Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bellingham’s 40th Annual Track Meet

At 9:15 a.m. on June 3, 600 elementary students marched toward the Civic Field Athletic Complex for the 40th Annual All City Fifth Grade Track Meet.

Schedule of Events

The students’ chants filled the air as they held up flags, banners and signs decorated with their school name, colors and mascot. The track meet started at 9:30 a.m. and ended at noon, going through six field events and six running events. Girls and boys competed separately for each of the 12 events.

According to the meet schedule, field events included shot put, softball throw, standing long jump, running long jump, high jump and triple jump. Running events included a 50 meter dash, 75 meter dash, 200 meter run, 400 meter run, 800 meter run and 400 meter relay, which four participants split up a 400 meter dash as a team.

Happy Valley resident Shannon Funk said the stands were exploding with excitement and it was fun to share the fun-filled day with everyone. She took photos for the Happy Valley Elementary fifth grade memory book and watched her 11-year-old daughter Christina participate in the 400 meter relay and the high jump.

“Their [the students’] enthusiasm and pride is amazing,” Funk said.

Selecting Participants

Ken Ericson, physical education teacher in the district, said one girl and one boy were allowed to participate per fifth grade class from each elementary school. For example, one school having three fifth grade classes could have a total of six students participate.

The meet was run by 10 physical education teachers in the district, students in the physical education program at Western Washington University and students volunteering from Bellingham High School, Ericson said.

In the elementary schools’ track and field unit, the students were able to choose three events they preferred to participate in. Ericson said, from there, the students were selected based on their performance in the tryouts for each event.

Happy Valley Elementary fifth grader Christina Funk said each student was allowed to do one event, except the 400 meter relay participants were able to do one other individual event.

Ericson said he has been the announcer for the past 35 years and said the elementary school principals are the official timers every year.

The results of each event were not given out at the meet because the school district does not put emphasis on competition but rather on participation and experience, Ericson said.

He said the students placing first through eighth in the finals will receive certificates at their school at the end of the year.

Student Experiences

Just two weeks before the track meet, Funk said she and three other classmates began to train for the 400 meter relay. Physical education teacher Randy Cline prepared 11-year-olds Kate Rose, Allison Top, Illana Pechthalt and Funk for the meet by timing them on the track during their physical education class at Happy Valley Elementary.

Cline said the nice thing about the meet is having the combination of track and giving the kids a chance to compete against other schools before going off to different middle schools.

“These kids have been together from kindergarten to fifth grade,” Cline said.

Funk said the boys and girls on the relay teams were selected based on their top times in a hurdle exercise Mr. Cline had them do. She said she would like to do the hurdles if she continues track in middle school and high school.

“I don’t like long distance,” Funk said. “I prefer sprinting.”

Happy Valley Elementary fifth grader Kaleb Harrison, 11, participated in the high jump and said his final jump was 3 feet and 2 inches. He said he enjoyed doing the high jump and cheering on his friend Dani Tanir, 11, who did the long jump.

Enthusiastic Students and Parents

Western Washington University senior Chris Miller, 23, was in charge of the shot put for the track meet and said he is part of the physical education program at Western. He said part of the program is to work with students on the elementary level, and he enjoyed interacting and volunteering his time.

“Our job is to make sure they enjoy being physically active and continue this through middle school and high school,” Miller said.

He said fifth graders have told him they look forward to this event every year and he is amazed at how excited they get.

“This is their last hoo-rah before summer,” Miller said.

Ken Harrison watched his grandson Kaleb as he participated in the high jump. He said he enjoyed the team spirit, peer support and enthusiasm amongst the different schools.

“Some of these races have been nose to nose,” he said.

Even the cliques amongst the students seem to disappear and become one when cheering on fellow classmates, Harrison said.

Harrison said it is good the school district has the track meet, getting the kids outside and away from the electronic games.

“Middle school coaches could come scout here,” Harrison said.

Shannon Funk said she thinks the goal of the school district is to get kids to do something they may not otherwise be part of and to really celebrate their last days together in the elementary school setting.

