Little Squalicum Estuary

Project Overview: EN052

The Little Squalicum Estuary project will help improve water quality and restore essential coastal habitat that has been lost to development. The project will restore 4.85 total acres of coastal habitat including a 2.4-acre estuary, and will remove a fish passage barrier at the mouth of Little Squalicum Creek just two miles east of the Nooksack River Delta in Little Squalicum Park. The Nooksack provides critical habitat for all five Pacific salmon species. The estuary is expected to be used by juvenile (young) salmon originating from the lower Nooksack basin (Bellingham Bay, Squalicum Creek, and the Nooksack River). The project includes excavating the estuary, re-aligning the existing creek and trail, installing native plants, and installing a new pedestrian bridge and culvert.

January 2023 Project Update – Construction Delay

Project construction has been delayed while a modification to the channel design is confirmed with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway. Construction will resume as permits and weather allow. We expect heavy construction to be complete and full public access to the park to be restored by the end of September 2023. Restoration at the estuary site will continue through early 2024. We will share updates on our project webpage as available. Thank you for your understanding. This project would not be possible without the support of our community, funders, and landowners.   

Construction equipment set up around large hole in ground where future estuary will be.
Estuary under construction. October 2022.

Little Squalicum Park Access

The project site remains closed, as there are on-site hazards. Trails in the project vicinity remain temporarily inaccessible, though there is currently limited beach access from West Illinois Street. The park will remain open on the land side of Marine Drive, with access from Bellingham Technical College and West Illinois. Some areas will remain open when practical. Signs are posted in the park to indicate areas that are inaccessible.

Map with red area showing where Little Squalicum Park will be inaccessible during estuary construction. Little Squalicum Beach and the lower part of Little Squalicum Park will be inaccessible through December 2022.
There will be times that the lower park and beach area will be temporarily inaccessible during construction, with some areas remaining open when practical.

January 2023 Volunteer Work Party at Little Squalicum Estuary

Thank you to the 232 community volunteers who joined the City, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA), and many other partners for our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service work party at the Little Squalicum Estuary. Together, we planted approximately 4,500 native plants in the estuary site. This work will help ensure the success of the future estuary.

People planting on a sloped boundary of estuary

To learn about volunteer opportunities, tours, and restoration projects, please sign up for the Habitat News emails.

More Information

The beach will be inaccessible at times, but not for the entire project duration. Beach accessibility will depend on current construction conditions.

The beach and lower Little Squalicum Park may be temporarily inaccessible during construction both in front of the park and north through the beach nourishment area (northwest of the pier) as we construct the estuary outlet and add nourishment to improve forage fish habitat. Some areas will remain open when practical, including the beach.

We must construct this project during the summer because permitting limits construction to specific “fish windows” to protect forage fish, salmon and other fish species as well as water quality. During the beach work, you can access Locust Beach as an alternative beach, which is approximately 1.4 miles away from the project site.

The City-managed Little Squalicum Park (the area from the railroad trestle and north) is designated as an off-leash dog park. The beach is owned by the Port of Bellingham and is currently designated as an on-leash dog area. The project will not change either of these designations.

During construction, dogs and people can access the northern portion of the park (adjacent to BTC parking lot) and will have limited access to the southern portion of the park (water side of Marine Drive), depending on current construction conditions.

After construction is complete, dogs will continue to be allowed off-leash in areas of the park per City policy PAR 3.01.20 except within the sensitive estuary habitat, which will be protected by a low fence. Please help steward the new estuary by keeping people and dogs out of this fragile area.

After construction, the southern field and forest adjacent to the beach will become the estuary. A small field area will be provided for recreation and the field just to the north (near Bellingham Technical College) will remain unchanged. Some vegetation will be impacted during construction of the new estuary, but new plants will be added. All existing trails in the project area will be shifted west to accommodate the estuary footprint, and a new trail network and pedestrian bridge will be installed at the estuary mouth.

Graphic from the Little Squalicum Park Master Plan created in 2010 that shows where the new estuary and trails will be located. Click on image to open larger version.

