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Lakewood kicks off with a splash

Western's recreational boathouse dives into fall quarter with weekend kick-off event

Students and instructors prepare for a guided sailboat ride in Bellingham, Wash. Guided watercraft rides were one of many activities visitors could experience at the Lakewood Fall Kick-off event on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. // Photo by Dani Gibson

On Saturday, Oct. 8, Western Washington University's lakefront recreational facility, Lakewood, held its first seasonal kick-off event. The event featured various free activities on the water to help first-time visitors get excited about Lakewood.

Lakewood Manager Nino Johnson said he believes Lakewood should be accessible and open to new students. He wants to get people in the water, whether they have prior experience or not.

During the event, Lakewood staff provided a complimentary shuttle from campus to the facility and provided free lunch for the first 100 students who attended.

Once students arrived, they could sign up for guided experiences on the water, such as a sailboat ride with an instructor or more independent activities like renting canoes, stand-up paddle boards and kayaks. For students staying onshore, Lakewood offered lawn games and music, Johnson said.

Ethan Brickell and Ansel Strauss-Reeves are first-year students at Western who visited Lakewood for the first time at the fall kick-off event.

“It seemed really cool that there were these boats and all these facilities that we could have basically free access to, just being students. I thought it seemed cool and like a fun way to spend Saturday,” Strauss-Reeves said.

Strauss-Reeves said everyone at the event was very friendly, and it was a good environment to try new activities. He also said he appreciated the shuttle that brought students to the property, and he would come back to Lakewood when there is nice weather.

“I liked the calm and chill atmosphere here, and how close everything is to the water,” Brickell said. “It was really simple to check out the boats and the rentals, and get the gear to just go out and do it.”

Lakewood is a university-owned piece of property on Lake Whatcom. While the facility offers many resources, Johnson said not everyone is aware of it.

“I think we are one of the biggest secrets of the university,” Johnson said.

While the main feature of Lakewood is its water sport activities, the facility hosts for-credit classes in sailing, kayaking and windsurfing. The men's crew team and the co-ed sailing team both practice out of Lakewood, Johnson said.

He said that, in the recent past, the costs of maintaining Lakewood became included in student’s tuition fees. 

“The whole goal is to get students to know Lakewood is here, and there’s a resource for that,” Johnson said. “Beyond that, getting out here is a little bit of a challenge sometimes, so we want to make [sure] there is no paywall and no barrier there.”

Student staff work at Lakewood’s boathouse and provide safety and instruction for visitors. Johnson said the student staff create a welcoming and supportive environment. 

“We are aware that folks will come down, and they haven’t been on the water or they are uncomfortable on the water,” Johnson said. “What makes us special is that we really try to make that a personal experience, and that staff are really interested and excited about getting their peers stoked about being on the water.”

Jasmine Goodnow is the program coordinator and associate professor of recreation management and leadership at Western. She describes outdoor recreation as businesses that are focused on recreation in natural spaces.

For college students, recreating outdoors can provide a physical and mental break from stresses related to school, homework or work. It can be challenging to make time for recreation, but it can lead to feeling refreshed, joyful, and physically and psychologically healthier, Goodnow said.

“There are actually theories and scientific data that shows when we’re in nature our mood elevates. We’re happier. Our feelings of pain, depression and anxiety decrease. Our heart rate decreases [and] blood pressure decreases,” Goodnow said.

Staff members and visitors of Lakewood view watersports as a resource not only for recreational purposes but also for therapeutic purposes, Johnson said.

“It's good to escape from school life and home life,” Johnson said. “The different state out here on the lake provides some of the distance while still being a university resource that students have access to.”

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