Photo by Daniel Berman/The AS Review

Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review

Standing on the corner of 21st Street and Mill Avenue in the Happy Valley neighborhood, it is hard to imagine that the sea of apartment complexes, houses, streets and asphalt were small family farms and orchards only decades ago.  Instead of using a gas-guzzling bus or car, walking got you to most places you needed to be. For Huxley student Max Wilbert, he defines that difficulty to understand the past as “generational amnesia.”

“It is the idea that what seems horrible to one generation becomes normal to the next,” he said.

Wilbert is working with the Associated Students Outdoor Center to lead an event regarding this very issue called “Environmental Health in Whatcom County” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 14. Transportation will be provided and attendees will meet at the OC, which is located on the first floor of the Viking Union. The event will consist of a tour visiting sites of environmental damage in Whatcom County and discussing not only the history of the problems, but also what is currently being done about them. The trip costs $20 for students, faculty and staff, and $25 for guests. There is a sign-up sheet in the OC for anyone who is interested.

“Western has a really good reputation for being an environmental school, buying green energy and working towards sustainability, but it’s too easy to forget we live in a county and an area that’s being devastated very heavily,” Wilbert said.

The clear-cut logging operations in the Nooksack River Valley and the Lake Whatcom watershed are key forms of local environmental damage, according to Wilbert.  The trip will also highlight the controversial problem of the downtown Georgia-Pacific lumber mill and its effect on mercury levels in the water of Bellingham Bay.

The impact of oil refineries in and around Whatcom County will be another big issue on the tour, Wilbur said. The pipeline that connects to the Cherry Point and Anacortes refineries carries some of the dirtiest oil in the world and runs right under the center of Bellingham, which many people do not even know about, he said.

Wilber spends a lot of his time working with local environmental groups around the area, and hopes this event will help spark other students’ interests in issues he thinks they should know about.

“The whole point of the trip is to illustrate that we have this image as a very environmentally-cautious area that’s working towards sustainability and even though that’s doing a huge amount of progress toward those goals, the reality is that there are still a lot of problems here, and the problems are more fundamental than we’d like to admit,” Wilbur said.

OC Excursions Co-Coordinator Kapper Richmond said Wilbert’s motivation for public knowledge coincides directly with their mission: connecting people to the natural world around them.

“So many people will go all day long and never touch earth, not even through their shoes,” he said. “People will leave their house, walk on their paved sidewalk, get in a car, drive to a parking lot, go into work and work all day, do the exact same route back, go home. Never once did they step on earth, on soil.”

Richmond, who has worked in the OC for the past three years, said the events the center hosts throughout the year all have some educational component to them. Examples of their events include backcountry cooking clinics, map and compass clinics, kayak roll sessions and various hiking trips.

“The whole idea is that we’re teaching, not just guiding,” Richmond said.
Richmond said this year the OC is hoping to broaden its horizons by joining forces with other AS organizations and Western departments to garner more interest.