Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo for The Western Front

A significant addition to Bellingham Bay at Little Squalicum Park

Waterfront pier is expected to begin renovations in early in 2024

The pier at Little Squalicum Park will undergo renovations in 2024 that will make it safe for public access, with additional improvements to protect water quality and sea life planned for a later date. 

Bellingham Parks and Recreation Director Nicole Oliver said the city is still waiting on building permits from Whatcom County. The work window for the renovation assigned in their Army Corps permit may allow them to start work before February. If those building permits don’t arrive in time, the next work window is summer 2024. 

“The vision is a pretty simple improvement. It's going to be solar-powered lighting and a new grating that allows for light penetration, which is really important for fish, and then railings to add safety,” Oliver said.

Refurbishing the pier has been a goal of the city for 15 years, when it was identified as a potential future public asset by the Greenways Advisory Committee, Oliver said. The committee’s purpose is to decide where to spend the Greenways Levy, a fund raised by citizens through a property tax.

After an analysis of the pier led to the city determining it was structurally sound and not environmentally hazardous, they took ownership. Oliver said this was a risky move because they acquired the pier before receiving their permits. 

“We had to get a change from industrial to public, so we went through multiple different steps to be able to be where we're at today,” Oliver said.

Once the pier is developed, Greenways Committee member and Birchwood Neighborhood Association President Sarah Gardner said she hopes beach access can be expanded to create a more livable city that steps away from the industrial influences Bellingham has typically placed near the water. 

“I just welcome people coming and using that park. I think the more we get people on the water in the city, the more people will learn to love and protect it,” Gardner said.

With the pier as a new destination, the use of Little Squalicum Park is going to increase. Oliver said the city is planning on expanding parking and adding a restroom at an undetermined date after the renovations. 

Gardner said her one worry about the project was that it did not address the heavy deposits of creosote buried beneath the water along the bay, which are used to prevent the decay of pilings that support docks and piers. The Department of Natural Resources warns that creosote-treated pilings, which are the by-product of the high-temperature treatment of coal, may leach chemicals into the sediments and water throughout their lifetime. 

“Yes, there is creosote in the structure. It's very old, the structure is very old,” Oliver said. 

Because the pier is old, Oliver said she believes the creosote doesn’t generate as much pollution as other structures that have creosote piling. 

The city would like to remove the creosote piling, said Oliver, but their goal was to open the pier to the public before going through the extensive permitting required to remove the creosote. 

“These creosote piers are a source of toxic contamination to the natural environment. In removing it, replacing it with steel would likely improve water quality. So that is a good reason to remove it,” said Frances Robertson, the marine project manager for San Juan County. 

Robertson couldn’t speak to the state of the creosote pilings under the pier at Little Squalicum without more details from the city. However, after removing a 70-year-old pier at Jackson Beach, Washington, Robertson said she could see and smell the creosote sheen on that pier’s buried pilings. According to the City of Bellingham, the pier at Little Squalicum was originally constructed in 1912.

Hayden Knoedler

Hayden Knoedler (he/him) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a third-year student at Western working to complete a minor in News/Editorial journalism to accommodate his Creative Writing major. In his free time, he enjoys taking photos and playing video games. You can reach him at 

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Western Front