Bellingham celebrates a long-awaited new feature inside popular Hundred Acre Wood

An outdoor classroom opened this week inside the popular Hundred Acre Wood, the result of decades of neighborhood activism, volunteer effort and fundraising in a partnership with the city and the nonprofit Recreation Northwest.

About 30 people attended the opening Wednesday at the site about 100 yards up a trail from Fairhaven Park that leads into the Hundred Acre Wood. It’s one of the city’s newest parks, and trail-building and wayfinding signage is underway.

Bellingham Mayor Kim Lund, who lives in the nearby South Hill neighborhood, acknowledged the efforts to save the 82-acre site from a proposed subdivision and develop it into a city park.

“I feel like I’m showing up at the end of a marathon,” Lund told the those in attendance. “I probably spend about 100 days a year here. I’ve seen this marathon taking place, and I feel a deep connection.”

Nearby South neighborhood resident Micahel Chaivario told The Herald that he and his wife had been part of the early preservation efforts.

“Some areas are too precious to develop with housing. We deed to develop more density and preserve as much green space as possible,” Chaivario said.

Southside voters in 2013 created a special taxing district that repaid the city of Bellingham for the $8.2 million purchase of the land, thwarting development of hundreds of homes in a project called Chuckanut Ridge.

At the time, the city named the site the Chuckanut Community Forest. But the City Council in 2022 changed that to the Hundred Acre Wood, a name that local residents had fondly given it — evoking the fictional home of Winnie-the-Pooh.

Parks and Recreation Department Director Nicole Oliver called it a “serendipitous space” during Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Sometimes government moves a little slowly, so we’re grateful to have partners who’ve shepherded this along,” Oliver said.

Since 2013, Recreation Northwest has enlisted donors and volunteer workers to build a boardwalk through sensitive wetlands, remove invasive species such as English ivy and holly, add a native plant garden with informational placards, and construct the outdoor classroom. It includes a “Recognition Rock” bench for informal gatherings; an Adventure Rock Trail, an amphitheater with wood benches fashioned from a tree trunk, a stone stage, and covered log pavilion.

It will be open to the public when it’s not reserved for special activities. Trails leading to the center will be accessible to wheelchair users and others who have difficulty walking.

Todd Elsworth, executive director of Recreation Northwest, thanked the hundreds of volunteers and donors large and small, including Phillipps 66, REI and Wild Whatcom, who recognized the park’s importance to the community.

“People want places to gather and experience nature,” Elsworth said.