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City of Bellingham, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association partner to improve Whatcom Falls Park salmon habitat

Volunteers planted native plants, removed invasive species near Derby Pond as part of annual city event called ‘Make a Difference Day’

Plants sit on the side of the trail, waiting to be staged and put in the ground on Oct. 22, 2022. Planting native species is one way the crew worked to restore salmon habitat at Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Wash. // Photo by Zoe Wiley 

The smell of fall and rain from the night before hung in the air on the crisp morning of Oct. 22 at Whatcom Falls Park. Volunteers gathered in clumps near the check-in and refreshment tents, waiting to be assigned to work groups. Kids and dogs ran through the wet grass, excited to be outside. Crew leaders eventually quieted the crowd —it was time to get to work.

The City of Bellingham and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association partnered to improve salmon habitat at Whatcom Falls Park with the help of volunteers. Work groups were formed and led by members from Bellingham Public Works Natural Resources, the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Whatcom Million Trees Project, the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) and Washington Trails Association

Whatcom Falls Park is one of the city’s oldest parks and is known for its unique forest and stream habitat. The park is also near the site of the Olympic Pipeline Explosion, making it an important place to monitor and restore. 

make a diff day

Volunteers work to remove invasive blackberries from Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Wash., on Oct. 22, 2022. Work parties focused on the area near Derby Pond to help the local salmon population. // Photo by Zoe Wiley

This event focused on the area near Derby Pond, with the goal of removing invasive English Ivy and Himalayan blackberries by the roots. After the areas were cleared, volunteers planted native plants such as Nootka rose, big leaf maple, hooker’s willow and sweet gale. Mulch was then distributed around the new plants and cleared areas.

“The goal is to have fun, learn something and get some work done in the process,” Emily Zink, WCC member and crew leader, said. “We want people to want to come back.”

Another important goal of this work party was erosion prevention. Erosion is particularly harmful to salmon — it can clog their gills, make nesting difficult as well as reduce native vegetation and food source diversity. Mulching helps to prevent erosion. It also slows invasive growth, holds in moisture, regulates temperature and reduces soil compaction, Zink said. 

Whatcom Falls Park, as well as other local trails, sometimes develop social trails, which are areas where people have worn the plants away and compacted the soil with off-trail excursions. These social trails often lead down toward water or up a hill with a cool view. These trails are very harmful to the environment because they encourage erosion, kill native plants and encroach on wildlife. Cribbing, wood pieces meant to protect steep slopes and block social trails, was also installed at this event. 

The staff and 160 volunteers were able to remove approximately 16 cubic yards of invasive vegetation, spread about 18 cubic yards of mulch, plant 164 native plants and remove about 1 cubic yard of trash, said Sky Hawk Bressette, Parks Volunteer Program Restoration educator in an email to volunteers. 

mak a wifference

Tools lay piled at one of the work zones at Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Wash., on Oct. 22, 2022. Volunteers dug up invasive plants and pruned back what couldn’t be removed. // Photo by Zoe Wiley

At the event's closing, Mayor Seth Fleetwood gave closing remarks and refreshments were offered to volunteers. Papa John’s Pizza and Tony’s Coffee donated food and drinks.  

“The last time I [volunteered] was on another trail in town … also trying to get rid of the invasive species of blackberries,” volunteer Mark Olson said. “I felt we made better progress on this one … the first time, I don't think we planted anything. So being able to plant a few things felt hopeful.”

One thing that makes these events successful is their ability to bring people of all ages and lifestyles together. 

“The best thing was one of the kids in the group,” Olson said. “He said ‘Wow, this is fun!’ and that sort of made my day.” 

For information on future work parties, visit or follow @BellinghamParks on Facebook or Instagram.

Zoe Wiley

Zoe Wiley (she/her)

( is a news reporter for The Front and a combined environmental studies and journalism major at WWU. Her reporting interests include local business news, social issues, the environment and the arts. She enjoys illustration arts, photography, hiking and running. 

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