This project will restore tidal and sedimentary processes, improve fish passage, and return saltmarsh, mudflat and estuary habitats to an area where historical wetlands have been lost. Over the past 150 years, Bellingham Bay has lost an estimated 282 acres of aquatic land as the result of historical dredging, filling, and shoreline modification activities, drastically reducing rearing habitat available to local salmonid populations. Due to an increasingly urbanized shoreline with competing uses such as marinas, industry, and railways, the WRIA 1 Nearshore and Estuarine Assessment and Restoration Plan identified Little Squalicum as one of the last remaining locations available for estuary habitat expansion in WRIA 1. 

Features of the new 2.4-acre estuary include a vegetated saltmarsh as well as native vegetation around the estuary that will help cool and filter freshwater entering Bellingham Bay. The project will also include “beach nourishment,” which consists of installing new gravel along the shoreline to enhance tidal processes and provide habitat for spawning forage fish. Surf smelt – a type of forage fish – have been documented nearby, and this project aims to expand spawning gravels available for these and other forage fish species. Forage fish provide the foundation for local marine food webs and are an especially important food source for salmon (Nearshore Juvenile Chinook Study, Beamer et al, 2015).

Project elements include removing 50 linear feet of shoreline barrier, installing 1.2 acres of saltmarsh and riparian plantings, and enhancing 1.16 acres of forage fish spawning habitat. As part of the estuary excavation, the project includes removal of contaminated material.

  • Help steward the sensitive new estuary and plantings by staying on designated trails and recreation areas, and guiding pets to do the same.
  • Bag and dispose of pet waste in trash both at home and away.
  • Restore native vegetation at planting parties organized by the City of Bellingham and local organizations. We will be hosting a volunteer work party in 2023 after the estuary is constructed. Sign up for our Habitat News email list to receive updates about this project, similar projects, and the planned volunteer work party.

As a separate project, the City is working on opening a portion of the pier to public access in the future. The outer 600 feet of the pier will be removed. Approximately 1200 linear feet of the pier will be retained for public use.

In the same vicinity of the Little Squalicum Estuary project was the Port’s Little Squalicum Habitat Beach Project, which will begin construction mid-summer 2022 and is now complete. This project will improve fish habitat by removing industrial fill from historic tidelands. To learn more, visit the Port’s Capital Project Highlights Map and view the first project under the “Public Priorities” tab, or email

Resumen del proyecto: EN052

Mejora del hábitat

El proyecto del estuario de Little Squalicum ayudará a satisfacer la necesidad de un nuevo hábitat estuarino en la bahía de Bellingham. El proyecto restaurará un total de 4.85 acres de hábitat costero, incluido un estuario de 2.4 acres, y eliminará una barrera de paso para los peces en la desembocadura del arroyo Little Squalicum, a dos millas hacia el este del delta del río Nooksack, en Little Squalicum Park.

Este proyecto restaurará procesos de la marea y procesos sedimentarios, mejorará el paso de los peces y devolverá los hábitats de la marisma salina, la llanura de marea y el estuario a una zona en la que se han perdido los humedales históricos. Durante los últimos 150 años, la bahía de Bellingham perdió unos 282 acres de tierras cubiertas por agua como resultado del dragado, el relleno y las actividades de modificación de la línea de costa, lo que redujo de manera drástica el hábitat de cría disponible para las poblaciones locales de salmónidos. Debido a una línea de costa cada vez más urbanizada, con usos que compiten entre sí, como los puertos deportivos, la industria y las vías férreas, el Plan WRIA 1 de evaluación y restauración de la costa y el estuario identificó a Little Squalicum como uno de los últimos lugares disponibles para la expansión del hábitat del estuario en WRIA 1. 

Los elementos del proyecto incluyen la eliminación de 50 pies lineales de barrera costera, la instalación de 1.2 acres de plantaciones ribereñas y de marismas, y la mejora de 1.16 acres de hábitat de desove de peces forrajeros. Como parte de la excavación del estuario, el proyecto mejorará la calidad del agua retirando y eliminando aproximadamente 8,000 CY de material contaminado. Para facilitar la construcción del estuario, todos los senderos existentes se desplazarán hacia el oeste para acomodar la huella del estuario, y se instalará una nueva red de senderos junto con el nuevo puente peatonal en la desembocadura del estuario.

