Northwest Park levy gives district “a new lease on life”

Published on Thu, Mar 6, 2008 by Jack Kintner

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Northwest Park levy gives district “a new lease on life”

By Jack Kintner

A levy sponsored by the Northwest Park and Recreation District passed overwhelmingly last November, giving the rejuvenated agency a new lease on life. Voters agreed to a 10 cents per thousand assessment that will fund the district to the tune of $385,000 per year for the next two years.

“Now the work really begins,” smiled Terry Johnston, one of the five district commissioners who had retired to Blaine after a long career in parks and recreation in California. Johnston spearheaded the recent drive to establish an off-leash dog area in Skallman Park.

Other commissioners are board president Ted Morris, manager of Birch Bay State Park, realtor Jeri Smith, retired Ferndale teacher and long-time commissioner Betty Robertson and Richard Sturgill of Drayton Harbor Maritime.

“Now that we have some start-up funding, we’d like to get people together who are interested in recreational facilities and activities to help decide what our next step will be,” said Morris, who coordinated four such meetings prior to last fall’s election. Commissioners have drawn up a preliminary budget but Morris said that it’s just a general guideline.

“We’d really like to hear from people,” he said, and to do that a community meeting has been set for Saturday, March 29, at Semiahmoo county park’s newly renovated facility at the west end of the spit.

“In two hours we’d like to assess our direction and gather ideas as raw material for a master plan that will tie us into the general community plans for the area in terms of facilities such as sports fields, trails and other elements. This will help do two things, to leverage support from granting agencies for projects and to coordinate our efforts as a community to get more bang for the buck, to help various groups work together on large projects that may benefit a variety of users,” Morris said.

The one need that both Morris and Johnston mentioned frequently was to be able to build suitable recreational facilities in an era of increased costs and liabilities. “I once could just put a swing set in the park,” Morris said, “but no longer, not without a thorough risk assessment. And when a company sells me the apparatus, it will sell me the insurance coverage for it, too. It’s a different world, but we still want to pick up on what the old district was doing when it stopped functioning about 20 years ago.”

Morris and Johnston both listed adult activities, summer camps, athletic fields and trails as ideas of projects the district could undertake. “A lot of money is distributed by the state under the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO),” Johnston said, “and if it comes from an agency like this it avoids duplicating efforts and is much more effective.”

For example, Johnston continued, such granting agencies always ask for a master plan, something that provides a general idea about what’s being planned for five and 10 years down the road, so part of the funding that’s now available will go toward that, an estimated $15,000 item.

It also demonstrates how the district plans to coordinate its efforts with similar agencies such as the Blaine school district and Whatcom County Parks and Recreation.

“We hope to have a good turnout on the 29th,” Morris said. “We’ve got a beautiful trail system for this whole area designed by Ken Wilcox, for example, and hopefully this will get us one step closer to making that a reality. If we do our job right, a lot of people will become involved in this and will end up pleased with their efforts.”

The district’s boundaries are the same as the Blaine school district (except for Point Roberts which has its own recreation district). It was created by a group known as the Northwest County Activities Association that began meeting in 1978.

By 1982 the district published an eight-page directory of activities ranging from adult and youth athletic leagues to dance, art and music instruction and a class on learning to sail. It listed an executive director, Rick Janecke, and board members James Gregory, Barrie Hull, Lillian Barnes Hinds, Judy Dunster and chairman Steven Holmstrom.

The district’s activities dropped off within a few years when a levy measure failed and funds dried up, although the district continued to exist because commissioners continued to satisfy the minimum legal requirements for meetings. Two years ago Morris organized area meetings to see if there was interest in resurrecting the district with a try at another levy, and in 2007 voters approved the idea with a 62.7 yes vote. Though there is no office at this time, the district has an address, P.O. Box 68, Blaine, 98231, or