Bellingham Joins the Depave Revolution

Written By Tammy Kennon
Photographed by Puget Sound Conservation Districts

Squalicum Creek just got a little cleaner. A new rain garden carved out of two parking spots at Yeager’s Sporting Goods in Bellingham will filter pollutants out of more than 70,000 gallons of stormwater annually, sending clean, naturally filtered water into the creek.

Squalicum Creek flows into Bellingham Bay, part of the complex system of water bodies known collectively as Puget Sound, home to orcas, salmon and the giant Pacific octopus – and, unfortunately, the destination of the region’s polluted runoff.

Stormwater, the rain and snow that runs off of roads, roofs and parking lots, represents the single biggest source of pollution in Puget Sound. While a good rainstorm might cleanse our buildings and streets, the runoff sends toxins, sediment, nutrients and bacteria into our waterways. And there’s a lot of it. An estimated 14 million pounds of chemical pollutants run into Puget Sound annually, threatening wildlife, fish and people. Research has shown that this toxic runoff can kill adult salmon in less than three hours.

Bringing nature back into our cities helps purify otherwise polluted runoff using nature’s own filtering system. An acre of green space serves a dual purpose, sending only 208,000 gallons of clean runoff into waterways and at the same time replenishing vital groundwater with 311,000 gallons annually. By contrast, a single acre of paved surface, the size of a 150-car parking lot, sends a million gallons of polluted runoff into Puget Sound every year.

The good news is that even small green spaces, such as the two parking spots at Yeager’s, have an impact.

With funding from Boeing and The Nature Conservancy, the Puget Sound Conservation Districts (PSCD) created a Stormwater Action team to leverage the skills and resources of the region for districts that don’t have the capacity or experience to implement stormwater projects on their own. 

“Through this team, which is made up of local leaders partnering across Puget Sound, we suddenly have a very big reach and can replicate top programs in the region,” said Kate Riley, a Community Engagement Program Manager in the Snohomish Conservation District. “The city of Bellingham wanted to try a pilot depave case.”

Yeager’s was identified as a high-impact site for depaving, because of the size of the parking lot and its proximity to the creek. And, it also helped that the owner grew up fishing Squalicum Creek.

“The area here has a special place in my heart,” Yeager’s owner John “Westy” Westerfield told the Bellingham Herald. “When we had this opportunity, we couldn’t pass it up.”

Volunteers from Yeager’s staff broke up and removed the asphalt in June, and the rain garden was planted this month with plants that are easy to maintain and tolerant of wet soil.

The Nature Conservancy, working with partners such as Boeing and the Puget Sound Conservation District, continues to mitigate polluted stormwater with projects like the new rain gardens in Bellingham and Tacoma. These successful depave ventures encourage communities to think about where unused pavement can be replaced with nature to energize our waterways and our neighborhoods.

You can learn more about installing a beautiful rain garden in your own yard or neighborhood at City Habitats.



Parenthood, Conservation and City Living


Finding ways to engage city kids in conservation

Written and Photographed by Jamie Robertson, Spatial Analyst

“Outside, Daddy!” demands my toddler, Rowan. She wants to be out of the house exploring the community garden, following the hoot of an owl, or surveying the bay below our Tacoma neighborhood. I hear it multiple times a day and will never tire of it. She loves being outside – out adventuring – and I wish more than anything that she always will.

Being a conservation geographer, my career and my personal life meet at a crossroads of place and a respect for the natural things supporting us in this world. As a parent whose childhood was spent freely wandering many undeveloped acres of wooded hills, playing in healthy clear creeks, and dancing around May Poles in what wasn’t quite a hippy commune but let’s call it one anyway, I recognize “place” played as large a role in shaping my sense of discovery, wanderlust, and career as the people I shared those experiences with. And Rowan’s childhood place is certainly different from my own.

My wife Courtney and I recently moved back to Washington after each discovering its lures before we even knew each other. We are from North Carolina, though we met, fell in love, and had Rowan in Colorado. Our landing in Tacoma was a surprise, but our decision to raise Rowan in this state was absolutely deliberate. As it turns out, Tacoma is arguably the prettiest city in the Pacific Northwest. Mt. Rainier looms, old growth trees tower in vast Pt. Defiance Park, the waters of Tacoma Narrows and Commencement Bay surround half the city, downtown museums and theaters provide an impressive cultural and aesthetic appeal, and beautiful Craftsman, Victorian, and Tudor homes with lush gardens spread across the steep hillsides. Despite its rough history and typical urban issues, Tacoma is a wonderful place to raise our family.

But with city living – or maybe I should say modern living – comes a struggle. How do we allow Rowan enough freedoms to discover her own paths? What is truly necessary for her to grow respect for the natural world?

Granted, my daughter is still a toddler, but finding ways to engage city kids in conservation is a necessary strategy for all people concerned with natural or urban wellbeing. I believe tomorrow’s conservationists will increasingly be born from an urban experience which differs so vastly from the back-to-nature background of so many conservationists today. Indeed, this will be necessary as urbanism will only continue to influence and control the fates of the natural world that shaped me so profoundly and which will keep our social and economic systems running well into the future. Freedom to discover outside leads to respect for nature and is fundamental to engaging all children, I believe.

In my job, discovery means mapping out the world around us to help Washington understand the natural world and the factors impacting it so we can determine collectively how to address conservation issues. As a parent, discovery means finding ways to teach Rowan skills of self-reliance and to build a foundation of confidence she will need to adventure on her own. …But for now, I’ll be sure to keep a watchful eye when she sprints out the door.

Learn more about how you can share the love of the outdoors with your kids.