Salmon, the beloved aquatic jewel of the Pacific Northwest, have one of the most interesting and downright tough life cycles of any animal. According to the National Park Service’s website, a salmon’s life cycle, in short, can be described as hatch, migrate, spawn and die. A salmon will travel hundreds to thousands of miles in its lifetime going from sea to river to lay its eggs and ultimately pass away. The Bellingham Traverse relay race serves as a reminder of the salmon’s short but intense journey while on Earth. The family-friendly adventure race features different multi-sport sections where racers must traverse the various environments Bellingham offers.

Kayakers participate in the Bellingham Traverse Multi-Sport Race on Bellingham Bay. Photo credit: Brandon Sawaya.

The 16th annual Bellingham Traverse relay race will take place this year on Sept. 16. The race is designed to promote awareness and honor the daunting tasks the Pacific Northwest’s wild salmon undertake during their life cycle. Participants in the relay race can choose between team (Chum), tandem (Coho) or solo (Chinook) formats, named after different types of salmon. The course, which starts and ends at Boundary Bay Brewery, combines elements of running, biking and paddling.

Todd Elsworth, co-founder and executive director of Recreation Northwest, created the Bellingham Traverse in 2002. Over the last 16 years the race has seen many transformations all while retaining one common goal, to effectively explain the plight of wild salmon and raise money through a community-driven effort.

“It was important to have it be a community event,” Elsworth says. “Many athletic events raise money for good causes that are health related, but not many raise money for the environmental community.”

Participants run during the Greenways Run section of the Bellingham Traverse. Photo credit: Brandon Sawaya.

Elsworth started working with groups such as the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, RE Sources, North Cascades Institute, Conservation Northwest and others to make the event possible.

“I had viewed my own life’s journey parallel to that of the salmon. Here was an opportunity to create an event that helped to tell their story,” he says.

The race is designed into six different legs. Each leg has a different mileage amount and the race in total amounts to 37 miles. The race begins with the 5.5-mile Greenways Run, which leads into the 6-mile mountain biking portion. Following the mountain biking leg, participants will then do an 18-mile road bike leg to get the halfway point.

The second half of the course includes a 3.4-mile trail run, followed by a 3.6-mile paddle and then concluding with the half-mile trek leg of the race. After the race has finished there is an awards ceremony that takes place at Boundary Bay Brewery.

Racers bike down the 18-mile road bike section of the Bellingham Traverse Multi-Sport Race. Photo credit: Brandon Sawaya.

Recreation Northwest closes a part of Railroad Avenue and has a combined block party with the Bellingham Farmers Market. A beer garden is also featured at the finish line on Railroad. After you finish you will be able to sip on a local beer as you cheer on those who still need to cross the finish line.

Starting this year there will be pre-race events designed to provide an increased amount of customer service and help participants better understand the layout of the course Elsworth has created. Course previews will run throughout the summer leading up to race day.

On August 8 at 5:30 p.m., there will be preview of the paddle portion of the race at Marine Park. August 15 at 5:30 p.m. the mountain biking course will be previewed, participants will meet up at the Lake Padden parking lot. The trail run section of the race will be the final preview and it will happen at 6:00 p.m. on August 31, participants will meet at Fairhaven Runners in downtown Fairhaven. The other three parts of the course were previewed earlier on in the summer.

The race is a great way to experience the beauty of Bellingham Bay. Photo credit: Brandon Sawaya.

Elsworth says he is excited they are providing this new service to Bellingham Traverse participants. “These new interactive walk-throughs will ensure people don’t get confused during the race and will allow us to provide a higher level of customer service,” Elsworth says.

Registration for the event is currently open and will stay open until September 15 at 7:00 p.m. This year, all proceeds from Bellingham Traverse will benefit the stewardship of Fairhaven Park, which the trail run leg of the race conveniently goes through. Participants can donate to the fund separately as well as signing up for the race.

“We have created an event that will help raise the visibility of the importance of salmon in the ecological landscape while taking part in recreational activities that people enjoy in the region,” Elsworth says.


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