Life in the PNW has no shortage of benefits, ranging from stunning scenery to temperate weather, a tight-knit community, and year-round access to locally grown food. Better yet, these factors make it easier for residents to feel their best, both physically and mentally.
If you want to put your healthiest foot forward in 2023, we’re bringing you a laundry list of ways to do so– right in your own backyard. Whether you’re looking to move your body, eat more veggies, or lower your stress levels, North Sound residents are lucky enough to have an abundance of resources right at their fingertips.
Meet the Doctors
To learn more about just what makes our region so special, we spoke to two medical professionals: Dr. Chao-ying Wu, a family medicine practitioner with Family Care Network, and Dr. Jamie Wilkinson, a family medicine practitioner for PeaceHealth practicing at their Cordata Main location.
“I was first introduced to the PNW when I moved to Oregon for medical school, and immediately fell in love with the lush greens, wild mountains, and rugged coasts,” says Dr. Wilkinson.
Dr. Jamie Wilkinson, photo courtesy of Dr. Jamie Wilkinson
Dr. Wilkinson completed her residency in family medicine in Puyallup and visited Bellingham multiple times during this period. She was “immediately taken” by the unique spirit of the city; nowadays, she and her husband, dog, and two cats call Bellingham home.
Dr. Wu became a family physician because “somewhere along the way, I realized that going upstream to promote healthy living early made more sense than fixing problems later.” He completed an undergraduate degree in social anthropology at Harvard University and attended the University of Washington for pre-medical work, medical school, and residency in family medicine.
Dr. Chao-ying Wu, photo courtesy of Dr. Chao-ying Wu
When he is not working, Dr. Wu is usually wandering around beautiful Whatcom County with his wife, Sue. He also serves as a board member and treasurer of the Chuckanut Health Foundation.
Heart Disease Prevalence
- Whatcom County: 5.2%
- Skagit County: 5.3%
- U.S average.: 6.1%
- Whatcom County: 81.3 years old
- Skagit County: 80.2 years old
- U.S. average: 77.5 years old
Population Within 0.5 Miles of a Park
- Whatcom County: 53%
- Skagit County: 53%
- U.S. average: 18%
Population Within 0.5 Miles of Walkable Destinations
- Whatcom County: 47.4%
- Skagit County: 49.1%
- U.S. average: 34.0%
Source: U.S. News and World Report
Medicine for the Mind
While Bellingham is an undoubtedly sporty city, you don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of time spent outside. In fact, contact with nature alone has been shown to promote an improved sense of wellbeing. If extreme sports aren’t your thing, try having a picnic, walking your dog around Lake Padden, or simply reading a book by the bay.
The Oyster Dome, photo by Dean Davidson
“Spending time in nature improves your mental health through the positive effect on your brain’s biochemistry, like decreasing your body’s cortisol levels (the stress hormone),” Dr. Wilkinson says. “Additionally, connecting with nature often leads to a better connection to your own body and becoming more in tune to your own needs.”
If nature can be medicine, then what’s the correct dosage? The European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter studied people as they spent time in green spaces, either all at once or spread out over the course of the week. They then deduced that people were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing with at least 120 minutes in nature per week.
Nature and Health
Studies show that time in nature is linked to a variety of health benefits, including better sleep, reduced rates of depression and anxiety, improved ADHD symptoms, and even a lower risk for non-communicable diseases like diabetes and hypertension. However, we are still learning about the exact mechanisms responsible for this. Enter the University of Washington’s Nature and Health initiative, which seeks to better understand the link between nature contact and human wellbeing.
Since its founding, the multidisciplinary organization has received a foundational grant from REI; increased to more than 360 researchers, educators, health care providers, and others; and produced a number of scientific papers studying the link between nature and health. For example, a 2021 paper studied suggested stress reduction benefits for workers who are exposed to nature on a day-to-day basis. Current Nature and Health projects include studies on greener schoolyards, nature therapy for veterans, and a review of nature contact and Latinos in the U.S.
Overall, the initiative aims to go beyond correlation and fully understand how nature exposure promotes health benefits. Why is this important? According to UW’s EarthLab website (earthlab.uw.edu), if we can get a better understanding of the link between nature contact and human health, this understanding can be “[translated] into programs, practices, policies, and the design of healthcare, educational, and community settings that benefit all people.” Moreover, given nature contact’s impact on human wellbeing, access to it should be a right rather than a privilege.
