Author Archives: nickengelfried

About nickengelfried

I'm a writer, naturalist, educator, and activist.

Finding Marine Life on Bellingham Bay

P1120505 (2)Reconnect Earth visited Bellingham’s Boulevard Park this Saturday for a walk following the edge of Bellingham Bay, during which we searched for marine invertebrates, birds, and other sea life. Seven of us explored the water’s edge and followed the over-water walkway to Fairhaven, stopping to observe any organisms we found along the way.

Bellingham Bay supports a variety of marine ecosystems including sandy beaches, rocking shores, and eel grass beds. When exploring the beaches we admired oysters and discussed the effects of ocean acidification; picked up clam, mussel, limpet, and crab shells; and examined washed-up kelp and eel grass. An examination of some submerged boulders revealed a small chiton–an ancient type of mollusk–clinging to a rock face just beneath the water’s surface.

P1120506Farther out from shore a harbor seal poked its head above the waves, while a variety of birds hunted for food. With the help of a spotting scope we were able to identify surf scoters–a very distinctive-looking type of duck (pictured below) that uses its powerful beak to crack open marine mussel shells–far out on the bay. Slightly closer in a loon surfaced holding a small fish that it quickly swallowed. Common and Barrow’s goldeneye ducks came near enough to identify even with the naked eye. However, it took binoculars to make out the beautiful golden eyes that give these birds their name.

susc_tg_lAt the end of our walk we took time to write letters to our Washington state legislators, urging them to support proposed bills that would help protect the Salish Sea and the creatures who call it home from toxic pollutants, catastrophic oil spills, and other threats. By advancing important pieces of legislation this year, Washington’s lawmakers have a crucial opportunity to protect the Salish Sea ecosystem that includes Bellingham Bay.

Saturday’s visit to the bay was Reconnect Earth’s first weekend trip in 2019, but it won’t be the last time we get outside this winter. See the full list of trips coming up here.

Winter and Spring Trips are Open!

IMG_20181111_112809289Reconnect Earth is excited to announce our schedule of winter and spring trips for students is now available online! Sign up here to join us for a hike or other excursion focused on deepening our relationship with the landscape of Northwest Washington.

This winter and spring Reconnect Earth will be leading hikes through the forests and mountains around Bellingham; exploring the history of colonialism, immigration, and Indigenous sovereignty that has shaped the landscape we now live in; and traveling to Olympia to participate in the 2019 Environmental Lobby Day at the State Capitol.

From hiking to wild places like Lost Lake in the Chuckanut Mountains and the Chanterelle Trail overlooking Lake Whatcom, to visiting sites in downtown Bellingham that have born witness to struggles over Indigenous and immigrant rights, Reconnect Earth’s winter and spring 2019 trips are opportunities to see Northwest landscapes in an eye-opening new way. See the full list of trips and sign up here!

A Visit to the Nooksack River

IMG_20181201_143739377This past Saturday, Reconnect Earth led a group of eight Western Washington University students on a hike at Hovander Homestead Park just west of Ferndale, WA, to experience and learn about life on the Nooksack River. Originating from snowpack high on the slopes of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades, the Nooksack flows all the way to the Salish Sea and is the northernmost major river in Washington. Hovander Park lies on the southern bank of the river and is a great place to see some of the animal and plant life this waterway supports.

We began by discussing the long human history of the Nooksack River, which since time immemorial has been an important fishing ground for Indigenous peoples including the Lummi, Nooksack, and Semiahmoo. Our group then followed a trail which followed the wall of vegetation growing along the riverbank. Huge cottonwood trees rose above the smaller alders, willows, and red osier dogwoods. We also paused to examine and talk about many of the introduced (and in some cases, invasive) species–including Himalayan blackberry, English holly, and fox squirrels–that now call this area home.


Photo credit: Emma Bjornsrud

Our exploration eventually took us to an access point where we could get down to the edge of the river itself. Swollen with fall rain, the Nooksack rushed by as we watched from the muddy bank. The view of the river was impressive–but nearby was a reminder of threats to this important waterway. A post in the riverbank marked the site of the Puget Sound Pipeline, a branch of the larger Trans Mountain Pipeline which crosses into Washington State from Canada. Much of the oil transported in these two pipelines comes from the Alberta tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the planet.

