Discover Bellingham

Explore your own backyard

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Even before the pandemic brought an abrupt halt to the world as we know it, Todd Elsworth had transitioned from producing big events with countless moving parts to narrowing his focus.

As the founder of Recreation Northwest and the Bellingham Traverse—a multi-sport relay race started in 2002 that takes place every summer among the city’s parks, trails and open waterways, and which will return on Sat., Sept. 11—Elsworth had already stepped away from helming the popular event when lockdown hit.

Bellingham Traverse was sold to Pacific Multisports in 2018, and by then Recreation Northwest’s mission had evolved to include programs that focused more on stewardship and education. Promoting outdoor recreation was still key, as was “bringing people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play,” but the nonprofit wanted to actively assist community members and visitors in learning more about the ground beneath them and the sky above them.

Starting in July, Recreation Northwest began offering guided tours of local parks, trails and waterways—places that seem familiar, but may contain untold stories. For example, a 12-mile biking excursion from downtown Bellingham to Woodstock Farm and back along the Interurban Trail has participants stop along the way at historical points of interest, with Elsworth acting as guide.

During the event, participants ride on Taylor Dock, take in views of Lummi Island and the San Juans, pass the Fairhaven Village Green, then continue past Fairhaven Park, Padden Creek, Hoag’s Pond, and Chuckanut Creek before reaching their destination. After arriving at the scenic locale on Chuckanut Drive, they stop for snacks and hear stories of how these parks and trails came to be.

Other upcoming outings led by outdoor enthusiasts and educators include “Stress Reduction in Nature,” “Walking Nature Immersion,” “Front Country/Backcountry Camping Skills 101,” and “Astronomy/Night Hike” at Woodstock Farm; “Nature Craft and Recreation,” “Sensory Walks,” “Sunset Nature Immersion,” “Native Plants/Ethnobotany,” and “The World of Fungi 101” at Fairhaven Park; “Hike Bellingham” at Sehome Arboretum, and “Hike Bellingham: Arroyo Park” at Chuckanut Falls.

“It’s the only program of its kind in Whatcom County,” Elsworth says. “When things shut down in 2020, we saw a spike in interest to get outside. Many people who were previously tied down by their schedules found themselves with lots of free time to explore their own backyards. While doing our research, we witnessed the public yearning for direction outside, both in where to go and what to do when you get there. So we decided to fill that growing gap.”

Tours are kept small, and are guided on foot or by bicycle, which lessens their environmental impact and makes it easier to follow current COVID-19 protocols. All ages are welcome to learn more about the place they live (or are visiting), whether it’s via an immersive experience, storytelling, an afternoon adventure, a park tour or a class focusing on basic outdoor knowhow. Fun will be had, but you can also count on learning something new about your metaphorical backyard.

“We’re out here helping people learn how to safely and confidently access local trails, experience the beauty of our parks, and importantly,” Elsworth says, “our goal is to help our community reconnect with each other while discovering a deeper connection with nature and Bellingham.”
Fees vary from $50-$65. To sign up for an outing, go to

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