Even though the school district doesn’t want to focus on competition, Funk said she thinks it actually is competitive and that’s what makes it so exciting.

The kids love the competitive nature of the event and Funk said she thinks a little healthy competition is good.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pocket Parks in Happy Valley

Happy Valley is commonly mistaken to be the home of simply two parks, 5-acre Happy Valley Park and 30-acre Connelly Creek Nature Area. Happy Valley resident Hue Beattie said he believes the neighborhood has four parks total. The other two are pocket parks, or mini-parks, that not very many people know about because there are no signs and they are rather small. These parks are used by the immediate neighbors for a variety of things, but aren’t actually considered parks to Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.

One park is located on Lenora Court between Knox and Mill Avenues. This park is about .1 acre in size, a little bit smaller than a college basketball court. Beattie said the area is nicely landscaped because the neighbors share the responsibility of maintaining it. This space of land has been used for picnics, weddings or meetings over the years and is commonly used as a play area by the neighborhood residents.

The second pocket park of Happy Valley is located on the corner of 21st Street and Larrabee Avenue. This park has a pond that is about 40 feet in diameter for runoff water coming from parking lots nearby. Beattie said residents of Stanford Apartments use this area as a permaculture landscape, or edible landscape. The area provides food such as nuts and berries for the people and wildlife around it. The Happy Valley Neighborhood Association,, tried to propose a plan for this area to become a community garden, but the Parks and Recreation Department decided it was too small.

-More information on Happy Valley Park and Connelly Creek Area:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Homeless Youth of Bellingham

In the April 2010 Point in Time Count for Whatcom County, about 1,334 homeless individuals were counted. About 515 of them, or 39 percent, are under the age of 18.
An individual counted may be part of a family household, or may be an unaccompanied individual. Gail de Hoog, housing specialist at the Whatcom County Health Department, said the Point in Time Count is a census of homeless people conducted every year by Whatcom County in order to receive federal funds.
She said the count is required by the Washington State Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an organization aimed toward increasing access to affordable housing free from discrimination.

Youth in Numbers
According to the count, 230 homeless persons are 16 to 21 years old and at least 55 homeless youth, age zero to 17, are unaccompanied. The median age of all homeless persons is 20, while the median age of unaccompanied homeless persons is 34.
Whatcom County’s count information,, states that youth may become homeless due to family problems, economic problems and residential instability.
Some youth become homeless with their families, while others leave home because of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, neglect from parents, addiction of a family member, or their own chemical addiction, according to the count information.
Twenty-two-year old Cole McLaughlin said he has lived in Happy Valley for a year, but has never encountered homeless youth in the neighborhood.
“Just because you don’t see these homeless people, doesn’t mean they aren’t out there,” McLaughlin said.
He said he thinks it would be hard to face others his age who were doing a lot better, especially being close to a university with a lot of students around.

Some Tell their Story
Patrick Brown, 18, is from Bellingham and said he has been homeless since he was 15 years old. He said he started doing crystal methamphetamine at this age and his mom kicked him out of the house.
“At age 16 I was clean,” Brown said. “But then I got into psychedelics [drugs] and Mary Jane [marijuana].”
Brown said he is part of a group with six other homeless individuals he considers family. He said they call themselves “Juggalos” and each member is firm about being there for those that are part of the group.
Patrick “JP” Dangell, 21, is also part of the Juggalo group and has been homeless since he was 14 years old. Dangell did not say how he became homeless.
Brown said he is close with Dangell and they have been homeless together for four years. Brown calls Dangell the “Senior Juggalo.”
Dangell sometimes wears face paint like a clown.
“It scares the public away,” he said. “We can just be ourselves and do what we want, whenever we want.”
He said the members of the group teach each other to be true to themselves and to live life to the fullest.
Hue Beattie, 63, said he has lived in Happy Valley since 1973 and has encountered one homeless woman in her 40s living out of her car.
Beattie said he thinks homeless people would be in downtown Bellingham rather than residential areas because there is more to do and more people to talk to.
As far as homeless youth, “That’s a topic I’ve never really thought about,” he said.

