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Whatcom County, Washington facts for kids

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Whatcom County
Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham
Whatcom County Courthouse in Bellingham
Official seal of Whatcom County
Map of Washington highlighting Whatcom County
Location within the U.S. state of Washington
Map of the United States highlighting Washington
Washington's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Washington
Founded March 9, 1854
Named for Chief Whatcom
Seat Bellingham
Largest city Bellingham
 • Total 2,503 sq mi (6,480 km2)
 • Land 2,107 sq mi (5,460 km2)
 • Water 397 sq mi (1,030 km2)  16%%
 • Total 226,847
 • Estimate 
228,831 Increase
 • Density 103/sq mi (40/km2)
Time zone UTC−8 (Pacific)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−7 (PDT)
Congressional districts 1st, 2nd
Entering-Whatcom-County sign at county line in Washington, 1970
Sign at county boundary, 1970
Whatcom County, Washington - Sheriff Vehicle
Sheriff's Department vehicle in Bellingham

Whatcom County is a county located in the northwestern corner of the U.S. state of Washington, bordered by the Canadian Lower Mainland (the Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley Regional Districts of British Columbia) to the north, the Okanogan County to the east, the Skagit County and San Juan County to the south and southwest, and the Salish Sea to the west. Its county seat and largest population center is the coastal city of Bellingham, comprising the Bellingham, WA Metropolitan Statistical Area, and as of the 2020 census, the county's population was 226,847.

The county was created from Island County by the Washington Territorial Legislature in March 1854. It originally included the territory of present-day San Juan and Skagit Counties, which were later independently organized after additional settlement. Its name derives from the Lummi word Xwotʼqom, meaning "noisy water." Whatcom County has a diversified economy with a significant agricultural base, including approximately 60% of the nation's annual production of raspberries.


Whatcom County's northern border is the Canada–US border with the Canadian province of British Columbia. Adjoining the county on the north are five of metropolitan Vancouver's suburbs, Delta, White Rock, Surrey, Langley, and, in the central Fraser Valley, Abbotsford.

Several shopping malls and other services in Bellingham and elsewhere in the county are geared to cross-border shopping and recreation. The five crossing points are two at Blaine (one at the Peace Arch, located on the Interstate 5 crossing; and the other a commercial and passenger crossing on the Pacific Highway at State Route 543, both to Surrey, British Columbia); as well as at Lynden (SR 539, to Aldergrove); Sumas (SR 9, to Abbotsford); and Point Roberts (Tyee Drive, to Tsawwassen).


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,503 square miles (6,480 km2), of which 2,107 square miles (5,460 km2) is land and 397 square miles (1,030 km2) (16%) is water.

The county includes Lake Whatcom, which empties into Bellingham Bay by way of Whatcom Creek. Physiographically, Whatcom County is an extension of the Fraser Valley or "Lower Mainland" area of British Columbia. This is essentially the lowland delta plain of the Fraser River. At some periods in the past one of the Fraser River's lower arms entered Bellingham Bay near Bellingham via what is now the mouth of the Nooksack River.

A very small part of the county, Point Roberts, about 5 square miles (13 km2), is an extension of the Tsawwassen Peninsula, which is bisected by the Canada–US border along the 49th Parallel. The highest point in the county is the peak of the active volcano Mount Baker at 10,778 feet (3,285 m) above sea level. The lowest points are at sea level along the Pacific Ocean.

Geographic features

National protected areas

  • Mount Baker National Recreation Area
  • Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (part)
  • North Cascades National Park (part)
  • Ross Lake National Recreation Area (part)
  • Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail (part)

State protected areas

Major highways

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 352
1870 534 51.7%
1880 3,137 487.5%
1890 18,591 492.6%
1900 24,116 29.7%
1910 49,511 105.3%
1920 50,600 2.2%
1930 59,128 16.9%
1940 60,355 2.1%
1950 66,733 10.6%
1960 70,317 5.4%
1970 81,950 16.5%
1980 106,701 30.2%
1990 127,780 19.8%
2000 166,814 30.5%
2010 201,140 20.6%
2020 226,847 12.8%
2021 (est.) 228,831 13.8%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790–1960 1900–1990
1990–2000 2010–2020

2010 census

As of the 2010 census, 201,140 people, 80,370 households, and 48,862 families resided in the county. The population density was 95.5 inhabitants per square mile (36.9/km2). The 90,665 housing units averaged 43.0 per square mile (16.6/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 85.4% White, 3.5% Asian, 2.8% American Indian, 1.0% Black or African American, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 3.3% from other races, and 3.8% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 7.8% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 20.8% were German, 12.8% were Irish, 12.6% were English, 8.0% were Dutch, 6.9% were Norwegian, and 4.4% were American.

