Little Squalicum Estuary

Once constructed, the Little Squalicum Estuary project will help address the need for additional estuarine habitat in Bellingham Bay. 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.

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. 

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 will improve water quality by removing and disposing of approximately 8,000 CY of contaminated material. To facilitate estuary construction, all existing trails will be shifted west to accommodate the estuary footprint, and a new trail network will be installed along with the new pedestrian bridge at the estuary mouth.

The estuary will provide juvenile rearing, refuge, foraging, and osmoregulatory habitats for multiple salmonid species including our target species: ESA-listed Puget Sound Chinook. Other priority species supported by this project include steelhead, coho, and southern resident killer whales.

The Little Squalicum Estuary project was prioritized by the community during the Little Squalicum Park Master Planning process facilitated by Bellingham Parks in 2009 and 2010. The planning process involved substantial community input including guidance from a Stakeholder Advisory Team comprised of various private and public stakeholders and related subject area experts. Construction of the new estuary is anticipated for 2022. To find out more about construction, visit the Little Squalicum Estuary capital project page.

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)

This project would not be possible without the partnership of landowners within the project area: Lehigh Northwest Cement Company, Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and BNSF.​

Department of Ecology logo. An outline of Washington state with a yellow sun, blue sky, green mountain range, and dark blue water.

​​​​Estuary Video​

Learn more​ about the importance of local estuaries in the video below, created by the City of Bellingham Public Works Natural Resources Division.

Reference Documents


Wildlife Habitat Assessment
Fish Studies
City Restoration Sites
Public Works Contacts