Helping the Youth
Since the young people that are homeless tend to be more hypersensitive and reserved about the matter, de Hoog said the department doesn’t know enough about these individuals to help them.
De Hoog said there a lot of young people that have nowhere to go. It is important to focus on and figure out housing for young people, de Hoog said.
“They are the future and they are the ones going to have babies,” she said.
The Northwest Youth Services is a non-profit organization that aids youth and young adults in Whatcom and Skagit County, according to its website The organization provides programs and resources to help runaway, homeless, abused, neglected and other at-risk youth and young adults.
Cathy Beaty has been part of Northwest Youth Services for 14 ½ years and is now the Teen Court coordinator for the organization. She said Teen Court is a court for youth, age 18 and younger, to receive consequences for their actions without convictions or criminal records.
Beaty said the organization’s primary program is housing, transitional and permanent. Transitional living helps ages 18-21 subsidize their monthly costs, while permanent housing is more independent and helps ages 18-25 who have bad credit or criminal history, she said.
“We help them with the little stuff too – balancing checkbooks, how to cook and preparing them for job interviews,” Beaty said.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Big Plans for Happy Valley Community Asset

With summer just around the corner, Matt Christman’s go-getter attitude is at its highest and he is putting a majority of his time toward the facility he owns, the Firehouse Café and Performing Arts Center,

By the end of July, paperwork will be turned in and ready to go for the facility to become a non-profit organization. Christman plans to hand off the Firehouse to a board of members, who will launch a capital campaign, or fundraising program.

The money raised will recuperate the investments and purchase the interest out that Christman and his father put in to the building. Any additional funds generated could potentially go toward scholarships for students or to a local artist.

Another potential plan for the Firehouse includes starting a film series during the winter months when Fairhaven’s Outdoor Cinema is closed,

Overall, Christman wants to keep the main space a community hub for a variety of things such as dance and tai chi classes, socializing and sipping coffee, and performance events. He said the combination of a café and performing arts center is a perfect pair – two large windows in the café looking into the performing arts center allow someone to take a coffee break while enjoying the sight of ballet.

To learn more about Happy Valley’s and Fairhaven’s community assets visit:

-Project Labyrinth,

-Caretaker's House Renovation in Fairhaven Park, http://www.caretakershouse/

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bellingham's Second Cohousing Project

    As soon as two weeks, the construction of eight cohousing units will begin on a 1.77-acre site on 2600 Mill Ave.

What is Cohousing?

    Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods, according to The residents are consciously committed to living as a community and the physical design encourages both social contact and individual space.
    Millworks Cohousing LLC is the group behind this project. This group of eight households has come together over the course of two years to develop cohousing on the $660,000 property.
    Group member Perry Fizzano, a computer science professor at Western Washington University, said the property was bought in June 2008. He said, since then, Millworks has been planning this project and he has lived in the existing house on the property.
    “I think it's a great project to show progressive development while still maintaining the character of the neighborhood,” Fizzano said.
    Fizzano said the building, land-use and house permits are approved, and everything is pretty much ready to go. The group is just waiting on some banking technicalities, he said.
    Project Manager Rose Lathrop of Aiki Homes, a construction company, said the construction project will take about 13 months to finish. She said the total cost of the project is an ambiguous figure considering costs that include site development, plotting and permits, land and individual construction of each house.

The Project

    Fizzano said the project layout consists of eight housing units custom designed by each household, the existing 1 ½ story house as a common house, a play area for kids and a community garden. Lathrop said the common house will be used for gatherings and guest space, while the garage of the common house will be used as a workshop and for storage.
    The sizes of the houses being built range from 800 to 1,800 square feet, said Lathrop. She said Millworks decided as a group to build eight houses with this kind of size flexibility rather than the full potential of 10 houses. There are other constraints such as stormwater management that create a size limit of 5,000 square feet to the houses, according to Aiki Homes Feasibility Study on the property.
    Among the eight households, Fizzano said there are about 16 people who will be part of the cohousing community, young and old. He said they include single individuals, married couples with children and retired people.
    Lathrop said with this cohousing project, each household is saving about $5,000 since they are able to share a parking lot, water connection and sewer connection.
    “Millworks has put a lot of time, money, gumption and vision in this project to make it work,” Lathrop said.
    Each household was able to decide on specific features such as flooring material and renewable energy options, Lathrop said.
    Fizzano said all of the houses are “green built” in terms of energy efficiency and materials. He said some households are using green energy through wind turbine subscriptions.

