In 1982, the view from the Sehome Hill Arboretum observation tower was drastically different than it is today. At one point, one could easily overlook the city of Bellingham.
Today, though, the visibility from the observation tower is limited due to the growth of surrounding trees and shrubbery, leaving decisions to be made about how to restore the once beautiful visage.
According to the updated Sehome Hill Arboretum Master Plan, which was adopted by the city of Bellingham and its board of governors in 2004, the project looks to trim overgrown vegetation and create views of Mount Baker, downtown Bellingham/Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Coast Range.
At a Board of Governors meeting on Nov. 8 at Western Washington University, the public in attendance were in “unanimous support” of the project, said Bellingham Parks Operations Manager Marvin Harris.
The project to trim pockets and windows to create viewpoints from the Sehome Hill Arboretum observation tower is just about ready, Harris said, and all the city is currently waiting on is the correct permits to begin.
“Since its Sehome Hill, there are some concerns with the city’s policies for working in ‘Critical areas,’” Harris said. “Essentially, there are wetlands areas – areas that have steeper slopes – and areas that are along stream banks which are defined as ‘Critical areas.’ When you’re working in those areas, you have to get a permit or variance.”
Other permits have to be attained from the state of Washington because the city is looking to cut trees that are on forest land, Harris said. The permit, Harris explained, is granted by the Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources.
Harris added that a crew has been chosen, and said the work will be done jointly by members of the Parks Department with help from the landscaping crews at Western Washington University.
The project is estimated to cost around $5,000, and it is set to begin sometime after the first of the year.
Undertaking the project of trimming trees is paramount to the Sehome Hill Arboretum, said Chairman of the Sehome Hill Board of Governors and WWU Geology professor Steve Engebretson, for multiple reasons.
When the observation tower was created and opened to the public on April 14, 1982, having a view of the city, Mount Baker as well as other attractions was important to the public, Engebretson said. He explained that the view from the observation tower was created for the public and needs to be maintained.
The project looks to trim or cut down nearly 100 trees, creating nine windows for viewing purposes, Harris said.
Most of the trees that will be cut down or trimmed will be Alder and Cottonwood trees, while avoiding Evergreen trees.
“(Alder and Cottonwood) grow like weeds,” Engebretson said. “If you go up there now and look over the north, they’re the main block of vision if you look north. They grow fast and have big leaves, and they are very effective at blocking views.”
The city and its working crews will not be taking heavy machinery into the Arboretum, and will instead be doing all the work with the use of chainsaws and wood chippers, Harris said.
By doing so, all of what will be cut down or trimmed will remain in the Arboretum.
“Everything we do in the Arboretum, whether trimming or trees falling, we leave them in the arboretum to naturally decay,” Engebretson said.
The timing of the project is also purposeful in the sense that the project should be completed by the time the nesting birds return, Engebretson said.
Sehome Neighborhood Association:
Aside from a unanimous approval to trim the overgrowth in the Sehome Hill Arboretum to allow for a greater view from the observation tower, Jon Shaughnessy, association treasurer of the Sehome Neighborhood Association, said neighborhood members look to become more proactive in maintaining the Arboretum in the future.
“Just like there are students that want to help keep the Arboretum looking good, there are people in the Sehome neighborhood that want to do the same thing,” Shaughnessy said. “In the past, we really haven’t done anything about it, so people would go for a hike in the Arboretum, but nobody thought in terms of ‘What can we be doing to maintain the place?’”
Shaughnessy, in his own way of getting more involved, has proposed paying for a mural to be done on the reservoir walls in the northern section of the Arboretum.
The mural, though, must first be approved by the Sehome Hill Arboretum’s board of governors – which consists of three Bellingham City Council members, three Western Washington University members and one student member – but because it won’t cost them anything, Shaughnessy said he believes it’s just a formality and the mural will be approved.