When I moved to Bellingham twelve years ago, it was the pull of lush cedar, fern and moss woods, mountains that end in the sea, forests where you can smell the salty ocean air, and yes, even the rain and cloud cover that brought me back to the Pacific Northwest. It was the sparkling waters of the Salish Sea in our front yard, mighty Mount Baker in our backyard and the countless parks, creeks, trails and and forests linking them together to provide beauty, wilderness, natural habitat and an unsurpassed outdoor playground that led me to Bellingham specifically.
For me, it’s about place, and while it was the physical place that drew me here, it’s the active, community-minded people that make this place truly special and inspired me to call Whatcom County home. It’s my personal community of friends, the broader community of active, passionate citizens and our community-minded local business owners who really make this place unique and energetic. One specific group truly bridges the elements of people and place: the owners of our local outdoor recreation businesses.
On any given day you can see families heading out on the boat from Squalicum Harbor for an island picnic, a paddler on their sleek Sterling Kayak heading to do stewardship work on Lummi Island with WAKE or Community Boating Center staff preparing for their camps and classes. On the wooded trails and roads you’ll see a group of women out for a weekly run with Fairhaven Runners, decked out in Nuu-Muu dresses and stepping lightly with their Superfeet insoles, after-work professionals riding the trails of Galbraith on Kona bikes or young families checking their Chuckanut Recreation Area map on the way to Larrabee State Park. Heading east, it’s the Baker Bus full of snowboarders eagerly anticipating a whiter winter or early birds headed back after a day on the slopes with a stop at the North Fork Brewery to swap stories and plan the next adventure.
Or maybe it’s a day of prep instead? Patching that jacket with tenacious gear tape from McNett, dropping off your road bike for a tune-up at Kulshan Cycles, pitching in on the trail crew with Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, registering for the Bellingham Bay Marathon, stocking up for ski season at Backcountry Essentials, or pulling inspiration from the pages of Mt Baker Experience and Adventures NW Magazine.
These are just a few of the 279 outdoor recreation businesses based here in Whatcom County. They develop products, provide services, fix our gear, sponsor events, support stewardship organizations, and teach classes They generate $508 million in annual revenue, support 3,728 jobs and make so much of our outdoor recreation possible*.
The mix of beauty and community that comes with playing outside is why many of us choose to live here and why others come to visit and play. It’s also a key part of our local economy. Whatcom County residents and visitors are recreating outdoors an average of 71.8 days per year (well above the state average of 59 days), and while they’re doing that, they’re spending $708 million a year* on recreation related expenditures such as gasoline, food, lodging, and equipment.
Outdoor recreation in Whatcom County is thriving and makes up a significant segment of our local economy. In partnership with local government agencies and business organizations, Recreation Northwest will continue to highlight our Outdoor Recreation Economy. We will be working to bring these business owners together in the coming years to strengthen their networks, grow this sector, and build Bellingham and Whatcom County’s brand as an outdoor recreation destination.
*Data is from a 2015 study by Earth Economics: “The Economic Contribution of Outdoor Recreation to Whatcom County” through a partnership of Recreation Northwest, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham and Bellingham Whatcom Tourism. Full details of the study at RecreationNorthwest.org
April is a co-founder and former co-Executive Director for Recreation Northwest. She has a passion for place and loves exploring, experiencing and sharing the beauty of the pacific northwest. She is currently working with Ocean Conservancy to protect our oceans, specifically the Arctic.