Branching out

Branching out

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Branching out

A local race organization becomes a park steward

By Ian Ferguson
Photo by Pat Kennedy

There are literally hundreds of races held every year in the Mount Baker region. From weekly 5ks in Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver to annual multi-sport races such as Ski to Sea and the Bellingham Traverse, the opportunities for an outdoor athlete in the northwest are boundless.
For better or worse, every race has an impact on the environment and the broader community. The organization that runs the Bellingham Traverse is seeking to unite the recreation community in an effort to improve those relationships. Putting action behind their philosophy of community involvement and environmental stewardship, Recreation Northwest became the stewards of the Fairhaven Park Forest, an 82-acre parcel and trail network on Bellingham’s south side, recently purchased by the city of Bellingham.
“Our plan is to start with litter patrols and quarterly work parties, but we eventually want to lead the community in conversation about trail planning and management,” said Todd Elsworth, director of Recreation Northwest. “We’ve wanted to move into the stewardship realm for awhile, and it just made logical sense to adopt the place we use.”
The Bellingham Traverse sends runners on trails that weave through second-growth trees, over hills and around wetlands in the park. The land is in the watershed of two salmon-bearing creeks (Padden and Hoag’s), so habitat preservation and enhancement will be part of the stewardship goals, Elsworth said.
“Ecological respect and admiration has always been a part of our events, and we’ll continue that in our stewardship. There are a lot of rogue trails, so we’ll be involving the community in discussions of which trails to manage and which ones to discontinue. Our goal will be to choose trails that don’t cut through wetlands and don’t destroy, but enhance the area,” Elsworth said.
The move to become park stewards is one of several the organization has made in their recent efforts to coalesce the recreation community. In September, Recreation Northwest held a race Director’s Summit. More than 30 race directors from Whatcom and Skagit County showed up to discuss operating standards and codes of conduct for racers.
“We use parks and trails that are open to the public, so the better we can be as race directors and participants, the more welcoming the public will be in sharing that space,” Elsworth said.
His vision of community involvement extends to the business side of recreation as well. The Recreation Northwest Expo scheduled for February 13 will bring together the many faces of outdoor recreation in the northwest.
“We want to bring runners, road bikers, mountain bikers and paddlers and other user groups into one room, to get the public and the business community of recreation together,” Elsworth explained. “It’s a lot of information sharing and connecting active people who are just interested in having fun.”
Fun is the bottom line for Recreation Northwest, and no amount of community networking will overshadow that focus. Indeed, the organization is working with Brent Molsberry, founder of the San Juan Island Quest, to bring a new sort of adventure race to the mainland this summer. The Kulshan Quest will require participants to navigate their own way to checkpoints using only map and compass. The locations of those checkpoints are kept secret until raceday.
“We’ll still put on kickass races,” Esworth said.
Look for our summer issue at the end of May for a more in-depth article about the Kulshan Quest.   x