Bellingham’s Recreation Northwest shifts focus to outdoor recreation, nature education programs


If you sign up for one of Recreation Northwest’s Nature Immersion courses at Fairhaven Park, at some point, while strolling the 18th Street Connector Trail – built by the nonprofit organization – you’ll come upon a large, darkly-painted wooden gate. On the other side of the gate everything seems a little calmer, clearer, serene.

The gate, influenced by the Japanese Torii style, symbolizes the transition from the mundane to the sacred, and Recreation Northwest executive director Todd Elsworth’s goal for the organization’s future.

Most people know Recreation Northwest as the past organizers of fun, salmon-themed races, like the Bellingham Traverse, Northwest Traverse Multi-Sport Series and Quest Adventure Races. While others might know them from events like the Recreation Northwest EXPO that would fill up the Bellingham Cruise Terminal with outdoor recreation businesses, clubs and nonprofits. All of which took last year off – who knows why.

But, even before the pandemic, Elsworth was taking the organization in a different direction. The organization started its Parkscriptions program in 2017 that focused on highlighting the mental, emotional and community health benefits of nature, a philosophy the new outdoor recreation and nature education programs are built on.

“We are excited that the time has finally come to reengage with the public in a safe manner as we enter summer outdoors,” Elsworth said. “Over the course of the past year, we have witnessed resounding recognition for the value that the outdoors holds and the healing powers nature provides.”

While all outdoor activity provides respite, the Nature Immersion courses might be the best example of this idea in practice. Community health professional Elizabeth Nelson, director of programs and previous Parkscriptions program manager, will teach attendees how to use their five senses to connect to nature, reconnect with themselves and their place in the community.

“People will learn methods for mindfulness in nature, essential outdoor recreation skills, and familiarity with the landscape,” Nelson said. “As stewards of our public lands we will also demonstrate how to recreate responsibly, leave no trace, and show respect for others as we enjoy our public parks, open space and waterways.”

These new programs, oriented around small groups of six to 12 people, will offer a variety of beginning and intermediate level classes and tours of curated outdoor educational experiences. Adventures and park tours will be available by foot, bike and paddleboard. Along with Fairhaven Park, Recreation Northwest will center its classes around Bellingham public parks Woodstock Farm and the Sehome Hill Arboretum.

The Nature Crafts class invites community members to a guided nature walk around Woodstock Farm to collect inspiring nature materials for art projects, like a three-dimensional nature suncatcher, painted-stick wind chimes, twirling twig mobile or anything else imaginable, according to the organization’s website.

The Native Plants/Ethnobotany class includes a short hike around Fairhaven Park while a guide identifies native plants and their medicinal values and properties. The class ends with a tea tasting using plants found on the hike.

There’s also a camping skills course. A guide will show what items are essential for both backcountry and front country camping, while also demonstrating the skills necessary to survive in the wilderness: how to filter water, operate a stove and deal with waste.

Recreation Northwest also offers bike tours that start in Bellingham and travel along the Waterfront Trail to Woodstock Farm and back.

For more information on Recreation Northwest or to sign up for a course, visit


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