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Planning Effort Underway for Nooksack River Watershed (WA)

Posted: 01/06/2016
by Thomas O'Keefe

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is embarking on a new planning project that will guide recreation on DNR-managed lands in the Nooksack River and Whatcom Lake watersheds for the next 10-15 years (view planning website). The plan will help DNR ensure recreation on DNR-managed lands in the Whatcom County area is fun and sustainable for years to come.
For river runners, the DNR lands include sections of the North Fork Nooksack River downstream of the Canyon (including land that could serve as a potential river access near Maple Falls), Racehorse and Clearwater creeks, Middle Fork Nooksack, and sections of the South Fork Nooksack. In addition to the opportunity this effort provides to formalize access points along these rivers, this is also an opportunity to guard against future hydropower development.
All of these rivers have been considered for dams and hydropower projects that would dewater some great whitewater. It is important for paddlers to participate in the planning process and document the recreational value of these rivers. Should future hydropower proposals emerge, having a state-agency plan that formally recognizes whitewater recreation will be important in preventing new hydropower development. Ideally this effort would result in a Plan that is consistent with our proposal to designate the three forks of the Nooksack River and major tributaries as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
In addition to paddling, we know that many of our Bellingham-area members love to mountain bike and have long had an interest in exploring opportunities for trail development on DNR-managed lands. This planning effort will provide a means of formally evaluating these opportunities.
To learn more, attend an upcoming open house in January:
Tuesday, Jan. 19
7 to 9 p.m.
Port of Bellingham Cruise Terminal
Dome Room
355 Harris Ave.
Bellingham, WA 98225
Wednesday, Jan. 20
7 to 9 p.m.
Lynden Community Center
401 Grover Street
Lynden, WA 98264
We also encourage our members to review the recently-completed Upper Nooksack River Recreation Plan. This Plan provides consensus recommendations to improve recreational opportunities in the Nooksack River watershed including some sites on DNR land. 
If you are potentially interested in participating in this planning effort at a deeper level and representing American Whitewater, please let us know. DNR is currently seeking applications for a recreation planning committee of 12 to 15 volunteer members with diverse recreation interests. Members will create recommended guidelines for DNR staff to use as they develop the plan. The committee will begin meeting in the Whatcom County area in March with evening meetings on the second Tuesday of each month. Meetings will continue for the next two years, with occasional breaks. We would love to have a local member who is willing to represent the interests of the whitewater paddling community in this process. Applications for the committee are due January 29th and the form to apply can be accessed online.
Keep an eye on the DNR Recreation Planning Website as well as their Facebook and Twitter channels for updates on how you can be involved.
Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012

Associated Projects

Nooksack Stewardship (WA)
Public access, hydropower development, and resource stewardship are all ongoing issues on this river system.


Associated Rivers

Clearwater (MF Nooksack trib.) WA
Nooksack, Middle Fork WA
Nooksack, S. Fork WA
Racehorse Creek WA