Of the 80,370 households, 28.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.0% were married couples living together, 8.8% had a female householder with no husband present, 39.2% were not families, and 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.43, and the average family size was 2.97. The median age was 36.6 years.

The median income for a household in the county was $49,031 and for a family was $64,586. Males had a median income of $47,109 versus $34,690 for females. The per capita income for the county was $25,407. About 7.8% of families and 15.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.9% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.



Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

Ghost town


Coal mines, a sawmill, and a military fort were established on Bellingham Bay in the 1850s. Logging was the principal economic activity at first, and agriculture developed as land was cleared by logging activity. Canneries, both of fish and crops, shipped the county's products far and wide.

Pacific American Fisheries organized in 1899 in Fairhaven, and became the world's largest canning operation, employing over 1,000 Chinese and 4,500 "white persons". Smaller canneries at Semiahmoo also produced 2,000 cases of canned salmon daily. The Fairhaven Shipyard constructed fleets of fishing ships, and also produced freighters during World War I.

Whatcom County is the top producer of raspberries in the state in the state of Washington, producing about 99% of the state's crop annually. This amount, varying from 60 to 80 million pounds per year, usually represents around 85% of the entire United States' raspberry harvest.

Cross border activity is a significant driver of the economy.


Primary and secondary education

Whatcom County residents are served by public and private schools, providing preschool, primary (K-5), and secondary (6–12) education. Public schools are operated by eight school districts. Each school district is an independent local government managed by an elected school board. Seven districts serve the western portion of Whatcom County. One district serves the southeast corner of Whatcom County. The remaining portion of the county is national forest or national park land, which has no permanent residents.

These districts are:

  • Bellingham School District serves Bellingham, Chuckanut, Lake Samish, and Sudden Valley.
  • Blaine School District serves Blaine, Birch Bay, and Point Roberts.
  • Concrete School District serves the county's southeast corner, including Newhalem and Diablo.
  • Ferndale School District serves Ferndale, Custer, Lummi Island, and the Lummi Nation.
  • Lynden School District serves Lynden and surrounding areas.
  • Meridian School District serves rural communities between Bellingham and Lynden.
  • Mount Baker School District serves communities along the Mount Baker Highway and Nooksack River.
  • Nooksack Valley School District serves Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas.

Numerous private schools operate in Whatcom County, including Assumption Catholic School, St. Paul's Academy, Lynden Christian Schools, Bellingham Christian Schools, and the Waldorf School.

Higher education

Whatcom County hosts five institutions of higher education. Western Washington University (Western) is the third-largest public university in Washington. Western offers bachelor's and master's degrees through seven colleges and enrolls more than 15,000 students. Whatcom Community College is a public community college offering academic certificate programs and associate degrees. Two universities and two colleges are located in Bellingham. One college is located on the Lummi Nation (Lummi Reservation) west of Bellingham. Bellingham Technical College is a public technical and vocational college located in Bellingham. Trinity Western University (TWU) is a private, Christian university based in Langley, BC, about 25 miles north of Bellingham. TWU operates a branch campus in Bellingham, offering undergraduate courses and supports TWU's bachelor's degree completion program.

Northwest Indian College is a college supported by the Lummi Nation and serves the Native American community. Northwest Indian College is located on the Lummi Nation (Lummi Reservation), about five miles west of Bellingham.

Notable people

  • Steve Alvord, defensive tackle in the NFL in 1987–88.
  • Tim Soares (born 1997), basketball player for Ironi Ness Ziona of the Israeli Basketball Premier League
  • Ryan Stiles, Emmy Award-nominated actor and comedian
  • Hilary Swank, award-winning movie actress

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Whatcom para niños

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