Mar 12, 2017

WA: City of Bellingham Police and Parks Departments Clean up Natural Areas :-)

Debris in wetland
A pair of mallards eeks out a living in the junky, filthy drainage not far from the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Pine Street (Glass Beach). In the summer it is mostly dry but at the moment it is a type of water body, perhaps a wetland. When I studied wetlands in the 90s someone told me you could identify something as a wetland if it had a sofa in it.

It is heartbreaking to see the ducks struggling in such a situation. You wonder how many birds, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, deer, and fish in the area of the wetland and Bellingham Bay have experienced plastics or other items that entangle them, toxics that poison them, or lack of sufficient forage for them to survive.

Kingfisher at Boulevard Park on watch for fish to eat -
 the pair of Kingfishers nests under the railroad tracks nearby
I was therefore grateful to notice on 3/9/17 the City of Bellingham Police Department and Parks Department doing a homeless camp clearing of a buffer at the north end of South Bay Trail, and the South Bay Trail itself all the way to Boulevard Park (click to see Parks Department map of South Bay Trail and Boulevard Park).

The north end of the South Bay Trail is a paved footpath that includes a trestle that is owned the City. The City cleared the area underneath it and the 25 or 50 feet of space next to the borderline (which is basically the dirt foot path) with BNSF Railway Company property. I was informed by a City of Police Department Code Compliance Officer that a BNSF HAZMAT team will remove hazardous material and debris down the slope west of the dirt path very soon.

Parks Department Crew
Some vital concerns when dealing with trash, toxins and homeless in the natural areas include the ecological health of the buffer and wetland, successful stormwater management, and recovery programs for salmon. Another area of concern is that tax-paying citizens and law-abiding vulnerable human communities adjacent to the campers' chosen areas generally expect safety and sanitation issues to be well-managed in their neighborhoods.

I was so glad to see the City Parks Department crew, to learn of their and BNSF efforts, and to be permitted to photograph their work. They told me about the Police Department Code Compliance Department staff who are working diligently to keep the natural areas clean and who welcome calls from concerned citizens. City staff systematically clean natural areas that have been compromised, but welcome calls from people who observe violations that need attention. Keep calling to repeat the concern if necessary, as I was told COB encourages that.

Debris viewable from trestle
The City and BNSF workers necessarily use special gear and equipment to deal with filth, crack pipes, needles, baggies, tires, tents and so on. The Police Department, a Homeless Outreach Team, and others communicate with the people who are unlawfully camping in such areas. Resources are available for low-income and homeless people in Bellingham and Whatcom County. The City staff are to be commended as their workload is large, i.e., dealing monthly with numerous riparian areas that are being utilized by homeless people.

Parks Department has the necessary machinery
An Associated Press article from 2001 saying "bad guys go to the woods to do bad things" has always stuck with me. It was referring to methamphetamine labs in national forests. Some drug addicts would also steal timber, even old growth. In 2017 illegal drug issues in urban areas like Bellingham are widespread too. I've been impacted by junkie neighbors in my last three apartments.

Citizens can promote health and safety in the buffer areas using whatever unique skills, talents and time they may have. When I worked in Seattle I volunteered for the Duwamish River during lunch hours and other free time. There were several ways to promote good stewardship in various ways - creekside tours, fundraising, writing, planting native plants and so on. I also initiated a critter scope design competition among employees with the winning designer receiving a certificate, and children in the community receiving the critter scopes for Christmas presents. One simple way to help is to put what you love about trails, natural corridors, or wetlands on your Instagram feed.

Homelessness creates thorny issues in many locales. Cities such as Seattle or Olympia struggle to meet the challenges on a large scale. An article in the Seattle Times recently describes a camp clearing of much larger proportions than in Bellingham which has a population of around 100,000 people. Population in the rest of the Whatcom County consists of about another 100,000.  Perhaps Bellingham will soon be as populated, built up, and industrial as Vancouver B.C., Seattle, etc. so addressing the homeless challenges while they are comparatively small will facilitate things in the long run.
Busy squirrel on South Bay Trail