By Olivia Hicks (Feb. 3, 2021 for Environmental Journalism class)

Following route cuts and a 70 percent drop in ridership during the pandemic, the future of bus service in Whatcom County depends on Western Washington University’s plans for re-opening classrooms.

Routes serving Western made up 40 percent of ridership in Whatcom County before the pandemic. A reduced number of students living and commuting to campus because of the shift to online learning has had a huge impact on bus service operations, said Maureen McCarthy, manager of community relations and marketing at Whatcom Transportation Authority.

“We’ve been tracking when we could…


A gift guide to popular Bellingham businesses

Local ingredients at Clara’s Canning Co. Photo by Ona Lee

By Olivia Hicks (published on Nov. 28, 2020 in The Western Front)

With both Small Business Saturday approaching on Nov. 28 and the impact the pandemic has left on local businesses, consider supporting Bellingham shops this holiday season.

Christi Milka, a Bellingham resident, plans to support local businesses during the holidays. Milka said shopping locally means looking out for your neighbors and community members who own small businesses.

“It’s important to draw more attention to our local communities,” Milka said. “If we are more conscientious of the people [small business owners] around us that are a part of our local…


Pets can improve mental health during unprecedented times

By Olivia Hicks (published on Nov. 20, 2020 in The Western Front)

As Washington rolls back into phase one of Gov. Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan and winter approaches, people will be in social isolation yet again. Pets can provide necessary companionship during the pandemic.

Western Washington University has recognized the stress-relief benefits from animals in previous years by bringing dogs, cats and bunnies to the Western Libraries during finals week. But what about during a pandemic?

Helen Brooks, senior lecturer in the Mental Health Research Group at the University of Manchester, studies the link between pet companionship and mental health.


Music’s historical role in Bellingham protests

Analog Brass practicing. Photos by Maxwell Lemke

By Olivia Hicks (published on Nov. 16, 2020 in The Western Front)

Music is ingrained in everyday life: flowing from the headphones of a pedestrian, a newlywed couple’s first dance or quiet classical music in a coffee shop. Now, local musicians are revolutionizing music’s importance in creating a movement.

A Bellingham jazz band, Analog Brass, began performing at protests in Bellingham this summer. Maxwell Lemke, a founding member and Western student, attended protests and led chants in the past. George Floyd’s death and a call from a local activist sparked the idea to bring the band’s music to protests.

“It…


Bellingham’s skaters can’t see a future without a board

By Olivia Hicks (published on Nov. 9, 2020 in The Western Front)

Skateboarding, in Bellingham and globally, has broken out of a subculture and become mainstream.

Zac Garza, owner of Unknown Board Shop in Bellingham, described skateboarding when he was growing up in the late 1980s as an artistic outlet for outsiders like him.

“It’s like an artform or dancing, but more aggressive,” Garza said. “When I was growing up I was a little bit socially awkward, but skateboarding did the talking. …


Women climbers battle fear over desire to explore the outdoors

Kira Walters climbing. Photo by Clara Pfundt.

By Olivia Hicks (published on Nov. 2, 2020 on The Western Front)

Climbing is a well-known sport in Bellingham. However, women climbers face obstacles in the gym and outdoors that men don’t.

Kira Walters, a third-year Western student, has been climbing competitively for 10 years, first in Everett. Joining the local climbing community brought new challenges, she said.

“Coming to Bellingham freshman year is the first time I noticed feeling slightly out of place in the gym just because there were a lot of men,” Walters said. …


Outdoor pros offer safety tips for visiting Washington state parks during COVID-19

American Alpine Institute guides at Mt. Erie. Photo by Jason Martin

By Olivia Hicks (published on Oct. 26, 2020 in The Western Front)

The outdoors provide an escape during COVID-19, but visitors taking safety precautions is key to ensuring that state parks remain open.

After closing in March because of COVID-19, Washington state parks reopened for outdoor use on May 5. Most campgrounds and cabins reopened in June and July, according to Meryl Lassen, Washington State Parks’ communications consultant.

Recreate Responsibly, a coalition of businesses, nonprofits and government agencies, suggests practices to make outdoor recreation safe during COVID-19.

These include:


Coffee from ANMLY cafe. Photo provided by the owner, Emile Diffley.

By Olivia Hicks (published on Oct. 9, 2020 in The Western Front)

COVID-19 has not only caused Western’s academic buildings to close, but also on-campus restaurants, cafes and market places that offer affordable meals and study spaces for students. However, there are many similar local alternatives in Bellingham to fulfill student cravings.

Local Food Options

If Zoe’s Bookside Bagels is calling your name, look no further than the supplier: The Bagelry. Located in downtown Bellingham on Railroad Avenue, the 30-year-old establishment offers a limited menu and walkup window service. …


Washington state shows voting by mail is safe

Postcard written by Lee Willis to a Texan voter.

By Olivia Hicks (published on Oct. 18, 2020 in The Western Front)

While skepticism about mail-in voting has clouded the 2020 presidential election, Washington state has a history of voting by mail.

Lee Willis, a 75-year-old Bellingham resident, has written roughly 15 postcards per week since the spring of 2020, urging Americans across the country to vote by mail this November.

“If voting by mail is standard in this country, it should help to level the field to some degree,” Willis said.

Washingtonians began voting by mail before 1983, when the Washington Legislature encouraged voters over 65 years old and…


Olivia Hicks (May 20, 2020)

With a storefront showcasing an abundance of greenery, one Tacoma business symbolizes that growth is approaching amid economic uncertainty. While some local businesses in Tacoma have experienced severe economic loss, others have expedited expansion plans during the pandemic.

The Fernseed, a houseplant shop in the Proctor district, already had plans to expand to online shopping and delivery before COVID-19. However, the inability to keep the shop open to customers for browsing accelerated Fernseed’s e-commerce debut. …

Olivia Hicks

Environmental Journalism student at Western Washington University — from Des Moines, Iowa

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