Chuckanut ridge: a stream (or watershed) of thought

Thoughts gathered, while walking on a winding forest trail.

What do you personally gain by the development of Chuckanut Ridge?

For the uninitiated, The Chuckanut Ridge Development saga has been going on for years. It is an approximate 85 acre parcel of second growth forest on the South side of Bellingham. Neighbours and environmentalists want to save it. Developers plan to build a new housing project on it.

So...What do you personally gain if the development goes ahead?

Well, if you are homeless and have a quarter million dollars you could just possibly afford to live in one of the planned new houses. But if you are homeless you may already be camping in there anyway.

If you are a real estate agent or developer then you may stand to make a fortune in cash. With these profits you could then move in to a trophy home on some as yet undeveloped land and campain to protect it.

The local newspaper (which I note hasn't made much positive comment on the matter) stands to gain about 700 new readers while the local supermarket owners are no doubt rubbing their hands together in glee at the prospect of all those hungry newcomers moving in to town.

I imagine that few of us fall into the above categories. Bellingham has a population of over 60,000. Surely they can't all be developers? I wonder about developers attitudes sometimes. Surely they too must see all the red roadside signs stating, "NO Chuckanut Ridge Development". When so many people are so passionately against their plans, they clearly must feel that they can live with their actions for the rest of their lifes.

During the building period, there will be construction jobs available, but they will be short term. Most people will gain nothing good from this project. Many probably will never realise what they even lost. The harsh reality of fighting to save a piece of land from 

It's a sad truth that most landscapes have to be extraordinarily spectacular and economically useless before they are deemed fit to be saved. The Chuckanut Ridge forest isn't a stunning example of natures best work but it is a wonderful peaceful place offering tranquility for free right on the town's doorstep. Many summer evenings I've meandered among the great tall cedars and Douglas firs: lost in a Daydream and listening idly to birds gossiping with their neighbours. I rarely met another soul in there and this makes it so much easier to relax. No people: no problem.

Within the sanctuary of the woods, we can feel like the rules and regulations that bind us to abide by the laws of our town are temporarily left at the gateway. Not that I want to

Just like all the other animals, humans need freedom of thought. Complete freedom. We may think we have it, but we don't. If an eagle stood on Blanchard Mountain and decided to fly to Canada. He would just take off and go. Maybe he'd stop off at a few islands in the San Juans, eat some fish, sleep on Vancouver Island and maybe hang out in a tree with some old buddies. But if I could fly like an eagle, I would wonder if it was legal, I'd worry about getting through customs, about tresspassing, was I flying over the speed limit, and whether or not I needed a fishing licence. So you see, our heads are so cluttered by rules, it's a wonder we ever leave our houses.

What do we gain by keeping the Chuckanut ridge as it is?

We may not gain but we do not lose. We keep a place that is as spiritualy valuable as a cathedral. We get to have a wildlife experience without going to a zoo. We gain a mental victory in that we stood up and saved a corner of the world: a woodland that had already given its lot when it was harvested all those years back. How can we be so ruthless to then ask the forest to give its life again? And for what? It's not like the majority of people moving to Whatcom county are political refugees or famine victims; no they are mostly ordinary Americans looking for a change. If there's no house available, they'll shrug and move on. No big loss.

What does Bellingham gain by knocking down its trees?

Bellingham gets a new housing scheme, some temporary jobs, and an influx of strangers, asking where they can go for a walk. By leaving the trees standing, Bellingham gains an unofficial park that is a natural buffer between the town sprawl and the Chuckanut Mountains. Bellingham can learn there are other kinds of growth that don't include concrete. Bellingham learns that a town does not need to continue to expand outward in order to be judged a success. When a town learns to maintain and manage its present

I look around Bellingham and I see businesses opening and closing so quickly it causes a draught. Obviously Bellingham needs a fundamental rethink. Sprawling and widening roads and chopping up the forests is not the answer. Why not direct the funds slated for more housing on the edges of town and channel it into recycling the old town centre to generate some life and spark into its 

 I arrived in Bellingham between Christmas and new year 1998. My first impression was that it was depressing. The Boundary Bay building was a big grey ugly box. Georgia pacific hogging the waterfront didn't add any joy to the ominous atmosphere. Frankly, I thought that the best bet for this town center was to knock it down and start again. Put it out of its misery.

I began to learn about the town's economic history and how the malls had sucked the downtown dry of retail and shoppers. I also heard optimistic talk that there were new investors desperate to pump some money back into Bellingham's town center. Ten years on from then, there have been slight changes but nothing that wouldn't really catch your attention. The garbage cans got new covers. The car park outside the Boundary Bay got a roof. Georgia Pacific has shut down but the factory continues to dominate the shoreline.

There isn't much public shore line around Whatcom County. Which is sad. It's mostly privately owned except a few tiny scattered beaches. Simple things can enhance a town's street atmosphere: like a pedestrian zone with stone archways to keep the rain off as shoppers enjoy a coffee at a terrace: a park at Georgia pacific. Encourage music and art and other colourful street worthy activities. Rickshaw taxis, horse drawn carriages for tourists. Boat taxis to the islands. Beer gardens. More street festivals. Cafes in parks and tall shady trees in supermarket carparks. Of course I'm just throwing little ideas about, but that's where big ideas get started.

Bellingham needs an attainable goal: something to look forward to achieving. Knocking down the trees on Chuckanut Ridge is sadly a collossal step in the wrong direction. What would David Brower the environmentalist have done?

There are many fine natural wonders in Whatcom County but the sad honest irony is that Bellingham on the whole is just about the ugliest thing in the County: and it's the one thing that is expanding. Sure it has nice neighbourhoods and parks but the sprawl and the runaway malls, the spectacularly unimaginitive square box downtown architecture, and the ever widening roads manage to cancel out a lot of bellingham's character. A man once said,"drink more bottled water". He was a bottled water salesman. In Bellingham, some people say that growth is ineviteable. I can guess what business they are in: development business. Sprawlers. Folks listen most to he who talks loudest. P.T. Barnum of circus fame once said, "all publicity is good publicity: even bad publicity". Sprawlers talk a lot and they talk loud. They don't exactly tell lies: they exagerate. They talk of family values and safe neighbourhoods and job creation and tax breaks and better schools etc: all available if the public will just allow them to do what they want.

 Environmentalists have a tougher sell. It's hard to appreciate the value of just leaving the land untouched and sitting apparantly useless. It's hard to get sold on something that a lot of people only have a vague grasp of. The gain is not in monetary terms or anything quite as family orientated as the developers speaches. A house can be knocked down and rebuilt in a few weeks but a tree takes decades to regrow. So if you knock down an eighty year old tree, you better be sure that you have made the right decision because you won't see it back in your lifetime.

So what will you gain?

The reality is that the developers own the Chuckanut Ridge property. Personally if it was mine, I too would expect to have the privelage of being able to use my land as I see fit.

I have a tiny piece of property. My garden. The trouble I had just trying to get permission to have a shed was astounding. Yet it seems that the larger the project and impact and destruction, then the easier it is to gain a building permit.