Winter Solstice Thoughts on Fairhaven Woods

To celebrate 25 years of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be printing excerpts from 20 years ago. The below excerpts are from the February 1997 issue.

Editor’s Note: In 1996, the Madrona Development Corporation of Seattle proposed the Chuckanut Ridge Planned Development. The proposal would have built 1,464 units on 101 acres bounded on the south by Chukanut Drive, on the north by Old Fairhaven Parkway, on the east by the Interurban Trail and on the west by Fairhaven Park. The property is also known as 100-Acre Woods, One-Hundred Acre Wood, Hundred-Acre Wood, Fairhaven Woods and Fairhaven Highlands. Starting in 1997, when voters first approved the Beyond Greenway levy, the city wanted to buy the property and protect it.

In 2004, Greenbriar Northwest Associates and Horizon Bank acquired the land and the next year proposed building a 739 unit housing development known as the Fairhaven Highlands on approximately 85 acres. The owners wanted $20.7 million for the land, so purchase by the city was not feasible at that time.

After Horizon Bank failed in 2010, its assets became the property of Washington Federal and the property was foreclosed in order to acquire it from Greenbriar NW. The Bellingham City Council at the 9/28/2011 meeting voted to spend $8,230,000 to purchase the Chuckanut Ridge/Fairhaven Highlands prop. Now instead of being developed the area will become public park/recreational property. To finance the purchase, $4.5 million of the money will come from the Greenway III levy, $500,000 will come from southside park impact fees and the balance of approximately $3.23 million plus closing costs will come from a Greenways Endowment Fund loan.

by Dudley Evenson

Each day I gaze out my window at an articulate hillside covered with trees, trees and more trees. The land here is alive with water and creatures of all sorts. Water blesses this sacred earth, the place we call Fairhaven Woods.

When I first came to the neighborhood here on the Southside, I was thrilled to find a spot of land within a city that was so pristine and natural. Many other places I have lived have seen such a forest go the way of development or clear cutting … never again to be an integral part of the earth’s life system, i.e. lungs.

Speaking of lungs, few people truly acknowledge that the earth is our living support system, and more often than not, see only dollar signs and resources for development when they see a plot of land, especially one as large as a hundred acres. One hundred acres, that’s about all that’s left of the forest here on the Southside and now they are talking of putting a busy road through the woods across the Interurban Trail and building 1,200 (twelve hundred!) multi-family housing units.

When I heard of the proposed Chuckanut Ridge project, I was told there were 100 acres marked for development. To me, even one hundred houses seemed extreme — for this sensitive land where deer roam and coyotes cruise on moonlit nights. So many creatures are already living here. The wetland on the side of the hill is home to a myriad of life forms in addition to the rich forest ecosystem that has thrived since long before our race of humans came to this area. We are talking about the land just west of the Interurban Trail which is enjoyed by so many thousands in our community who hike, bike, jog, ride horses, walk, or simply love to be in nature.

I also know owls live there because I met one on an exhilarating night not so long ago. I had run down to the end of the trail before dusk. It was an easy-paced but refreshing jog and upon reaching the old stone bridge platform I took some time to stretch and contemplate the peacefulness of the forest. It had gotten dark by the time I headed back but I ran swiftly along the path, guided only by the darkened forms of branches against a starry sky. I soon heard a bird calling in the trees high above me and before having a chance to wonder at its identity, I felt large talons grasping at the hair on my head. A very large owl had swooped down and probably thought I was a rabbit or other animal running along the path, a choice dinner. He took off in surprise and I exclaimed my greeting to him. Probably most anyone would have been freaked at such animal-human contact, but for some reason, I was thrilled.

I am thankful for the peaceful forest of the Southside. I am also concerned for the lives of those who dwell there now. There would be no way to preserve the essence of this quiet corner of earth if the proposed 1,200 units were to be built. In fact, even building any road there would surely destroy this vast and intricate ecosystem. In my heart of hearts, I feel this land should be preserved for the entire community as a true treasure for the future, for the children. Once the road goes in, it’s history as they say, and there goes our respiratory system, not to mention our watershed.

My daughter was reading Huck Finn’s story. Something Huck was experiencing really caught my attention and I wondered if we could learn from it. Young Huck was having a bout with his conscience. He was wrestling with the fact hat he was aiding the runaway slave, Jim, to escape from Miss Watson. As Huck reasoned, Miss Watson never did anything to hurt him, yet he was hurting her by helping her slave escape. Even after his friendship with him, Huck still saw Jim as “her property” and shouldn’t be interfering.
Private property, rights of property owners. Sound familiar? In retrospect, we can see the fallacy of thinking of another human being as someone’s “property.” Our values and social concepts have changed in a hundred years. But what of today’s thinking that someone can “own” the land and do with it what they will without regard to the commonweal, without consideration of the land itself and the life that it supports?

May we reconsider the plans to develop Fairhaven Woods and instead see to the preservation of the nature that exists there, until the time that our environmental understanding catches up with what the earth would prefer to have happen there? Please let us dialogue on this matter of great importance before it is too late and there is no more wilderness.

Dudley Evenson founded Interurban Neighbors to protect Fairhaven Woods.