To learn more about the of Nature and Health, visit natureandhealth.uw.edu.
Activities for Every Month
January: skiing at Mount Baker (Mount Baker Hwy., Deming)
February: snowshoeing at Sauk Mountain (North Cascades Hwy., Skagit, wta.org)
March: trail running in Arroyo Park (1700 Old Samish Rd., Bellingham)
April: bouldering at Lost Ledge (Bellingham, mountainproject.com)
May: sea kayaking in the Bellingham Bay (Bellingham, boatingcenter.org)
Photo courtesy of the Community Boating Center
June: mountain biking on Galbraith Mountain (Tower Rd., Bellingham)
Photo by Alan Fritzberg
July: swimming at Bloedel Donovan Park (2114 Electric Ave., Bellingham)
Photo by Dean Davidson
August: day hiking the trails near Mount Baker (Mount Baker Hwy., Deming)
September: backpacking at Artist Point (Mount Baker Hwy., Deming)
Photo by Dean Davidson
October: sport climbing at Mount Erie (Fidalgo Island, Anacortes)
November: yoga with Bellingham Treehouse Yoga (@bellinghamtreehouseyoga)
Photo by Paul Kelly
December: salsa dancing with Rumba Northwest (Bellingham, rumbanorthwest.com)
Lowering Stress Levels
Let’s face it: Life in the 21st century is inherently stressful, and taking care of our bodies and minds requires effort. The way Dr. Wu sees it, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are interconnected– and living by the Salish Sea nurtures all of these aspects.
“Walking among the great trees of the Chuckanuts and looking out to the islands in the Salish heals and energizes all of us,” he says.
But contact with nature isn’t the only way to promote holistic health in the North Sound. If you’re looking for alternative methods for de-stressing (especially during our dark, damp winters), Dr. Wu has a few recommendations.
First and foremost: “Go to live music as much as possible. Perhaps [it’s] less obvious, but live music is healing, and we have a lot of really good live music,” he says.
Some of the benefits of concerts are self-explanatory– a sense of connection to local culture, emotional catharsis, et cetera– but research from the Centre for Performance Science in London has shown that live music even has the potential to reduce stress hormones. Luckily the North Sound has no shortage of venues, from the iconic Mount Baker Theatre to the eclectic Wild Buffalo and even The Blue Room for all-ages shows. (Check out January event listings in our print magazine for a glimpse of who’s playing this month!)
On the hunt for other ways to lower stress levels? According to Kaiser Permanente, mindfulness and meditation can promote overall emotional wellbeing, combat anxiety and depression, and improve attention span. That being said, developing a regular meditation practice takes more effort than simply showing up for a concert.
Mindfulness Northwest, photo by Tiffany Brooks
If you don’t know where to start, know that Bellingham is fortunate enough to have resources like Mindfulness Northwest. Dr. Wu describes the organization as “a renowned resource throughout the region that happens to be located in our own community.” Mindfulness Northwest has been giving evidence-based instruction in mindfulness since 2011, and they offer a variety of programs for both individuals and organizations. Whether you’re looking for donation-based meditation meetups, courses on mindfulness and compassion, or even multi-day retreats, you’ll find what you need to either kickstart or deepen your practice.
Getting (and Staying) Active
Given that Whatcom County’s population increased by 2.4% from just 2021 to 2022, it’s no secret that the North Sound– and the Puget Sound region as a whole– is a desirable place to live. There are many reasons why, but chief among them is our temperate climate and unparalleled access to nature.
Photo by Amy Hammer
“Of the top 25 most populous cities in the U.S., Seattle is surrounded by more wilderness than any other city with a designated 3.6 million acres of wilderness within a 100-mile radius,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “Second place goes to Phoenix, Arizona, with a mere 1.4 million acres– and let’s be honest, that’s mostly desert versus our vast diversity of terrain. No competition at all.”
To get even more specific, the North Puget Sound region in particular has no shortage of natural wonders. Between the North Cascades, the Chuckanut Mountains, the San Juan Islands, the Skagit River, and the Salish Sea, residents don’t have to venture far to get outdoors. This, in turn, makes it far easier to get active outside. Exercising outdoors is linked to greater health benefits, and studies show that individuals living in areas with the greatest amount of green space have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
“Having access to these wild spaces and activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking so close to home inherently encourages people to spend time doing those activities,” Wilkinson continues. “[This] leads to more active lifestyles and thus lowers incidents of heart disease, promotes healthy weight, and can even have benefits on blood sugar levels.”
