Bellingham, Washington, is located on Bellingham Bay, which opens onto the Strait of Georgia lying west of Mount Baker and Lake Whatcom, and north of the Chuckanut Mountains and the Skagit Valley. With an estimated population of 72,000, the city is the seat of Whatcom County. The city was officially incorporated in 1903 and thrived as a fishing and cannery town until the use of fish traps and cannery efficiency decimated the salmon runs and traps were banned in the 1930s. The area's forests suffered clearcutting after the 1906 fire.
Bellingham is home to Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, and Western Washington University which includes, among others, Fairhaven College, Huxley College, and the Woodring College of Education. The Woodring College of Education has supported the arts and music culture of the area quite successfully over the years. Whatcom Museum of History & Art, Bellingham Railway Museum, and the American Museum of Radio and Electricity, along with Village Book, Henderson Books, and the Pickford Cinema are favorite weekend destinations. Restaurants and unique retail shops around the three campuses offer residents and tourists a variety of seafood and unique crafts. Although not as well-known as the Seattle Film Festival, the NW Projections Film Festival draws crowds and movie makers alike from around the world. The Bellingham Theatre Guild is where Hilary Swank began her acting career.
Local events generate millions of dollars for the economy of the area, with the premier event of the Ski to Sea Race. Contestants are made up of teams which compete in relay races made up of seven legs: cross country and downhill skiing or snowboarding, running, road biking, canoeing, mountain biking, and kayaking. The race begins at the Mount Baker Ski Area and ends up on Belingham Bay. The race is broadcast to 3.2 million households and brings thousands of people to the area. Other outdoor attractions for both residents and visitors to hike, bike, and enjoy the plentiful rivers, lakes, and inlets include Upper Falls in Whatcom Falls Park, Boulevard Park, Lake Padden, and numerous whale-watching tours.