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Recreation Northwest to build 'Outdoor Classroom' in Fairhaven Park

Local non-profit aims to create educational space for community

Todd Elsworth, founder and executive director of Recreation Northwest, walks through Fairhaven Park on May 24. The trail and vegetation are maintained by Recreation Northwest. // Photo by Sam Kristofferson

Recreation Northwest, the Bellingham-based non-profit organization, has announced its newest project for locals to enjoy. 

The Outdoor Classroom, coined by Recreation Northwest founder and executive director Todd Elsworth, will be located in Fairhaven Park. 

“The purpose is to create an outdoor space for active and passive learning in nature in a public park,” said Elsworth, who has worked in Fairhaven Park since the non-profit became stewards of the space in 2014. 

Recreation Northwest was founded in 2013 by Elsworth after he spent a little over a decade running Bellingham Traverse. In 2014, the non-profit took on the Fairhaven Park as its stewardship project with the city of Bellingham to improve the trails to be more accessible for all types of users. 

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This boardwalk, which connects Fairhaven Park to the Hundred Acre Wood over a wetland, has passed all mitigation requirements this year and is deemed a completed project. // Photo by Sam Kristofferson

The next project to be completed in Fairhaven Park by Recreation Northwest are the installation of native plant vegetation signs. Elsworth is eager to install these so people who walk the trail can learn to identify the different plants in the area. 

Instead of having this space just return to nature, Elsworth says that he wants to turn this land into a usable public space.

A part of the Outdoor Classroom is what Elsworth is calling The Amphitheater. Recreation Northwest aims to put in benches, a stage and an accessible pathway in the space. There, local clubs, organizations, schools and groups can utilize the outdoor space to educate others. 

One of the ways that Recreation Northwest gets these projects done is with work parties where local volunteers can sign up to lend a helping hand. One of the latest of these work parties was to clear a thick patch of invasive blackberries where The Amphitheatre will one day be. 

“We had a crew of 18, we split up, and we cleared the whole thing out,” said Elsworth. 

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Before being cleared, this patch of land was a thick patch of blackberries. A team of 18 volunteers took the invasive species out of the ground and into compost piles with the help of Recreation Northwest master composter Jim Fonte. // Photo by Sam Kristofferson

Jim Fonte, a longtime volunteer and Master Composter for Recreation Northwest, has been one of the leaders for these sustainable work parties. Fonte has worked with the organization since they first started their sustainable projects at Fairhaven Park. 

“I’m in that park all the time and I remember when I first moved here that it was just a huge mud puddle,” said Fonte. “Now, the access has improved in that whole area.” 

Prior to working on this Outdoor Classroom project, Elsworth and the team of volunteers at Recreation Northwest completed the Trail and Wetland Boardwalk Project. This project was to  improve the vegetation in Fairhaven Park, to connect Fairhaven Park to the Hundred Acre Wood and to make the trail more accessible to visitors. 

Josh Neyman, a park project specialist with the City of Bellingham, has worked closely with Recreation Northwest for over 5 years. Neyman mentioned that before Recreation Northwest stepped in and built the boardwalk, the only way to access the Hundred Acre Wood from Fairhaven Park was through a degraded wetland. 

“All the vegetation was bare, there was a lot of damage from foot traffic, and it was just a muddy mess,” said Neyman. “There’s lots of work to do in the Hundred Acre Wood, this is just the beginning.” 

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The Outdoor Classroom will be constructed by Recreation Northwest in the heart of Fairhaven Park. The project will be alongside the previous wetland mitigation project that was recently completed. // Graphic courtesy of Recreation Northwest

In 2022, Recreation Northwest completed all the mitigation requirements and the project was deemed successful. 

Although Recreation Northwest has no work parties planned for the near future, Elsworth is asking for volunteers to help with bike valet at this year’s Northwest Tune-Up event in July. Information about volunteering for this event can be found at the Recreation Northwest website.


Sam Kristofferson

Sam Kristofferson is a City Life Writer for The Front and is a third-year majoring in Journalism with an emphasis in Audio Production and Photography. Originally from Ventura, CA, Sam enjoys living life on trail, brewing pour-over coffee, and catching bands like Phish, Dave Matthews Band, and Wilco in concert. 

You can reach Sam at samkristofferson.thefront@gmail.com


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