Whatcom race organizers good stewards of outdoor adventure areas

Last year I’d often say, “I’m actually more of a John Muir than a Lance Armstrong,” while talking with people about the new stewardship trail-building work in Fairhaven Park that I’ve been doing as executive director at Recreation Northwest.

As the Bellingham Traverse founder, how would people know that the musings of Muir ring deeper through my veins than the drive to win races that Lance exemplifies. Sure, the Traverse is an endurance race (for some) but my larger objective has always been to bring people from the active community together to take care of the places we use and enjoy. Both the Traverse and our new Kulshan Quest Adventure Race use the trails in Fairhaven Park and we feel responsible for their care. Recreation Northwest now has the opportunity to demonstrate our conservation ethics as race organizers and give back.

Recreation Northwest became a charitable non-profit last year and we are excited to fulfill our mission of promoting outdoor recreation and bringing people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. In 2015, we will be working on the relocation of unsanctioned and highly used trails crossing through wetlands from Fairhaven Park into the hidden labyrinth of trails in the neighboring Chuckanut Community Forest (100 Acre Wood). Our trail realignment project will prevent further destruction of this thriving habitat by reducing human traffic through sensitive ecological areas; the outcome will allow the wetland to once again function in its natural state.

Back to the people. Yes, it’s all about the people. The project began with a conversation with Christopher Grannis in January 2014 when I met him at a forest district meeting. He identified the need and asked if we’d be willing to help. He was the catalyst that created this project and connected me with the right people to see this through. I’m glad he approached me.

Recreation Northwest is leading the project with the support of people at the City of Bellingham, Chuckanut Community Forest District, professional contractors, community organizations, volunteers and donors. I have enjoyed working with Leslie Bryson, design and development manager with city of Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department and appreciate her patience in helping us through the process. I’d also like to thank others at the city including Tim Wahl, Kim Weil, Jason Porter, Brian Smart, Bill Hasenjaeger and James King. Also Bellingham City Council member Roxanne Murphy, who chairs the council’s Parks and Recreation Committee.

We are fortunate to have great professionals to choose from locally. Our team of contractors will continue to work together to carry this project to fruition. Perry Welch, Welch Ecological Services, is our natural resource biologist. Gerry Wilbour, Northwest Trails Inc. is a greenways and conservation professional. Andrew Law at Wilson Engineering and his team have been providing engineering and surveying services. Each firm is providing a portion of their time pro bono.

In order to make all this happen, Recreation Northwest launched our first fundraising campaign. Our goal was to raise $30,000 for phase one of this initial section of trail. With the support of 90 donors we are proud to announce that we have surpassed our goal. Donations came from our board of directors, families, friends, racers, local businesses and neighbors.

Thank you to Fairhaven Lions Club President Joel Haggen, who joined us on a trail walk in November and saw the opportunity to help us meet our fundraising goal. The Lions committed to helping us reach our goal and donated $8,300 directly to our service project. We look forward to working with them as strong partners as we continue this stewardship work.

We will be working through the permitting process through the winter and plan to begin phase one trail construction in the spring with volunteer work parties. The work for phase two will also be underway to determine how to cross the wetland and get up the hill into the woods. Stay tuned to our blog, The Confluence, for project updates and how you can get involved at RecreationNorthwest.org.

I look forward to channeling my inner Muir as an advocate of the preservation of wilderness to help lead our organization through the year ahead. In his words, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”