Urban Green Spaces
Even with all of the proven health benefits of spending time in the wilderness, it can be hard to find the energy or resources to get to the state parks and mountains. That’s why urban green spaces are such a vital component of modern city planning and living.
Waypoint Park, photo by Alina Simone
Green spaces, or open spaces, are areas that help break up concrete jungles with flora or waterways (when water is involved, they’re also known as blue spaces). Basically, any open space with living natural elements can count! Parks, playgrounds, waterfronts, and even things like rooftop gardens contribute to open spaces, and streets lined with grass and trees help too.
The importance of these spaces is not unknown in the PNW. Seattle is one of the 50 cities in the U.S. with the most green space per capita, thanks in part to efforts by organizations like The Seattle Green Spaces Coalition. Green spaces help the urban environment by improving air quality, reducing noise, moderating temperatures, and encouraging thriving, complex ecosystems. They can help with people’s physical and mental health, provide places for the community to gather, and contribute to social equity and cohesion by giving everybody the chance to connect with nature.
Bellingham alone has 3,649 acres of park land made up of 38 community and neighborhood parks, 84 trail miles within the city, plus things like playgrounds, athletic fields, and blue space. Thankfully, the city is actively working on maintaining and increasing open space. The City of Bellingham’s Open Space Plan, last updated in 2020, is comprehensive and takes Bellingham’s inevitable urban growth into account. It recommends maintenance, improvements, and open spaces within a half-mile of residential areas or every four miles in the city. Even the development on the Waterfront has a high focus on green space, as it aims to extend Waypoint Park and line walkways with grass and trees.
Unique to our area is the Interurban Trail, which was “reborn” from the old Interurban Railway. It starts in Fairhaven and travels along Padden Creek, down through South Bellingham, and out to parallel Chuckanut Drive. It connects our urban green spaces and is a favorite for walkers, runners, and bikers that love to explore the nature living with us in the city.
If you’d like to partake in our green spaces without venturing too far from home, find your nearest park or clearing! Try the Fairhaven Village Green, which is home to the Fairhaven Outdoor Cinema in the warmer months, or apply for a plot one of the city’s community gardens.
With year-round options for outdoor recreation, you don’t need a gym membership to get active in the North Sound– and in addition to the entertainment value, each outdoor activity has a unique set of health benefits.
Whether you’re a casual rider or hardcore mountain biker, any form of biking is good for the muscles and the cardiovascular system: A study by the University of Glasgow shows that cycling to work (amounting to roughly 30 miles per week) is associated with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of heart disease.
If you prefer mountains to roads, however, look to the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition for resources like trail reports, events, and volunteer opportunities. During the summer months, WMBC also hosts the Whatcom World Cup, an enduro race held weekly on Galbraith Mountain.
Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, photo by Heather Carter Photography
Stand-up paddleboarding and kayaking can promote increased upper body strength and cardiovascular fitness, and paddleboarding boasts additional benefits to core strength and balance. Both activities are also low-impact, which means they are less likely to cause wear and tear on joints.
Your first port of call for all things aquatic should be the Community Boating Center. The Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts holds members-only excursions and monthly meetings, whereas the Bellingham Canoe/Kayak Sprint Team is an Olympic-style youth team that trains at Lake Padden.
The trails on Mount Baker are must-hikes during the summer months, but as soon as winter rolls around, it’s all about hitting the slopes. Skiing combines both endurance and resistance training and requires diverse coordinated movements that challenge the whole body, particularly the legs. It can also benefit the health of your cardiovascular system, metabolism, and cells.
Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts, photo courtesy of Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts
Skiing also has a mental boon: It’s a proprioceptive activity, which University of New Hampshire defines as “an aspect of fitness that is defined as one’s ability to feel the position of different body parts and the effort that goes into moving them.”
With a variety of challenging in-bound and backcountry routes, the Mount Baker terrain is sure to challenge both the body and the mind. Newcomers can learn to hit the slopes by attending a class with Mount Baker Ski School. Komo Kulshan Ski Club provides resources for youth skiers, and they also host Bellingham’s oldest and largest annual ski swap.
Climbing, another popular mountain sport, is excellent for building strength. Every climb is different, thus promoting dynamic muscle activation, which research suggests is much more challenging (and tiring!) than simple repetitive movements. Moreover, a study from the University of North Florida shows that activities requiring balance, spatial orientation, and coordination can greatly boost a person’s working memory– and climbing fits that bill.
