By Oliver Lazenby
One project with the potential to transform Birch Bay in the next five years is coming together, at least on paper.
After a third and final public presentation, Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department and its design contractor are making tweaks to the Birch Bay Community Park project.
Plans for the 4.1-acre park call for a layout with about 124 parking spaces, a public restroom, beach access and several acres of open space dotted with picnic tables, trees, and a small natural play area.
“It’s a relatively simple plan, but in that simple layout it allows us to accommodate a variety of day-to-day uses as well as special events throughout the year,” said county parks design and development supervisor Rod Lamb.
The county bought the park property, just north of the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, for $2.5 million in late 2014.
The county had an initial public planning meeting to gather ideas on August 6 and another public meeting to discuss two designs on August 31. The county and its designer, Robert W. Droll Landscape Architects, have subsequently made relatively minor adjustments to the community’s preferred design.
“The modifications were modest,” Lamb said. “We took a closer look at the spatial arrangement of the elements and relocated some of them.” For example, the designers pulled the fire pit back from the restroom for safety reasons and fine-tuned locations for wheelchair-accessible picnic tables.
The final designs include the ability to block off parts of the parking lot at certain times of the year to accommodate basketball, pickle ball or other “court sports,” and the ability to use the grassy area as parking, with traffic directors, for the community’s biggest events.
Meeting attendees suggested having a campsite to accommodate a park host, who would live at the park. The host site would take up valuable park space, but could cut down on operating and maintenance costs.
County officials think the site doesn’t need a host, Lamb said.
They don’t anticipate much undesirable activity at the park since it’s clearly visible from Birch Bay Drive. The county doesn’t have a host at any of its other parks, Lamb said.
“When we get closer to development I think that issue will come up, but really it’s a discussion between the county and the community,” Lamb said.
Originally, county officials said park construction probably wouldn’t start until after the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility (Birch Bay berm) project is finished. Since park planning started, that project has been
Lamb said park construction isn’t contingent on the Birch Bay berm. Previously, the county planned to use the park property to store construction material to be used for the berm project. That’s no longer the case, and further delays to the berm shouldn’t affect park construction.
“They’re not really coupled in that way,” Lamb said.
However, the berm project is funded and the community park is not.
Next, Whatcom County will estimate costs for park construction and operation, and the design will go before Whatcom County Council, likely at the beginning of next year, said county parks and recreation director Michael McFarlane. After that, the county will apply for grants and work on funding the park.
“The next round for state grants won’t occur until 2018,” McFarlane said. “Those will be announced late in 2019.”