by Jessica Bee
If you have taken a trip east on Mt. Baker Highway for skiing, snowboarding, hiking or birding, you’ve traveled through several unincorporated hamlets. First, Nugents Corner and Deming, then, as you pass Highway 9 South, you are close to Van Zandt and the 9-south route to Acme. However, heading to the Mt. Baker Wilderness, you must pass Kendall as you go through the fourth and final roundabout, then Maple Falls, before finally passing Glacier on your way to our beautiful Mt. Baker wilderness.
If at that final roundabout, you had decided to take a left and head toward Kendall Elementary, you would be on route to the most populous area of the East Whatcom hamlets: the Columbia Valley Urban Growth Area, or CV UGA* for short.
And, what an urban growth area it has been! Originally, this area’s houses were built as vacation homes with pools and sport centers such as the Peaceful Valley Country Club golf course. These houses were built back in the late 60s, and through the 70s (Whatcom County Foothills Subarea Plan, 2011**). In the 90s, there was an influx of people looking for affordable homes and Columbia Valley had some to offer. The two largest vacation housing organizations: Peaceful Valley Country Club and Paradise HOA had homes aplenty, initiating the transition from vacation to permanent homes.
Unfortunately, many homes were weatherized only for the gentle summers when families would come to enjoy a beautiful Pacific Northwest season. This meant new incoming families who desired permanent residences had winter heating bills which were large and unanticipated. Most also traveled to jobs outside of their home community. All of these factors increased a high cost of living even when mortgages were affordable.
Neighbors Needed Support
By the early 2000s, the community realized this shift from vacation visitors to year-round residents had resulted in neighbors who needed support. In 2004, a group of Columbia Valley residents went to the Whatcom County Council to request services be located in this rural community. High on the list were a library, a medical center, and youth services.
In 2008, the master plan for the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center was completed. It included space for Head Start preschool classrooms, multipurpose spaces, a medical and dental clinic as well as future space for emergency services.
In September 2011, the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center (EWRRC) was built with state and county funds. The community was invited to give input on the building’s use, and, from these initial meetings, the East Whatcom Community Council (EWCC) was formed. The council continues to meet and welcomes community input as well as new board members. The EWCC meets every first Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at the EWRRC
The EWRRC is a Whatcom County Parks facility operated by the Opportunity Council as the anchor tenant. The Opportunity Council, which operates two Head Start classrooms on the premises, was invited to bring services to the EWRRC. As a Community Action Agency, they were able to offer Information and Referral in 2012 and a Resource Fair in late 2012. In 2013, more services with other community partners were added, including a summer youth program with Whatcom Humane Society, a community garden and bus passes.
By 2014, there were seasonal fairs, a youth Summer Meals Program, as well as support applying for health care coverage with the newly created Washington State Health Plan Finder. Residents could access tax help, parent education from Brigid Collins, Columbia Valley Community Connections meetings, Pop Up Health Clinics, and more. Some large events have included a winter Wood Stove Workshop and education evenings with Northwest Clean Air and community inspired fairs such as Kendall Summerfest with the support of Whatcom Family and Community Network.
Ultimately, the EWRRC has become a place where the East Whatcom community can gather, connect, and develop opportunities every community needs to thrive. It is a place where residents propose ideas and work together to bring them alive.
Building Expansion in 2020
In March 2020, the EWRRC campus expanded with another building that provided a home for the Foothills Food Bank. This new building was completed just in time to provide much needed food resources as the Covid-19 pandemic began, and we all began to traverse a time of deep uncertainty and change.
East Whatcom residents faced increased challenges during the pandemic, yet the EWRRC continued to be a place where folks could find support and resources. Services that could be adapted to be safely offered were shifted to a grab-and-go style. This included moving our Kids Days of Summer meal and activity program to a packet program, which was delivered to 500 children during the summer meals program in partnership with Mt. Baker School District’s food deliveries in 2020 with generous support from Christ the King church. However, by October 2020, EWRRC was once again offering services in the building, by appointment, and have since then opened the doors to regular walk-in services.
Much of the programming and work depends on the community’s input, as well as on our partners who bring supportive services. This includes the Covid-19 Whatcom County Health Department vaccine clinic, as well as the clothing donations for the community exchange program which offers free clothes, books and household items for any visitor. It also includes the heat and energy grant support offered at the EWRRC. Staff and dedicated volunteers support all of this work by bringing thoughtful care and skill to everything we do here.
Some offerings to highlight this season include flood response support, new NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in-person support groups on the fourth Thursday at noon, help accessing food SNAP benefits from DSHS and free notary services on site. And, this holiday season, we once again partnered with the local Border Patrol officers to offer children gifts for families who needed some support this season.
And what does the future hold? This spring of 2022, we will have the first ever Catherine Mahaffey East Whatcom Wellness Fair on May 21, thanks to our many partners including PeaceHealth, Whatcom County Health Department, SeaMar, BTC, Local Neighbors and many more caring folks and organizations. However, if we have learned anything from the past years, it is that the future is change. With this in mind, soon the Opportunity Council will once again invite East Whatcom residents to participate in a strategic planning process to decide which community priorities to focus on over the next 5-10 years.
If you are an East Whatcom resident and want to get involved, please stop by the EWRRC at 8251 Kendall Road, Maple Falls, WA, or call 360-599-3944. And, for all those who do not get to live in one of our beautiful rural hamlets, we hope you will reach out if you would like to learn more or connect with some of the programming here in East Whatcom. No matter who you are or where you come from, we’re glad you are here.
Contact the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center at:
8251 Kendall Rd.
Maple Falls, WA
Jessica Bee, a resident of the Columbia Valley UGA since 2007, enjoys hiking, being adventurous with family and friends, and supporting connections in her community. She has been the EWRRC coordinator since 2015 and has worked at the community center for the Opportunity Council since 2013.