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Outdoor classroom opens in Fairhaven Park

From l.: Recreation Northwest executive director Todd Elsworth, Bellingham Parks director Nicole Oliver and Bellingham mayor Seth Fleetwood at a small ribbon cutting for the native plant garden in Fairhaven Park. Torie Wold photo, Recreation Northwest

In May, Bellingham mayor Seth Fleetwood, Bellingham parks and recreation director Nicole Oliver and Recreation Northwest executive director Todd Elsworth gathered at the edge of Fairhaven Park’s Hundred Acre Wood to officially open the area’s new native plant garden and outdoor education center.

The plant garden and outdoor recreation center, equipped with native plant identification signs, is available for individuals and local groups, including Recreation Northwest, to use as a shared community classroom.

Nonprofit Recreation Northwest started building the Fairhaven Park trail and wetland boardwalk that leads into Hundred Acre Wood in 2014. Community volunteers eradicated the location, which was a former invasive blackberry patch, in 2017. Then Recreation Northwest installed the park bench and gate in 2019, bearing the organization’s Parkscriptions motto: “Get your dose of nature,” and planted native species in the spaces per the project’s mitigation requirements. It recently added plant ID signs that list plant characteristics to educate the public about local flora.

“The primary goal is to create an outdoor classroom learning environment with dedicated spaces and interpretive signage to connect the community to nature that is open to the public,” Elsworth wrote in a press release. “Our secondary goal is to reflect our Parkscriptions philosophy of the public health benefit of spending time in nature to help serve as a pilot model for creating similar outdoor classroom projects in Bellingham Parks and our region.”

Recreation Northwest continues to work with volunteers to remove invasive species from the area and keep the nutrient-rich material on-site in compost piles, with its most recent clearing — fixed with public benches, a stone stage and covered pavilion — to be used as an outdoor amphitheater.