Getting Things Going

    Lathrop said Aiki Homes has been working with Millworks since 2008 and said projects like this are usually a process of planning and permit approvals.
    She said the process may have been drawn out because each household was given a fresh pallet to completely design a house specific to their needs and desires. Also, she said the cohousing group only had five of its eight members last summer.
    “The longer they have to make decisions how they want their house to look, the more changes they will make,” Lathrop said.
    Seventy-three-year old Leah Redifer lives in Happy Valley and said she heard about the project awhile ago. She said she thought it had been put on hold or cancelled due to the economy.

Cohousing is the Way to Go

    Options like these show how cohousing is flexible and gives people variety, Lathrop said. She said general house developers lay down the line on house structure and features, and that’s the way it is.
    You can’t get as creative with a standard developer, Lathrop said.
    Happy Valley resident Marlene Jackson, 69, said the cohousing project is positive and good for the neighborhood. She said it will be a nice little “hodge-podge” community, with a mix of different people together in one area.
    Jackson said the she likes that the smaller houses will be affordable for the families and she thinks the community garden will be very beneficial.
    Lathrop said she likes that this group is multi-generational – kids and parents, grandparents and young adults. People are so classified in communities when it comes to age, but this group is different, she said.
    Fizzano said he is looking forward to living in a new house surrounded by people who are somewhat like-minded. He said this is one of things that motivated him to undertake the project from the beginning.
Visit Bellingham's cohousing websites:
Millworks Cohousing:
Donovan Avenue Cohousing:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Recent $10,000 Donation Toward Community Asset

The Center for Local Self-Reliance, a Bellingham non-profit organization, received a $10,000 donation toward its renovation project of the Caretaker’s House in Fairhaven Park.
“We are on our way,” said the organization’s secretary, Mary Mullen.
Mullen said a generous South Side resident donated the money anonymously on April 16. She said the organization’s goals for this year will cost about $37,000 but it is difficult to estimate the cost of the whole project since it is constantly evolving.
Steve Wilson, president of the organization, said the house has been falling apart and vandalized since the last caretaker, Loren Iversen, lived there in 1988. Wilson said the organization has been planning this project ever since it turned in their proposal to the Bellingham City Council in 2008.
With continued community support, Wilson said the house and grounds could be open to the public by spring 2012, but not completely finished.

Caretaker’s Gardens reestablishment

Mullen said another part of the project is reestablishing the Caretaker’s Gardens. She said fungus in the soil and deer grazing are the main reasons the Rose Garden was closed in 1999.
Eighty-five-year-old Iversen said he and his wife Kathleen lived in the Caretaker’s House for 15 years and took care of the Rose Garden and Fairhaven Park.
“I would just have my wife chase the deer away,” he said.
Iversen said he is disappointed “his” roses are gone and that nobody has been living in the house to take care of the park.
Happy Valley resident Gordy Tweit, 83, said he heard about the project by word of mouth and he is happy to see it happening. He said it was too bad when the Rose Garden was closed because many weddings were held there and in the gazebo.
“It was such a beautiful site to have a wedding on a summer day,” Tweit said.
Mullen said in 2008 the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department wanted the Caretaker’s House moved off site since it was such a liability for them. That summer, community members came together and created a proposal to keep the house on site. She said this is when the Center for Local Self-Reliance was formed, and the Bellingham City Council approved their proposal that September.
The organization’s website,, describes the additions and features of the reestablished gardens and restored house. For example, gathering and teaching spaces will be offered such as a commercial kitchen that will be used for canning and preserving food, medicinal plant preparation, and other domestic teaching.

