything from the view on the water. You can see the trains, the nice houses that overlook. It was the best time of the day too, the sun was setting, and it was perfect.”

The staff, all graduates from Western, realized they needed to spread the word about the boating center for students and the rest of the Bellingham community.

“I wanted people to know about the Community Boating Center, that we’re a nonprofit that’s committed to getting people on the water at an affordable price, and have fun,” Executive Director Don Hunger said.

“We started it to get more people into paddle sports, to get people interested in Bellingham Bay and also get them interested and involved with all of us here and all that we have to offer,” Volunteer Jonathan Norell said.

Volunteers help paddlers get onto the water. // Photo by Shaina Yaranon

This is the first year the Community Boating Center started their free paddle Tuesdays and the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. On its first day, the center welcomed more than 250 people.

“Some people are repeats but most are new people,” Hunger said.

Hunger said people have approached him and expressed they’ve never ventured out onto Bellingham Bay before, but they’ll definitely come back.

“Based on the feedback so far, we’re really pleased with the event and we’re happy that people are showing up and turning out,” Hunger said “We’ll keep going through with it this summer and take it week by week and evaluate it for next year.”

As the glimmering sun slipped past the horizon, people started to walk down the dirt road back to their cars. The expressions on their faces were full of life and exuberance.

“I will definitely come back at least one more time this summer, either for the free night or even on a regular day,” Phillips said.

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