Park volunteer coordinator Amy Brown explains where a volunteer can find his tools. The City of Bellingham coordinates various volunteer project in the parks around Bellingham. // Photo by Emily Porter
On an overcast morning at the Squalicum Creek Bay to Baker trail off of Sunset Pond, a group of volunteers gathered to participate in a work party organized by the parks and recreation department.
Parks and Recreation Volunteer Coordinator Amy Brown said the event is part of the department’s ongoing Saturday work parties, which take place every Saturday from September to June at different parks around Bellingham.
Brown said that the event on Saturday, Jan. 26 focused on wetland mitigation, which involves making wetland areas healthier by planting trees and plants along the trail. This is the first work party at Squalicum Creek and comes out of an effort to spread out the areas the department services, Brown said.
Bellingham has almost 80 miles of trails and over 3,000 acres of park land, according to Brown. With a large demand of parks in need of work and upkeep, she said it can be difficult to allocate resources to work on the variety of parks across the city. Brown said it is important to her that work parties are serving the community more equitably.
“There’s a huge demand [and] a very active community in South Bellingham, and that tends to be a higher income area,” Brown said. “Now, we’re trying to bring our projects and opportunities to more North Bellingham.”
After signing in and grabbing a pair of work gloves, a group of volunteers gathered around Olivia Stricklin, a restoration intern and senior at Huxley College, as she gave them instructions on how to plant plants along the trail.
At other Saturday work parties, volunteers work to remove invasive species like Himalayan Blackberries and English ivy, spread mulch and pick up trash, Stricklin said. These events are a great opportunity to explore Bellingham’s parks and help make them safer for the community, she said.
As the clouds parted and the sky turned blue, volunteers spread out on either sides of the trail, carefully planting willow and red dogwood trees.
Katherine Dickinson-Poteet, a retired family doctor and Bellingham resident, said she has been attending the parks department’s Saturday work parties consistently for nearly 20 years. She said she has made a habit of adding the events to her calendar, so when she has time, she’s all set to attend.
“Everyone is always happy here. You know even in the pouring rain, people are in really good spirits,” Dickinson-Poteet said. “Being out in the park is really nice, and now everytime I walk by I can say ‘I planted that tree!’”
Brown said the work volunteers do at events like these are crucial to maintaining and caring for the parks in Bellingham.
“Basically anywhere in Bellingham, if it’s not covered in blackberry or ivy, it's probably because of a volunteer or staff members [work],” Brown said. “It’s that prolific.”
Brown said the work parties are great opportunities for families, high school or college students, whether people are looking to have some fun and get their hands dirty or earn extra credit or public service hours.
Ferndale High and Running Start student Alyssa Willett said she came to the work party to fulfill a requirement for her environmental science class at Whatcom Community College. She said she the event reminded her how much she likes to be outside.
“Our environment does need a lot of help,” Willett said. “We can use all the hands we can get.”
For Western students looking for opportunities to volunteer with the parks department, Sarah Olson, co-director of Learning Environment Action and Discovery, said LEAD partners with the department to hold work parties on campus. She said they hold ecological restoration events and indoor events that raise awareness about environmental issues.
“There is way more work to do in our parks than the parks staff has a capacity for,” Brown said. “We absolutely need the help of volunteers in our community.”