Community Sports

From alternative to the psychedelic drug scene to an iconic event

Runners take off from the start line of the 2015 Chuckanut Foot Race. The race will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday, July 9.
Runners take off from the start line of the 2015 Chuckanut Foot Race. The race will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Saturday, July 9.

The Chuckanut Foot Race has taken many twists and turns throughout its 50-year history. As the oldest foot race in the state, however, it’s a Bellingham staple.

The race will celebrate its 50th anniversary Saturday, July 9. Race director Kelly Krieger said she expects between 500 and 600 participants, and organizers will commemorate the milestone by handing out bottle openers to every 50th finisher, every 50th person who registers and everyone age 50 who participates. As always, live music, food and drinks will be waiting at the Larrabee State Park finish line of the 7-mile run.

The race was started in 1967 by John and Nancy Arnold and Frank Shultz, members of the Cascade Wilderness Club, as a way to get young people away from the psychedelic drug scene. Former race director Ken Gas said the Arnold’s home was along the Interurban Trail, so they decided to host a race right out their back door.

However, Gas remembers having to reroute the race during the ’70s and early ’80s because of congestion on the roads.

“There was such a big mass of runners on the drive that we had to move the start up to Western’s track for safety,” Gas said. “A couple of times we had major washouts, too.”

The original starting point was Fairhaven Park, before the course went south on Chuckanut Drive and California Street to the Interurban Trail and ended 4.9 miles later at the Fragrance Lake Trail crossing. In 1979, the start was moved to Western Washington University’s track and the finish shifted to Larrabee State Park, extending the race to its current distance. The start was later moved to Sehome Village, before it was again moved to Marine Park near the Ferry Terminal at the base of Harris Avenue in 1995, giving the course its current route.

The first race had 70 runners, and it has grown to more than 400 participants in 2015.

This is Krieger’s seventh and final year directing the race. She is responsible for four years ago implementing the Go Green Initiative, which eliminated race packets and bags to reduce the use of paper.

“It was something to encourage people to reduce, reuse and recycle,” Krieger said.

The buses used to ferry spectators to the finish line and competitors and spectators back to Fairhaven have been reduced in half, she said.

But it’s the course that has made the Chuckanut Foot Race an iconic part of the Bellingham running community.

“It’s a fun ending in Larrabee Park, and it’s a pretty flat race, except for the deadly California climb,” Gas said. “It’s just really scenic and a good time of the year to be running.”

Chuckanut Foot Race

When: Saturday at 9 a.m.

Start: Marine Park near the Ferry Terminal

Finish: Larrabee State Park

Course length: Approximately 7 miles

Race-day registration: $35 ($5 for Greater Bellingham Running Club members)