Updated: Feb 20
If you’ve lived in Bellingham long, you’ve likely heard of the Port of Bellingham’s initiative to clean up the 237 acres of waterfront property perched between Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham.
The former industrial site, marked by a few remaining abandoned buildings, originally opened in 1929 as Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co., a conglomerate of several different timber and pulp mills in the northwest that received logs via railroad cars. In 1963, it became the Georgia-Pacific tissue paper manufacturing company. The site served as a major hub of industry—employing over 1,200 at peak production—until GP closed its Pulp Mill in 2001.
The Port purchased 137 acres of GP’s waterfront property in 2005 for $10 and and agreement to perform a specific amount of environmental cleanup. GP purchased a $5 Million, 30-year environmental cleanup policy to protect against cost overruns.
Over the last decade and a half, some of the remaining structures were demolished and numerous environmental studies were commissioned by the Washington State Department of Ecology to determine the nature and extent of historic environmental contamination and how best to clean it up. They found mercury, arsenic, lead, petroleum, and other caustic solutions leftover from the processing and bleaching of paper pulp in the soil and nearby inlet. The soil was removed both on site and in local waterway with the aid of a dredge in an effort that spanned from 2011 to 2017.
Only a handful of buildings remain, including digester and pulp storage tanks once used for processing wood chips into a pulp-mixture that was then stored before being pressed into sheets of paper. Among them are the Board Mill Building, which produced paper-board for boxes and an alcohol plant that was built with help from the U.S. Army to aid the war effort. The now-infamous acid ball—which was used as a relief system to draw liquid and gas from the digester, tasks, maintaining a constant pressure while the wood chips were cooked at high temperatures and pressures in sulphurous acid—now stands as a landmark for the newly opened Waypoint Park.
In 2015, representatives of the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition met with Port staff to propose the idea for a bike and brew festival on Bellingham’s downtown waterfront. During these discussions, the idea of building a bicycle pump track to support events at the bike and brew festival came about. A pump track is a series of rolling earthen hills that bikers ride up and down, shifting their weight to gain momentum. This means trekking your bike up the mountain—or even pedaling—isn’t necessary to enjoy the thrill of this attraction. The pump track has been a welcome addition to the waterfront and the first bike and brew festival, the Northwest Tune-Up, is on track for summer 2020.
Operating as a nonprofit, WMBC is credited for the creation and upkeep of trails criss-crossing Galbraith Mountain in a contract with Galbraith Tree Farm and Polygon Corporation, who still owns a quarter of the mountain and actively use it to harvest timber. The decision to build the track was largely supported by the sizable community of mountain bikers in Whatcom County who make frequent use of our area’s well-established trails.
Plans for the waterfront bike park were ultimately a collaborative effort between the WMBC and Greg Nicoll, the Port of Bellingham employee who headed up the project. Once the city approved permits, the Port funded the project with a price tag around $150,000 for construction costs. Additionally, the Port paid to import the soil necessary to form the bike park. This soil will eventually be used as a base layer for a permanent city park to be built in the same location. The Port is planning to add a skills park to the bike park to help beginning riders practice their technique.
In all, 68,000 tons of dirt were hauled in by Oceanside Construction and formed into the approximately 20,000-square-feet of various berms and banked turns that make up the track.
Local company Shire Built did the bulk of the labor, which was overseen by local cycle enthusiasts Spencer Baldwin and Scott Scamehorn, two talented builders who specialize in creating pumps tracks. Their previous designs can be experienced on Galbraith Mountain and near the Civic Athletic Complex.
The track was built over a period of six weeks in the summer of 2019 and opened in early September. But historically heavy rains before the track had a chance to harden with initial use caused erosion and necessitated a temporary closing on September 15. Grading and drainage work was completed and the track opened again on October 10. On a recent Sunday afternoon visit, it was teeming with happy riders of all ages.
Baldwin and Scamehorn recommend riders use BMX for performing tricks and hardtail suspension mountain bikes, which are built specifically for absorbing shocks off of jumps. Smooth tires are also preferred to reduce damage to the track, as those with heavier treads may erode the dirt faster, increasing a need for more frequent maintenance.
Though there may be plenty of technical features for more experienced riders, the pump track also caters to those just starting out.
Avid local mountain biker Orion Collins endorses it. “I would recommend it for beginners. They have small rollers. I’ve seen little five-year-olds ride on and it’s a great place to build confidence and skills as a rider.”
The track is not meant be a permanent addition to the waterfront, but is expected to be enjoyed by the community for many years to come. According to the Port of Bellingham website, it’s located in an area that will eventually be developed into a large city park: “The timeline for building this permanent waterfront park will depend on the pace of development, but will likely be at least 10 years.”
If you’ve got a bike, now’s the time to head down to Waypoint Park, explore the new pump track, and get an excellent, no-cost, adrenaline-filled workout.