Shorelines of Whatcom County

From the tidal mudflats of Drayton Harbor in Blaine to the rocky coves at Larrabee State Park, the more than 130 miles of marine shorelines located within Whatcom County make up some of the most beautiful and beloved areas around.

Shorelines provide essential ecosystem services which benefit not only people, but the native plants and animals of the area as well. Because the coastlines in Whatcom County are diverse, dynamic, fragile and sensitive ecosystems, we must work to protect them to ensure their health now and in the future.

Benefits of shorelines

Feeder bluffs, beaches, driftways, rock shores, tidelands and spits are just some of the coastal features which make up the Whatcom County shoreline.

Oysters prove to be an excellent example of ecosystem services and the interconnectedness between people and coastal areas. Oysters are filter feeders which means that they help clean the water. This also means that any pollution in the water gets absorbed into their tissue and eliminated safely. Therefore, if we want to eat oysters and have them continue to be a vital part of our economy, we must protect our watershed. The shell of an oyster is very susceptible to ocean acidification caused by a changing climate, and without their shells, oysters are unable to survive. Many wildlife species of the coastal area, including wading birds, also utilize oysters as a food source, which means that they are critical in maintaining biodiversity of our shorelines.

Issues affecting our shorelines

With an increasing number of people moving to Whatcom County each year, water quality, habitat protection, public access and increasing development pressures are becoming more and more relevant. Development, agricultural runoff, failing septic systems and animal waste are all factors contributing to the decline of water quality in the watershed. Shoreline armoring, such as bulkheads and artificial rock walls, negatively impacts habitat in addition to interrupting natural sediment movement.

Whatcom Land Trust, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Whatcom Conservation District and the Whatcom County Department of Health are just a few of the many organizations working to restore shorelines and educate individuals on how they can make a difference in protecting these natural areas.

As the demand for shoreline property increases, so do costs. With minimal public shoreline access already, this increase in price jeopardizes the potential for new public access points because of the incentive for property owners to sell to the highest bidder. With all of these pressures, management and protection are essential in keeping the county’s shorelines healthy and resilient for generations to come.

Whatcom Land Trust and its shoreline partners

Whatcom Land Trust works together with the Washington State Department’s of Health, Ecology and Fish and Wildlife, Whatcom County and its coastal communities including private landowners in order to preserve and protect land along the shoreline.

Through conservation easements, the Land Trust is able to provide permanent protection for these beautiful and critical areas. Accounting for more than 440 acres, Lily Point Marine Reserve in Point Roberts, Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, Clark’s Point and Teddy Bear Cove are among a few of the coastal areas which the Trust has helped to protect over the years.

The most recent shoreline protection story

Whatcom Land Trust’s latest shoreline protection opportunity came with the June 30th purchase of an 11.5- acre property where California Creek enters into Drayton Harbor. This property has a very high conservation value due to its location, ecological makeup and future role as a public park along the shoreline. Being a confluence of river and coastal ecosystems as well as connecting people with nature, this new site is a great representation of the Trust’s mission to preserve and protect land, water and natural resources with the help of local partners.

Patience pays off

The California Creek site has been on Whatcom Land Trust’s radar for many years. Funding and timing had delayed the purchase, but with perseverance, Whatcom Land Trust has now acquired the land. The acquisition was made possible from grants, a bridge loan from the Conservation Fund, a donation from the Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District #2 and donations from Whatcom Land Trust patrons. The sellers, a family who has owned the property for almost 30 years, has loved and cared for the land for decades.

Ecological importance

Adjacent to a tidal estuary- a nursery for a multitude of marine life, the land is influenced by both fresh and saltwater and includes two types of wetlands. The California Creek sub-basin makes up 40% of the total Drayton Harbor watershed which means that the restoration of the site will benefit the watershed as a whole.

This site provides critical habitat for salmon and other fish as well as many different bird species. In fact, at the last site visit by Whatcom Land Trust, multiple eagles and a heron flew overhead while the constant music of songbirds played from the forested wetlands on the property. With the purchase of the property, the Whatcom Land Trust will work with its partners to restore and improve the natural habitat so its native plants and animals can flourish.

Growing a shoreline legacy

v Following restoration and permanent protection through a conservation easement, the Trust will transfer the California Creek site over to the Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District #2 to own and manage. In doing so, the property will provide public access, educational and stewardship opportunities in one of the most beautiful coastal areas of Drayton Harbor as well as permanent protection forever. For the Park District, this property provides a missing piece in the long term goal to create a continuous off road walking and cycling trail from Birch Bay to the Canadian border.

This three-part win win winpurchasing of the property, holding the conservation easement and transfer of the land over to the Parks District, is an excellent example of how Whatcom Land Trust creates permanent land protection and public recreational amenities for the people of Whatcom County. The shorelines in Whatcom County are essential to the aesthetic and ecological values of our corner of the Salish Sea. Through collaborating with its public and private partners, Whatcom Land Trust contributes to our community vision of healthy, prosperous and accessible coastal areas for future generations.

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