Our local Bloedel Donovan Park is a great wonder. All kinds of people come from all over for a picnic, or a swim, or to play ball.
Recently, a piece of our park was swallowed up by a rowing club, under some agreement with the parks department. An area of public parking was replaced by a locked boathouse, available only to members of the association. But don’t worry, your family can join – for only $400 per year. And a new dock sprouted in a place that was previously undeveloped public shoreline.
The dock is nominally public, but according to the the sign you need to be launching a boat to use it. And of course the nearest boats are in the locked boathouse.
On one of the first sunny, warm days of summer after all the kids were out of school, they discovered the dock. The results are predictable.
Park visitor Katie Jane Wells explains, “The water doesn’t feel as cold when you can jump off the dock instead of wading in. And it’s fun.”
A couple of park employees came by and surveyed the scene for a while. One made a worried-sounding phone call. It definitely looked like too much fun. Then they left.
This day, the kids ruled.Tomorrow, we will see what arrives. A fence, perhaps. More signs? Dire threats of penalties?
In the larger picture, this is all part of the Fencing of the Commons that is ongoing every day. Fewer and fewer places are truly public, and those public places are losing access due to budget cuts and other restrictions.
As local writer Wendy Harris noted in the April 2012 issue of Whatcom Watch before this plan moved forward:
Land formerly available to the general public will only be accessible to those with an interest in rowing and the ability to pay required fees.This also reflects a change in the way facilities are handled at Bloedel Park. Currently, there are two park buildings available for rent to any local organization on a first come, first serve basis. A new boathouse is being built for the sole use of the Whatcom Rowing Association. This reflects award of a special privilege.
Everyone who cares about public places, whether for recreation or to preserve as habitat – beware. There is always someone looking at the next beneficial use that can be made of a soon-to-be-former public place near you.
UPDATE Sunday June 28: The dock is gone! Where could it be? Could someone have decided that putting a de-facto private-use dock in the middle of the town’s most popular public swimming area is a bad idea? Or is some other plan afoot? Only time will tell ….
James R. Wells is the author of The Great Symmetry, a science fiction novel is set 300 years in the future, but is definitely about our world here and now.
In an asteroid in the Aurora star system, exoarcheologist Evan McElroy has made a discovery about the Versari, a long-departed alien race. He doesn’t realize that his findings will reawaken the long-buried struggle of the Infoterrorists, who believe that all knowledge screams to be free, against those who maintain the True Story that holds all of civilization together.