History of the Bellingham Traverse

DRAFT. I needed to put this content somewhere. It still needs some massaging. 

If you like stories, here’s the abridged version of how the Traverse and the brand identity came to be…

The Story- My name is Todd Elsworth and The Bellingham Traverse is my creation. Born in Bellingham, raised in Kirkland, I graduated from Western Washington University in 1992. After graduation, I moved to Ketchum, Idaho where I met Mike “Baldy” Wilson who introduced me to the writings of David James Duncan. Reading The River Why is a strong reminder how much salmon matter to the people of the Northwest and the commitment that we as humans must have to protecting their habitat.

On my own life journey, I told my buddy Baldy that I was headed to the Northeast to pursue my dreams of studying and teaching American History. Baldy’s response was “You are a salmon boy- born in the Northwest, you will return”. With this in mind, I traveled by sailboat from Seattle through the Panama Canal to Antigua in the Caribbean. Then up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire where I lived for six years and became an active member of the community.

While in Portsmouth, I became involved with a bicycle advocacy group-Seacoast Area Bicycle Routes by creating an event to raise money for a bicycle/pedestrian bridge. The event was a success and consequently ran for four years. After a short teaching career, I joined close friends at a design house, Harbour Light Productions, where they were able to take philanthropy to the next level helping non-profits throughout the region with design, web production and other related consulting services. Next, I became involved with many groups and gained a strong understanding of the unique needs and roles that non-profits play in any community. It was then time to continue the journey, but before leaving New Hampshire, I competed as a soloist in The Son of Inferno Pentathlon- it took me 6+ hours to finish.

Returning to Bellingham in 2001, I wanted to create an event that was essentially an extension of myself. It went back to the readings of Duncan- who had then released a book titled “My Story as Told by Water”. I had viewed my own life’s journey in an parallel to that of salmon. Here was an opportunity to create an event that helped to tell the story of salmon.

The ideas spawned from there. The goal was create an event that would 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. It had to be a big circle, so I literally connected the dots of the local parks utilizing the extensive network of greenways and roads to make for a scenic yet challenging course.

It was also important to have it be a community event. Many athletic events raise money for good causes that are health related, but not many raised money for the environmental community. I started with a list of groups that stood out as leaders including Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, RE Sources, North Cascades Institute, Conservation Northwest (previously NWEA) and many others. The objective was to give these groups an opportunity to be seen by the public in a forum called the Eco-Expo that hosted booths of the groups near the finish line.

The Bellingham Traverse began in 2001 and has morphed over the years. 


Todd Elsworth created the Bellingham Traverse in 2002 under a private label Bellingham Benefits, LLC- which evolved to become Fourth Corner Productions, LLC and dissolved in 2019. As a private corporation hosting the event, Elsworth wanted to create a benefit for local nonprofits. Our community was built into the foundation of the Traverse as a fundraiser for local and regional non-profits. Recreation Northwest was founded in 2013 and leased the Bellingham Traverse from Fourth Corner Productions until it was sold to Pacific Multisports in 2018. 

In the first years of the Bellingham Traverse, the event also coincided with the ECO-EXPO, showing off dozens of local organizations and helping raise funds for their selected groups. The event would have “Bait” for fundraising milestones to encourage people to get donations for the non-profit of their choice. We wanted the event to give back to the community- especially to those who are traditionally found at the bottom of the spectrum doing environmental and social work. 

The designer was Loren Bates working for 360 Productions in Bellingham in the Unity Building downtown, where we both had office space. 

I worked with Lauren to create a symbolic and iconic visual brand to launch the new multi-sport race that I had created. I knew that I wanted to have the foundation of the race be based on the life cycle of wild salmon. appreciating the multifaceted elements that salmon bring to our society- including the economic, social, and cultural elements. I wanted to have the artwork be a reflection of the original art of the peoples of the northwest coast. I worked with Loren on the design referencing the work from the book by Hillary Stewart titled ``Looking at Indian art of the Northwest Coast” The book outlines the simplistic anatomical features that are shown in two-dimensional artwork of the Northwest Coast tribes and three-dimensional artwork of more northern First Nations people. 

The first draft that Lauren created had the salmon rotating in a circle and what caught my eye was the tail fins and how they resembled the same shape of a human hand. The progression of the logo was to have Lauren more intentionally show the tail as a human hand to create symbolism. Integrating the human hand in its animalistic form, showed the care and feeding that the natives had done for the fish in the past. We also planned that our event would be able to raise money for local and Regional nonprofits that worked in the Environmental and Community focused organizations. This was our way of giving back and including it in the design of our iconic logo. 

This is from the Wayback Time Machine:

“Traverse participants must choose one green group from the list to the left to be the beneficiary of the funds that they raise. seventy-five percent of the entry will go to the group of choice.

Check them out, they will all do wonderful things with the capital that you raise. Think of yourself as an ad-venture capitalist.”

Green Groups 2003


First Course



Monday, August 27th, 2012


Todd Elsworth, Director
Bellingham Traverse

Bellingham Traverse Shifts Fundraising Model after 10 Years of Operations. 

For the past 10 years Bellingham Traverse, a multi-sport race that celebrates the life cycle of salmon, has helped raise over $100,000 for the local and regional non-profit community. The Traverse has offered incentives, called Bait, for individuals to raise money.

In 2012, Bellingham Traverse evaluated its fundraising model and business practices to increase satisfaction with the community. “We have been paying attention to how our participants have been behaving over the past with regards to fundraising and how they also respond to the prizes that have been given out. While a noble effort to encourage the fundraising for others, it was not a message that resounded loud enough,” says Todd Elsworth, Director.

The results of the evaluation have created a shift in the fundraising model for the Bellingham Traverse. Whereas in the past, the Traverse was open to a large group of fundraising beneficiaries, in 2012, only ONE organization will be selected.

As the ONE beneficiary, the chosen organization will receive a percentage of the surplus revenue for the event. They will also receive a complimentary registration to the event so they can raise money on their own behalf as a fundraising opportunity for their organization.

We have chosen the ONE non-profit that will be the beneficiary of the 2012 Bellingham Traverse. The selection criterion was three fold: Mission, Community Involvement, and Fundraising. Our panel reviewed the list and rated their effects in the three categories. The final list came down to Conservation Northwest, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, Kulshan Community Land Trust, RE Sources (Power Past Coal), Sustainable Connections, Whatcom Independent Mountain Peddlers (WHIMPS), Whatcom Land Trust, Whatcom Parks and Recreation Foundation.

We are fortunate to have such a strong representation of interests in our efforts of sustainability both locally and regionally. To cut to the chase: Kulshan Community Land Trust (KCLT) is the chosen ONE for 2012. We are excited to make this announcement to the community and encourage people to choose KCLT as one of their personal or professional beneficiaries as well.


Family Man, Explorer, Entrepreneur, Writer, Artist, Outdoor Enthusiast and Recreation Advocate.

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