Caretaker’s House renovation

Wilson said his group plans on putting a new roof on the house this summer, and Mullen said a fence around the whole perimeter should be installed late summer or early fall.
Other long-term construction goals of the Caretaker’s House include putting in a wheelchair ramp and bathroom that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, restoring the failed storm drain, updating the wiring and plumbing and painting the house, Wilson said.
He said the tricky part is the organization doesn’t have the money to turn the project over to a contractor so it is communicating with about 35 volunteers at the moment.
By renovating the Caretaker’s House and Gardens, Mullen said the organization will be able to provide a community venue and working example of alternative food choices.
Mullen said donations and grants like the one from the Whatcom Parks and Recreation Foundation will help the organization reach its goals. She said she hopes this project will be evolving and morphing for generations to come.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Permanent Labyrinth Open to Bellingham Public

Construction on Bellingham’s first permanent labyrinth will begin on Aug. 2 in Fairhaven Park.

A labyrinth is a pattern consisting of a winding path within a circle, leading to the center and back out again. Labyrinths are used for walking meditation and as a path of prayer, according to the Bellingham non-profit organization Project Labyrinth.
Vice president of the organization Chuck Nafziger said Project Labyrinth has been planning and raising money for this labyrinth for four years, meeting up once a month.
“Everything has gone slowly but smoothly,” Nafziger said.

Labyrinth planning generates excitement

Kathy Harris, board member of the organization, said the project will take about a month to finish and will cost an estimated $35,000, give or take.
Nafziger designed the pattern for the labyrinth and said it will be 57 feet in diameter. He said the center is the focal point for meditation and it will be 9 feet in diameter.
He said the labyrinth will be built out of bricks and 8-inch by 8-inch concrete pavers, and brass strips will make up a six-point flower pattern in the center.
Harris said they are the third group that have attempted to build a permanent labyrinth in Whatcom County. Harris said it is exciting to finally see it happen.
“It’s going to be a tremendous gift to the city and great opportunity for people,” she said.
She said the Minergy contractors in charge of the construction are enthusiastic and want to be a part of the project.
Happy Valley resident Harold Niven said he plans on telling people all about the labyrinth once it is built.
“It’s the type of thing that unites all kinds of people, no matter who they are,” he said.
He said the organization has put a lot of time and energy into the project, and he sees it as philanthropy in action.

Grants and donations fund the project

Treasurer of the organization David Marshak said the Mary Redman Foundation gave a $25,000 grant to Project Labyrinth and is a major funder to the organization. It has received other grants from Whatcom Educational Credit Union, City of Bellingham, and Henry T. Chandler. He said a total of 35 individuals have donated $1,000 or less.
Harris said Mary Redman’s large contribution of $25,000 and everyone else’s donations are the reason this project is able to happen this summer.

Permanent labyrinths take time and dedication

Nafziger said he is currently working on the bronze centerpiece of the labyrinth which is also a six-point flower pattern. On the centerpiece, Nafziger hand-crafted a bear, fish, birds and trees giving it a northwest theme.
Nafziger said other groups may not have been as successful with the project because the process is long and involved. He said, for example, Project Labyrinth had to satisfy the needs of the Public Works Department, Americans with Disabilities Act and Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.
He said the Public Works Department requested patches of grass in the labyrinth’s design to store runoff water and prevent dirt from running off into streams.
In order to satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act, the organization had to come up with a design that was wheelchair accessible and had a proper slope, Nafziger said. He said Bellingham Parks and Recreation wants to be able to maintain and mow the labyrinth, so they don’t want any of the bricks or pavers in the design to be raised above the ground.

Temporary labyrinth at Highland Games

Harris said Project Labyrinth will have a temporary labyrinth June 5 and June 6 at the Highland Games at Hovander Park in Ferndale. Anyone who donates $50 or more to the organization will get a customized paver that will be put in the permanent labyrinth in Fairhaven Park. She said up to 16 characters and two lines can be put on the paver, and a paver form is available on their website,

Labyrinth Centerpiece

Labyrinth Centerpiece
Chuck Nafziger holds the unfinished centerpiece he hand-crafted for Fairhaven Park's permanent labyrinth.

Labyrinth design by Chuck Nafziger

Labyrinth design by Chuck Nafziger