photo by Isaac Bonnell
As far as the Nooksack River goes, the North Fork seems to get all the attention. It is the first born, the big brother, the showy one. Never mind the North Fork’s waterfall or namesake brewery, let’s not forget about the Middle Fork and the South Fork.
Of the three river sections, the Middle Fork is the recluse that hides in the hills. It can be reached only by the rarely traveled Mosquito Lake Road.
The South Fork, by comparison, is the amiable one that balances out the family dynamics. It gently meanders past Van Zandt, Acme and just misses Wickersham. Naturally, this overlooked and unassuming part of Whatcom County shares many attributes with the section of river that carved out this small valley.
Located just 30 minutes from Bellingham, Van Zandt is the first of these rural communities located along the Valley Highway, which is more formally known as Highway 9. Upon crossing the railroad tracks, look for the yellow building called Everybody’s Store. Stopping here is a must, for both its ambiance and selection of fine foods and gifts.
Jeff Margolis, who has run this community store for 39 years with his wife, Amy, does not doubt that his store is out of the way for most people.
“I maintain that this is the worst location in the country for a store,” he jokes. “So we make up for it in service, show biz and selection. Everybody who comes here, we have drawn them here. We have transcended that rule of location, location, location.”
In the summertime, the store offers fresh organic fruits and vegetables from a garden kept behind the store. This is much appreciated by the locals, Margolis said, and draws in passing visitors.
This 106-year-old store epitomizes the off-the-beaten-path character of the South Fork river valley. The Margolises offer the usual variety of convenience store items, from propane to beer — but the store is much more than that.
Everybody’s Store is also well-known for its variety of specialty meats and cheeses. The dried landjäger sausage is very popular, as is their trademarked Norwegian-style nokkelost cheese made exclusively for Everybody’s Store.
photo by Isaac Bonnell
For the those with restless kids, the Josh Vanderyacht Memorial Park is just across the street and has a new playground, complete with a cozy gazebo and a regulation basketball court.
Several miles down the road is the Blue Mountain Grill, which true to its name has a view of Blue Mountain — which is but a hill compared to the Twin Sisters that stand more than 6,900 feet behind it. These twin peaks are not easily seen from Bellingham, but the restaurant offers a direct view of this jagged mountain.
The grill offers regular roadside fare — sandwiches and burgers — but enlivens each entree with homemade bread and kaiser rolls. And this is one of the few places in Whatcom County where you can eat a steak and gaze upon a magnificent, snowy peak.
No trip along the Valley Highway would be complete without taking a ride on the Lake Whatcom Railway. Frank Culp runs a scenic three-mile section of track from Wickersham to Lake Whatcom. Once a bridge engineer for the Northern Pacific Railway, Culp bought the track and the railroad cars from the company in 1972.
In the summer, he offers 1.5-hour trips in his vintage 1912 railroad cars every Tuesday and Saturday. The trip includes a stop at a park where travelers can try out an old hand car or hike to a nearby waterfall. Culp also runs special trips for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Christmas, but you must call ahead for reservations.
And if that isn’t enough to do, you can always take a dip in the slow-moving South Fork of the Nooksack River.