Forest Stewards

Forest Stewards

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Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.32.33 AMForest Stewards

Recreation Northwest aims for sustainable recreation

By Ian Ferguson | Photo by Dylan Hallett

Most people know Recreation Northwest for the fun races they organize – the Bellingham Traverse, the Northwest Traverse series, the San Juan Island Quest and many others.

Considering how those races make use of parks and public lands, it’s not surprising that the non-profit organization based in Bellingham is increasingly focused on conservation issues. Recreation Northwest recently became the park stewards of the Chuckanut Community Forest in Fairhaven, and the organization is working to make the park’s trail system more sustainable.

The forest was added to the Bellingham park system in 2013, but had seen use as an unofficial park for years, with a network of haphazard paths leading through it. Unorganized use over the years has caused some wear and tear. For example, the trail used to enter the park from Fairhaven Park goes directly through a wetlands area, creating a giant mud pit whenever it rains.

“The park is getting loved to death by its users,” Recreation Northwest director Todd Elsworth said. “Our first project is to move that entrance trail to a lower-impact area and restore the wetlands. Phase two is to improve access into the forest by building an elevated boardwalk.”

After that?

“We want to work with Bellingham parks and recreation and the Fairhaven community to develop a master plan for a park that is a great balance between conservation and recreation,” Elsworth said.

Elsworth said his organization will seek to facilitate conversations and mediate between different groups to find common goals and move those goals forward. Satisfying the various user groups that enjoy the park will be a big challenge.

“I’m really excited about this park as a place where beginner and even intermediate mountain bikers can go,” Elsworth said. “Hikers and walkers might take issue with mountain bike trails, so it’s a hard conversation but the best things often come out of hard conversations.”

Recreation Northwest’s newfound role as a park steward fits in neatly with their vision of recreation in the northwest. If it’s done right, the Chuckanut Community Forest could become a model for other parks.

“Our super long term goal is to use this park as a model for sustainable trail networks. If we can conserve wild public lands while increasing access, it will boost our recreation economy,” Elsworth said.

Anyone interested in getting involved in conservation and trail building efforts in the Chuckanut Community Forest can learn more here.

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