Construction Management
Ports & Harbors

Embracing Community Partnerships to Improve a City Asset: The Bloedel Donovan Docks for Kids Project

August 12, 2021 – Anchor QEA Partner Derek Koellmann, AICP CEP

There’s something for everyone at Bloedel Donovan Park on Washington’s Lake Whatcom, from picnic facilities and swimming beaches to playgrounds and dog off-leash areas. In the early 2000s, the docks at Bloedel Donovan Park were a much-loved area for swimming during warm summer days before being removed due to municipal budget cuts. But in recent years it has become common for kids and teens to jump into the lake from the Electric Avenue bridge—an activity both prohibited and highly dangerous—and to look for aquatic fun in undesignated swim areas. With no official swimming areas anywhere else in Whatcom County, new swim docks would provide safe, lifeguard-protected swimming for everyone.

A Partnership to Improve a City Asset with Private Funds and Management

Making this idea a reality would require a community-led effort to raise funds, plan, and construct the docks. In 2016, the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club launched the Bloedel Dock for Kids project with the goal of expanding safe outdoor swimming opportunities for all residents of Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Led by the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club, the Docks for Kids project sought to bring back the docks at Bloedel Donovan Park and provide safe swimming for the residents of Bellingham.

To support this effort and move the project forward, Anchor QEA and the Rotary Club met with the City of Bellingham to get the city’s approval, requiring assurance to numerous stakeholders that our team could obtain all the permits needed to build and install the docks. With the city’s agreement that the docks would be a valuable community asset, the Rotary Club raised almost $500,000 while Anchor QEA led the permitting and mitigation processes.

Rebuilding the Bloedel Donovan Docks with Effective Stakeholder Mediation

To better meet the needs of the Bellingham community, Anchor QEA helped the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club facilitate communications with all of the project stakeholders: regulatory agencies, city stakeholders, and user groups such as the Whatcom Rowing Club. These effective community discussions also helped us address the considerations and concerns of everyone involved.

One notable point that came out of these discussions was the desire that the new docks not interfere with any user group activities run out of the park’s grounds. To accommodate one such concern, the docks were repositioned from their original layout in a way that not only benefited the rowing club’s operations but also offered additional space for rowers once the derelict wooden piling from prior recreational and industrial uses were removed.

With effective stakeholder and community participation, project managers can lead a more effective and successful project.

Rebuilding the docks required significant coordination with regulatory agencies during negotiations to mitigate project impacts and throughout the entire permitting process. Negotiations over specific health code provisions, including a change in project scope to remove certain aspects of the new docks, such as slides and diving boards, were critical to moving the project forward.

Minimizing Environmental Impacts While Bringing the Community Together

Throughout the design and construction process, our team worked closely with the design engineer to minimize the environmental impacts from the docks’ construction and long-term operation. The mitigation design elements that were adopted include securing the docks in place with steel piles that were left untreated—rather than coated with material that could leach into the lake—and using grating to allow light to pass through the docks’ decking and create more natural conditions for the lakebed.

Rebuilding the swimming docks at Bloedel Donovan Park brought back safe outdoor swimming with lifeguards and gave the kids and community a safe place to have fun.

Immediately after they were installed this summer, the docks were swarmed with kids, families, and other revelers from throughout the community. The city is committed to operating the facility and staffing it with lifeguards to provide safe swimming for the residents of Bellingham and Whatcom County for decades to come. The fundraising, planning, and construction of this valuable municipal asset was a successful community-led effort spearheaded by the Bellingham Rotary Club to bring the beloved docks back to Lake Whatcom.