Plan to Improve North Fork Nooksack River Finalized

Published 1/14/2021  |  American Whitewater
By: Thomas O’Keefe

For the past several years American Whitewater has worked with the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program, American Rivers, Whatcom Land Trust, the Nooksack Tribe, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and Washington Department of Transportation to address serious safety issues associated with the primary take-out for the North Fork Nooksack River at milepost 27. While the run starts on National Forest Service lands, paddlers are left to find their own take-out along a river reach that flows through lands that are predominately owned by private landowners. While locals might do a short run and take out in Glacier or at the Warnick Bridge, a standard trip continues down to the vicinity of Maple Creek at milepost 27. Most of the land there is privately owned, the take-out is challenging with no good eddy, parking is extremely limited, and boaters often end up loading boats while standing in the highway.

After years of site visits, planning efforts, and extensive evaluation of a dozen sites that could potentially serve as a take-out, we have finally found a solution. Through a collaborative planning effort, and a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service, we have identified a site half a mile downstream of milepost 27 on a small parcel owned by the state and managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources that would allow for parking and a trail to the river. Working with our partners, Washington Department of Natural Resources submitted a grant for funding to develop this project through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

With input from the Nooksack Tribe we were able to develop a project that both improves river access and restores riparian vegetation while also including a focus on boater education and safety.

The project (review complete grant application) has the following goals and objectives:

  1. Provide Safe and Sustainable Public Access – This site aims to provide for safe access to outdoor recreation opportunities through the use of low-impact site interventions. The proposed project has the potential to accommodate multiple activities with facilities for boaters, anglers, and members of the general public desiring contact access to the water.
  2. Protect, Enhance, and Restore Natural Systems – This project would provide public access while also enhancing ecological function. The site is dominated by a cleared area that has significant restoration potential. The parking area would be separated from the riverbank allowing for extensive riparian restoration of native vegetation including conifers.
  3. Increase Connections and Partnerships – This project provides opportunities for increased connections and partnerships between the Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Whatcom Land Trust, the Nooksack Tribe, and all river users. The benefits include shared access, opportunities, and amenities.

The project scored well in the grant review for Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program Water Access Projects and we anticipate it will likely be funded through the state capital budget for the 2021-23 biennium that will be approved in the 2021 legislative session (the Governor has proposed $100 million for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and American Whitewater is requesting $140 million).

In developing this grant request, American Whitewater benefitted from the expertise of the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program who provided technical assistance and helped us develop the Maple Creek Site Plan: Public River Access and Restoration. This plan details how potential sites within this reach were identified, inventoried, and ultimately analyzed to determine one suitable site for development. Maple Creek was selected as being the most suitable for a new river access site, and later chapters in this plan go into detail about recommendations for site interventions and implementation.

We appreciate all the American Whitewater members who participated in this planning effort over the years and particularly those in the Bellingham paddling community who made financial contributions to support this work and volunteered their time.

This post first appeared on American Whitewater.

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