Boomers Hiking Club, photo by Ken Harrison
VITAL in Bellingham is the best place to learn how to boulder, whereas Riverstone Climbing Gym in Burlington offers both bouldering and sport climbing. The Washington Climbers Coalition also has stewardship events and resources for climbing in the North Sound and throughout the state.
Last but not least, the North Sound’s varied terrain is tailor-made for hikers and trail runners. Trail running is easier on joints when compared to road running, and it also burns 60 to 90 more calories per hour. Hiking is a weight-bearing exercise, meaning that it also contributes to the building of strong bones.
Runners can join in on weekly meet-ups at Fairhaven Runners and Walkers or BBay Running, whereas older hikers can find community with the Boomers Hiking Club. The Bellingham Mountaineers also offer hiking trips and courses in everything from snowshoeing to climbing, skiing, and more.
Keeping Our Community Healthy
Seasonal Health Risks
By this point, we’ve made it abundantly clear that life in the North Sound has health perks– but what about the drawbacks? As anyone who has survived a PNW winter can tell you, the constant darkness is depressing– and in certain cases, the lack of sunlight correlates with seasonal affective disorder (appropriately abbreviated as SAD).
“SAD is common,” says Dr. Wu. “Estimates range from 0.5 to 3% of the population as a whole, and 5-10% of a typical primary care patient population like mine. That fits with my experience. Some doctors, including me, believe that living at our higher latitude increases the rate of SAD, but that is not entirely clear in the literature.”
Symptoms include depression with a seasonal pattern; low mood; decreased joy, interest, and energy; increased appetite and need for sleep; carbohydrate craving; and weight gain. To combat it, try to get outdoors for at least 30 minutes every morning and utilize a 10,000-lux, full-spectrum, UV-free phototherapy light.
During the warmer months, heat waves and smoke from wildfires can also cause potential health issues. Dr. Wu says the long-term solution is to “work together to get us to carbon neutral ASAP, and then carbon negative ASAP after that– and in the meantime [get] really good air filters and purifiers and stay indoors when it is bad.”
Photo courtesy of Recreation Northwest
Working Towards Health Equity
While North Sound residents are within range of a variety of medical practitioners and resources, Dr. Wu points out that there are broad disparities within the region and the U.S. healthcare system as a whole. Illness is the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in America, and “few of us are wealthy enough to withstand a single chronic disabling illness without dire financial consequences.”
In Whatcom County specifically, the Whatcom County Community Health Assessment shows that residents tend to be healthy overall– but there are still a number of disparities to address. According to the report, “indicators of health are worse across multiple data points for youth who are English Language Learners and for youth and adults who are low-income, homeless, or people of color”; additionally, Whatcom County can be a difficult place to remain financially stable.
This is why one focus of Whatcom County’s newly-formed Racial Equity Commission is supporting the health of community members who have been disadvantaged due to factors like ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Wu also notes that our greatest opportunity to reduce disparities is to optimize support for the parenting and education of young children.
“The evidence is overwhelming that high-quality early childhood support yields very large benefits that compound over lifetimes and are sustained over at least two generations,” he says.
Additionally, it’s important to improve awareness of cultural and racial differences among healthcare workers. To increase diversity in the workforce, the North Sound Race and Health Equity Alliance sponsors an annual conference to raise funds for Chuckanut Health Foundation’s North Sound Health Equity Scholarships.
“These are all important incremental steps to improve equity in healthcare, but equity in health is a much larger challenge that requires a broad and ongoing community conversation over the next several decades,” says Dr. Wu.
Photo courtesy of Recreation Northwest
Spotlight on Recreation Northwest
Time in nature is beneficial to our emotional and physical health– but if you don’t believe us, just ask the folks at Recreation Northwest. This Bellingham nonprofit has a straightforward mission: to “teach the health benefits of nature, promote outdoor recreation, and steward the places where we play.” Founder Todd Elsworth is a fierce advocate for nature as a source of human wellbeing, and he and his team have been working to educate the community in Whatcom County since 2013.
Right now Recreation Northwest is working to transform their stewardship site, a native plant garden in Fairhaven Park, into a full-fledged outdoor education classroom. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Recreation Northwest also partnered with Western Washington University faculty and student interns to build groundwork for a peer-to-peer program, leading people outdoors into local parks as “Nature Navigators.”
