Todd Elsworth has left Bellingham just to come back again. The Pacific Northwest native fell in love with the area for the same reasons many of us do: the sense of community between people, the geography and the endless places to “play” outdoors, he says. “People who live here live here intentionally,” Elsworth says. As founder of the multi-event relay Bellingham Traverse and co-executive director and founder of Recreation Northwest, Elsworth has built his passion for outdoor recreation into a career.
Elsworth began the Bellingham Traverse race in 2002 after returning home from six years in New Hampshire. During his time on the East Coast, he turned his career away from his original plan of history teacher and toward marketing and event coordinating. For Elsworth, the race filled a void and fostered a connection. “It’s really about what was missing in my life, which was a connection to my community,” Elsworth said. This year marks the 16th year of the race, which now benefits Elsworth’s Recreation Northwest nonprofit. The 2017 event drew nearly 500 racers for the six-leg, 37.15 mile race. Participants can choose to do the course alone, with a partner, or on a team. For most, it’s a relay event. Legs include a park greenways run, mountain bike, road bike, trail run, then kayak paddle, all designed to honor the life journey of the salmon—except for the final segment, where each team’s members gather to race the final .65 mile to the finish at Boundary Bay Brewery. The 2018 race will take place Saturday, September 15th.
In addition to the Bellingham Traverse, Recreation Northwest coordinates projects to engage people in local stewardship and education regarding the economic and social benefits of recreation. Elsworth’s business philosophy is based on the “triple bottom line” accounting framework, which takes into consideration profit, planet, and people to determine the success of an organization rather than solely profit. While Recreation Northwest began as primarily a “race-based” organization to run the traverse, the company developed a mission to “promote outdoor recreation and bring people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play.” With this mission, Recreation Northwest expanded its programs, Elsworth says. The nonprofit also organizes networking events for businesses and individuals in the recreation community and engages citizens with the stewardship of Fairhaven Park, where Elsworth’s group is responsible for adding to the trail network there.
Elsworth’s personal favorite ways to recreate include cycling, both mountain and road (“It’s my transportation and recreation,” he says), sea kayaking, backcountry skiing, and camping. “Hopefully the biggest game I have changed is the understanding of the value that recreation has for our community,” he said.
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