We discussed the controversy over plans made by Kinder Morgan, the Trans Mountain Pipeline’s former owner, to more than double the capacity of that line and perhaps expand the Puget Sound Pipeline as well. In Canada, public opposition led by Indigenous First Nations eventually convinced Kinder Morgan this year to drop its expansion plans–but in August the Canadian government announced it would buy the pipeline and attempt to build the expansion with taxpayer dollars. In this way, Canada’s government became the sole owner of the pipeline which we stood above on the Nooksack’s banks.


Photo credit: Emma Bjornsrud

Any further expansion of the Puget Sound Pipeline poses a threat to wildlife–like the great blue heron at left–and people along the Nooksack who would be devastated in the event of a pipeline rupture and oil spill. Fortunately, Trans Mountain’s expansion was at least temporarily halted by a Canadian court ruling which found the government had not adequately consulted First Nations before issuing a project permit. However, the Canadian government still hopes to move forward with the expansion and export even more tar sands oil into the U.S. Washington can play a vital role in defeating this plan for good by denying any proposal to enlarge the Puget Sound Pipeline and by reducing oil consumption here in one of Canada’s largest oil export markets.

IMG_20181201_145530485_HDRAfter discussing the pipeline we continued following the Nooksack until reaching our turnaround point, after which we partially retraced our steps then took a side trail that led to a sheltered picnic area. There, members of our group wrote letters to Bellingham’s Climate Action Taskforce expressing support for moving the city to 100% renewable energy as swiftly as possible. This is one of many ways Washington can reduce demand for tar sands oil and render projects like the Trans Mountain expansion obsolete. We also talked about the importance of engaging in the upcoming state legislative session, which presents an opportunity to pass climate and clean energy policies at the statewide level.

IMG_20181201_152202277_HDRAfter leaving the shelter we stopped in a patch of marshland to admire some mallard ducks and a heron. Our group’s last stop was at one of Hovander Park’s most distinctive landmarks: a wildlife viewing tower that offers a birds-eye view of Tennant Lake. As we watched, a swan flew into view and coasted to a landing on the water’s surface right beside another of the great white birds at rest on the lake. Like the Nooksack River itself, Tennant Lake is an important habitat for countless migrating birds.

We concluded our trip to Hovander Park having witnessed the area’s beautiful plant and animal life, discussed some of our region’s most pressing environmental issues, and taken concrete action to push Bellingham in the direction of a clean energy future. It was a good way to finish Reconnect Earth’s last Fall 2018 trip. Stay tuned, as we’ll soon be announcing more trips for Winter and Spring 2019!

Finding Fall Salmon

IMG_20181110_133450970The annual migration of adult salmon up streams and rivers throughout the Northwest to their natal spawning grounds is one of the most incredible phenomena in this region. This past Saturday Reconnect Earth visited Arroyo Park in Bellingham to search for migrating salmon swimming up Chuckanut Creek. And we found them!

About twelve trip participants, many Western Washington University students, met early Saturday afternoon at Arroyo Park and hiked a short way down the trail to the creek. The park protects healthy Douglas-firs, western red ceders, western hemlock, and other native plants that shelter Chuckanut Creek from erosion and too much direct sunlight. The result is good habitat for the large number of chum salmon who migrate up the creek every fall.

IMG_20181110_152854561We knew we’d be most likely to find salmon resting in the deeper pools, gathering their energy in preparation for a run up the shallower rapids or riffles. We began our search in an area with relatively shallow pools, and found a few salmon sheltering behind large rocks. With their splotchy coloration and green-and-tan banding on their sides, chum salmon are good at camouflaging among rocks and sticks. This species is the most abundant salmon in Washington, and is found in many streams throughout the Puget Sound watershed.

As our group made its way upstream, we saw more salmon. We also stopped to admire birds like a Pacific wren flitting through the shrubbery along the path, and an American dipper bobbing up and down as it waded in the creek’s shallows. As we moved up the creek the sightings of salmon began to come more frequently.