These projects are part of the current evolution of the Parkscriptions program, established in 2016 and modeled after the National Park Service’s Parks RX program. The original idea was to develop educational tools and collect extensive data on local parks via the Whatcom Parks Finder platform; this way, participating medical providers could “parkscribe” time in nature close to patients’ homes. The program gained traction, but Elsworth said retention proved to be tough.
“Among our barriers was the fact that we were trying to revolutionize the healthcare and insurance industries’ procedures and practices,” Elsworth says. “In prescribing nature, we were David in direct competition with the Goliath of drug companies.”
Photo courtesy of Recreation Northwest
Thus, in 2019, Recreation Northwest pivoted and began developing direct programming for outdoor programs in Whatcom County. Most recently, they’ve partnered with the Bellingham School District to bring the Parkscriptions programs to Options High School. Through nature-based education, students will foster emotional and behavioral health, learn positive coping skills, and discover what it means to be an environmental steward.
Recreation Northwest’s work has already made an impact in Whatcom County, but moving forward, Elsworth hopes that the organization’s programming will help the wider healthcare and insurance industry to recognize the “tremendous potential of healing in nature.”
“We are privileged to live in a community and region where we have public access to beautiful parks and open spaces,” Elsworth says. “I hope that people will equate more value to our public lands and work to ensure protection, and guaranteed access is also critical to providing this opportunity for the mental health of our populations.”
The PNW Diet
The North Sound region is abundant in natural resources; for thousands of years, Coast Salish tribes flourished on a diet of plants, fish, shellfish, and berries such as thimbleberries and salmonberries. Now, in the years since Euro-American colonization, Whatcom County features 115,831 acres of farmland, whereas Skagit boasts 90,000 acres and grows more than 90 varieties of crops. A variety of this local produce is readily available at farmers markets, farmsteads, and at local grocers like Haggen Food & Pharmacy and the Community Food Co-op.
“Having homegrown food– and access to it through farmers markets, local grocery chains, and direct produce stands on-site– promotes better food choices and a healthier economic market for the area as well,” says Dr. Wilkinson.
Haggen Food & Pharmacy, photo by Zoe Deal
In other words, freshly harvested fruits and veggies have a big advantage: As Dr. Wu puts it, “When food tastes good, we tend to eat more of it.” If you’ve ever sampled Whatcom- or Skagit-grown produce, we’re willing to bet that you agree.
So why is it that a locally grown strawberry might sometimes taste superior to its supermarket counterpart? It all comes down to timing: The local strawberry was likely grown in optimal conditions, picked at peak ripeness, and consumed soon after.
“Eating close to home means your food can be harvested and eaten at its best, when its flavor and food value peak, rather than being harvested too early, and then eaten after days of gradual deterioration while in transit– burning fossil fuels all the way,” says Dr. Wu.
Cloud Mountain Farm Center & Nursery, photo by Dean Davidson
Dr. Wu also notes that many of our local farmers practice organic methods that increase crops’ micronutrient values. Cloud Mountain Farm Center & Nursery, for example, is a regional leader when it comes to organic growing and education on farming and food systems. They even hold regular fruit tasting events throughout the summer and even a Fall Fruit Extravaganza in the month of October.
Last but certainly not least, many local farms also work to ensure that fresh produce is available to folks of all income levels. The Bellingham Farmers Market sold $150,000 worth of food through SNAP EBT and other food incentive programs in 2021.
Bellingham Farmers Market, photo by Cocoa Laney
Additionally, the Bellingham Food Bank’s Victory Gardens programs allows home gardeners to donate surplus produce so that “your excess becomes someone else’s bounty.” Their Food Bank Fresh program also partners directly with farmers, guaranteeing that everyone has year-round access to produce that’s seasonal, local, and– best of all– farm-fresh.
