Tennant Lake Through Time

Before history was written in the Pacific Northwest, native peoples gathered in seasonal camps along the north shore of what is now Tennant Lake. Springs along the north shore kept the water from freezing giving ancestors of the Lummi and Nooksack opportunities to harvest birds, wildlife and other food all year. Spring and fall migrations brought waterfowl. They called the place Sil-ats-its.

Forests of huge cedar and fir made travel difficult for European pioneers. Access was by boat on the Nooksack River but it was blocked near here by a log jam. Portaging around the jam, John Tennant, an Arkansas pioneer, first saw the lake which bears his name. In 1858 Tennant and his wife Clara, of the Lummi Nation, built a cabin on the lake and lived there, clearing and farming the land. Tennant became a distinguished citizen of Whatcom County.

When John Tennant died in 1893, Clara sold the property. The Nielsen family purchased a parcel west of the lake and farmed. Their home, built in 1906, later became the Tennant Lake Interpretive Center. Change accelerated in the 20th century. In 1910 railroad tracks were laid through the wetlands east of the lake. Dikes along the Nooksack altered the cycle of floods. Presently, urban growth threatens Tennant Lake.

Tennant Lake and surrounding lands were purchased by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1974. The Nielsen House was acquired by Whatcom County Parks soon after and these agencies now manage the lake for hunting and other public recreation. Wildlife still inhabits the lake, especially during migration and in winter. As it has done for hundreds of years, Tennant Lake still nourishes its people.