IMG_20181110_152910047Then, just downstream of the wooden bridge that spans Chuckanut Creek, we found them: a whole large group of salmon resting in one of the deepest pools we’d come across. There must have been more than a dozen, though sometimes they were hard to see beneath the creek’s moving surface. We got our best glimpses of salmon when they came briefly into the shallower water, sometimes because they were being chased by another fish who felt its personal space being invaded.

After pausing by the big pool for a while we hiked a little farther upstream, then came back to the bridge for a conversation about salmon habitat needs and threats to their survival. We discussed what it takes for salmon to thrive: cool, clear streams free of turbidity; trees and other vegetation to shelter waterways and provide food for the insects juvenile salmon eat; and rivers unobstructed by impassable dams. The chum in Chuckanut Creek are a relatively healthy salmon run, but many other Northwest salmon are threatened by dams, deforestation, and large development projects in their habitat. All Northwest salmon are also potentially affected by climate change that reduces winter snowpack or otherwise leads to warmer, shallower streams.

IMG_20181110_134403947We also talked about proactive steps to help salmon and the many other species–like orcas–that depend on them for food. In early 2019 the Washington State Legislature will be meeting, presenting the state with an opportunity to take action on climate change and clean energy, stream restoration, and other environmental priorities. Our group discussed ways to engage in the legislative session including organizing carpools from Bellingham to attend the annual Environmental Lobby Day event in Olympia.

Finally, we took action to help salmon and the ecosystems they rely on by writing to local officials here in Bellingham. Before leaving Arroyo Park we got out pens, paper, and envelopes and wrote personalized letters to the new Bellingham Climate Action Task Force, expressing support for moving to 100% clean energy as rapidly as possible.

In sum it was a good day looking for wild salmon in their natural habitat in Chuckanut Creek. Members of our group left having observed one of the great wildlife dramas of the Pacific Northwest, and determined to do what we could to help ensure a healthy future for sensitive salmon populations.

Reconnect Earth Visits the Chuckanuts

IMG_20181021_154044071On Sunday, October 21st, a group of students from Western Washington University set out into the Chuckanut Mountains on Reconnect Earth’s first trip of the season. We started from the North Chuckanut Mountain Trailhead, just a short drive or bike ride from WWU and downtown Bellingham. It was a beautiful fall day with sunny weather and brilliant leaf colors on the numerous big-leafed maples, devil’s club, and other deciduous plant life.

Our group followed the Hemlock Trail through stands of maples, Douglas-fir, and western red cedar. Other plant life included a diversity of fern species and an abundance of young western hemlocks in the understory. Now and then we heard the hoarse call of a raven and glimpsed its dark silhouette weaving among the treetops. We also paused for some boulder climbing:


A couple miles into the hike we stopped at a trail junction for an activity meant to facilitate discussion about environmental justice and access to green space. Using a rope and sticks collected from the trail, we constructed a map of the Bellingham area large enough to stand and move about on. We then shifted our locations on the map in response to questions about the places where we live, buy food, go for enjoyment, and associate with nature, poverty, or danger. During the discussion participants brought up ways in which social forced concentrate less privileged and poverty-stricken communities away from large green spaces and close to sources of pollution.

IMG_20181021_134928069_HDRAfter the activity we set out hiking again and reached Cedar Lake, a beautiful body of water whose nearly-still surface reflected the conifer trees growing around it. Cedar Lake is one of relatively few places in Northwest Washington where species of all four of our region’s dominant lowland conifers–Douglas-fir, hemlock, cedar, and spruce–are found growing together in one spot. We watched fish jump in the lake and ate lunch on the sunny shore, then walked the trail that circles the lake.

IMG_20181021_140647121After taking time to explore the lake we began the hike back to the trailhead. Toward the end of our time in the woods we paused again to write letters to the City of Bellingham’s recently-established Climate Action Task Force. We discussed best practices for writing to elected officials or community leaders, and wrote in support of policies that will protect public health and the environment by moving Bellingham to 100% clean energy as rapidly as possible.

In all it was a great day enjoying the forest while discussing important issues that affect our community and taking action for an important environmental cause.