Acceso reducido al parque: verano y otoño de 2022

Durante la construcción, hasta diciembre de 2022, no podrá accederse a la parte baja del parque y a la playa. La plantación del sitio continuará hasta marzo de 2023. Todas las zonas para perros sueltos y los senderos fuera de la zona del proyecto seguirán siendo accesibles.

Map with red area showing where Little Squalicum Park will be inaccessible during estuary construction. Little Squalicum Beach and the lower part of Little Squalicum Park will be inaccessible through December 2022.
Durante la construcción, no podrá accederse a la parte baja del parque y a la playa.

Proyecto de hábitat de playa de Little Squalicum (Port of Bellingham)

En las mismas inmediaciones donde se llevará a cabo el proyecto del estuario de Little Squalicum se desarrollará el proyecto de hábitat de playa de Little Squalicum del Puerto de Bellingham, que comenzará a construirse a mediados del verano de 2022, a la espera de los permisos finales y de un proceso de licitación exitoso. Durante la construcción, el parque de la playa de Little Squalicum (situado al sudeste del proyecto del estuario de Little Squalicum y cerca de Mt. Baker Products) estará cerrado al público. Este proyecto mejorará el hábitat de los peces a través de la eliminación del relleno industrial de los terrenos históricos de la playa. Para obtener más información, visite el Mapa de los proyectos principales del puerto y vea el primer proyecto en la pestaña “Public Priorities” (Prioridades públicas).

Financiación de:

  • Ciudad de Bellingham
  • Centennial Clean Water Program (Programa Centenario de Agua Limpia) del Departamento de Ecología del estado de Washington
  • One-Time Grant Program (Programa de Subvenciones por Única vez) del Departamento de Ecología del estado de Washington
  • Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account Grant Program (Programa de Subvenciones de Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account) del estado de Washington
  • Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program (Programa de Restauración de Estuarios y Salmones) del estado de Washington
  • National Coastal Wetland Conservation Grant Program (Programa de subvenciones para la conservación de humedales costeros nacionales) del Servicio de Pesca y Vida Silvestre de los Estados Unidos
  • Port of Bellingham (El Puerto de Bellingham)
  • Whatcom County (Condado de Whatcom)
  • Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (Asociación de mejora del salmón Nooksack)
Department of Ecology logo. An outline of Washington state with a yellow sun, blue sky, green mountain range, and dark blue water.
Green triangle logo that says Greenway Funded Project - City of Bellingham, Parks and Recreation Department.

Find answers to additional questions in the Project FAQ.

Project Details

  • Status – Construction
  • Contract Awarded – May 9, 2022
  • Contract Amount – $3,474,179.48
  • Contractor – Glacier Environmental Services

Reference Documents


Freeman Anthony, P.E.
Project Engineer
Phone: (360) 778-7924

Analiese Burns, Habitat and Restoration Manager
Phone: (360) 778-7968

Public Works Contacts

Sign up for our Habitat News email list to receive updates about this project and other City restoration projects in Bellingham, as well as volunteer opportunities.

Project Funding

Funding for Little Squalicum Estuary Project:

  • City of Bellingham
  • Greenways Levy
  • Washington Department of Ecology Centennial Clean Water Program
  • Washington Department of Ecology One-Time Grant Program
  • Washington State Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account Grant Program
  • Washington State Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service National Coastal Wetland Conservation Grant Program
  • Port of Bellingham
  • Whatcom County
  • Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA)

A special thanks to Lehigh Northwest Cement Company, Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and BNSF for their coordination on this project.

Department of Ecology logo. An outline of Washington state with a yellow sun, blue sky, green mountain range, and dark blue water.
Green triangle logo that says Greenway Funded Project - City of Bellingham, Parks and Recreation Department.

Participating Departments

Affected Neighborhoods

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