Local Ingredient Inspiration
Breakfast: Homestyle Granola Bowl
- Homestyle granola from Erin Baker’s (Bellingham, erinbakers.com)
- Nut butter from LEAP (Bellingham, eatleap.com)
- Greek yogurt from Samish Bay Cheese (Bow, samishbay.com)
- Honey from BeeWorks Farm (Bellingham, beeworks.farm)
- Fresh fruit from Shumway’s Berries (Lynden, shumwaysberries.com)
Lunch: Italian Pesto Sandwich
- Whole wheat bread from Avenue Bread (Bellingham, avenuebread.com)
- Pesto sauce from Old World Deli (Bellingham, shop.oldworldbellingham.com)
- Eggplant and tomato from Silver Creek Farm (Bellingham, instagram.com/silvercreekfrm)
- Microgreens from Dahlia Depot Farm (Sedro-Woolley, dahliadepot.com)
- Mozzarella from Golden Glen Creamery (Bow, goldenglencreamery.com)
Dinner: Salmon Spaghetti
- Fresh salmon from Lummi Seafood Market (Ferndale, lummiseafoodmarket.com)
- Pinot Gris from Vartanyan Estates (Bellingham, vewinery.com)
- Spaghetti from Bellingham Pasta Company (Bellingham, bellinghampasta.com)
- Cream from Edaleen Dairy (Lynden, edaleendairy.com)
- Garlic from La Conner Gardens (Mount Vernon, facebook.com/LaConnerGardens)
- Spinach from Joe’s Gardens (Bellingham, joesgardens.com)
Terrific Native Teas
The next time you find yourself in nature, keep your eyes peeled for these plants. Not only are they indigenous to the North Sound, but when brewed properly, they make a mean mug of tea.
You’re likely to spot rosehips anywhere from forests to city parks. They are the fruit of the rose plant, of which there are three varieties native to our region: nootka, bald-hip, and clustered wild rose. Rosehip tea is abundant in antioxidants and galactolipids, the latter of which has potential anti-inflammatory properties.
Speaking of tea, did you know that you can brew your own with stinging nettles? Boiling these plants neutralizes their bite, and the resulting antioxidant-rich brew is used in herbal medicine to alleviate everything from allergy symptoms to inflammation.
You probably already know that blue elderberry plants produce delicious fruits, but their flowers also shouldn’t be ignored. Herbalists use elderflower tea as a remedy for colds and flus, especially in combination with other native herbs like yarrow.
The Next Generation: Environmental Education and Forest Schools
Do you ever feel like nature is inaccessible to you simply because you wouldn’t know what to do if you found yourself in it? Forest schools aim to eliminate that hurdle by providing educational experiences to youth, adults, and families. By allowing children to connect with nature safely from an early age, they hope to encourage lifelong health benefits and an appreciation for the world around us.
The University of Washington’s Nature and Health program, discussed earlier, has studied forest preschools and other ways youth interact with nature. They note in one of their studies that forest schools are “a national movement that is gaining momentum,” with forest preschools and kindergartens increasing from 25 in 2012 to 250 in 2020. Whatcom County is fortunate to have several forest schools that serve ages 0 and up.
Feather and Frond, photo courtesy of Feather and Frond
Feather and Frond is a Bellingham forest school started by two alumni-turned-teachers of Wilderness Awareness School, which was started in 1983 and is located in the Cascade foothills near Seattle. Their Fox Walkers forest kindergarten, for ages 4-6, uses outdoor play and exploration to encourage nature skills, creativity, curiosity, independence, and an appreciation for community. For homeschooled kids ages 7-11, they offer the Fire Keepers program, where children are encouraged to create deeper connections to nature and begin to develop tracking and survival skills.
Vamos Outdoors Project is a nonprofit that focuses on school aged Latine youth and their families in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Vamos works to overcome social and economic barriers to nature learning for Latine youth by providing their programming free of cost, including transportation, gear, and food. They work directly with school districts, offer independent programs, and focus on providing nature skills and knowledge, healthy physical activity, mentorship, and community to their participants.
Vamos Outdoors Project, photo courtesy of Vamos Outdoors Project
Wild Whatcom began in 2004 and gained nonprofit status in 2011. They provide year-round programs that aim “to build high quality, healthy relationships with self, others, and the earth.” Their nature preschool for kids ages 3-5 provides developmental outdoor playtime near Fairhaven Park and Padden Creek, while summer camps, afterschool, and weekend programs serve kids grades K-12. Wild Whatcom also offers programs for whole families, and just for adults! Their 18+ adventures include Ladies Night Out, an outing for female-identifying and nonbinary folks every full moon, and Wonder Walks, which caters to people with mobility limitations or who just enjoy moving nice and slow.
Wild Whatcom, photo courtesy of Wild Whatcom
All of these forest schools hope to give something back to us that feels inherently lost in modern society– a deep connection to nature. Wild Whatcom especially hopes to create a sense of stewardship in the next generation, so that our kids go on to understand and protect the earth that sustains us.