Want to join Reconnect Earth’s next fall trip? Look for migrating salmon with us on Saturday, November 10th.

Fall Trips Are Open for Registration!

IMG_20180506_152216244_HDR (2)This fall, Reconnect Earth is excited to announce we’re organizing four trips to some of the most beautiful places in and around Bellingham and Northwestern Washington. From weekend afternoon trips to places like the Chuckanut Mountains and Nooksack River, to a two-night Activist Training Retreat the last weekend in October, each of these events will give participants the chance to experience local ecosystems while activating our potential as agents of positive grassroots change.

Reconnect Earth prioritizes giving emerging leaders tools to build stronger, longer-lasting environmental and social justice movements–and our experiential trips are central to achieving this goal. We interpret the term “environment” broadly, believing it encompasses human communities and that social justice and equity are an integral part of an ecologically viable future. We envision vibrant movements for a sustainable and socially just society, powered with grassroots organizing done by people who will be in the movement for the long term because they feel connected to diverse natural and human communities.

So, want to hike through forests and along rivers, build grassroots organizing skills, and explore how you can make a difference on issues you care about in your community? Learn more about our fall trips and sign up here!

A Summer of Movement and Community-Building


Youth organizers at the Seattle Zero Hour March, one of the many events where Reconnect Earth had a presence this summer.

Reconnect Earth’s first summer is drawing to a close, and it was a season full of community outreach and building ties with people and organizations throughout northwest Washington and beyond. In particular, Reconnect Earth has prioritized contributing to and having a presence at events organized by people at the frontlines of confronting social and environmental injustice. Here are a few of the events where Reconnect Earth made an appearance over the last few months:

Bellingham Juneteenth Celebration, June 16th. Organized by Bellingham Black Lives Matter, this event was the city’s first-ever official community celebration of Juneteenth, a commemoration of the end of legal slavery after the U.S. Civil War. Bellingham’s Juneteenth event brought together organizations from throughout the community who are working on social justice, human rights, and environmental issues for a celebration of freedom, liberty, and justice for all. Reconnect Earth was honored to have an informational table at this important gathering.

Lummi Nation Stommish, June 23rd. First celebrated in 1946 to welcome returning Lummi veterans home from World War II, the Stommish Water Festival is an annual celebration of Lummi culture and heroism held on Lummi tribal lands. Reconnect Earth received permission to set up a table at this event, giving us a chance to talk with the hundreds of people who came to participate in Stommish. The Lummi and other Indigenous peoples have cared for the land and water in what is now Whatcom County since time immemorial, and it was truly a privilege to have a presence at this event.

Families Belong Together Rally, June 30th. Reconnect Earth joined many tens of thousands of people across the country to protest the Trump administration’s heartless separation of children and families in immigrant detention centers. Hundreds of people attended the local Families Belong Together rally in Bellingham, which was part of a nationwide mobilization held on June 30th.

Bellingham Pride, July 15th. No list of fun-filled, inspiring summer events in Bellingham would be complete without the local Pride festival. Thousand of participants in this year’s Pride came to attend a parade, organization fair, and other activities celebrating the LGBTQ community. Reconnect Earth had our table alongside dozens of other nonprofits, businesses, and community groups at Pride 2018, and we couldn’t be prouder to have joined hands in support of this event.

Zero Hour March, July 21st. When high school students from around the country announced the first-ever youth of color-led national climate mobilization, Reconnect Earth immediately realized supporting this event in whatever way we could fit right in with our mission and goals. Reconnect Earth and 350 Bellingham organized a carpool to attend the Zero Hour March in Seattle, on the same day as a huge youth-led march in DC and other, similar events throughout the country. The leadership and organizational prowess of the youth at the helm of Zero Hour should give hope to anyone concerned about the fate of our planet. It was an immense privilege to march alongside them in support of swift, equitable action to curb climate change.

Prior to participating in each of these events, Reconnect Earth first communicated with the organizers to make sure our presence there would be helpful and welcome. As our organization grows and continues our work, we’ll be doing our best to support movements like these through our work to foster and grow a network of empowered young leaders who will sustain grassroots social movements for years to come.