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 Restoring Ecosystem Functionality to Helen McCabe Park

KEEN adopted and has been restoring habitat at Helen McCabe Park since 2004. Over the years, we have invested hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars into habitat restoration.


Click below for a short video detailing our work at the park. As KEEN moves ahead with the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center project we are working with WA State Parks to gain control of the park in order to fully restore the riparian and upland habitats throughout the park.

This project focuses on KEEN’s ongoing efforts to rehabilitate a local 64-acre park that KEEN adopted in 2004.


Helen McCabe Memorial State Park is a former gravel borrow pit. In 2004 by circumstance and synchronicity, KEEN came upon the park and identified it as a potential site for our planned Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center (YCIC).


Since 2004, KEEN has worked to re-establish native plant communities, build trails, teach outdoor classes, and expand the use and stewardship of the park. This park space is also a hub for much of our outreach in the greater Kittitas County area. We are currently negotiating a long-term lease renewal that will allow us to manage the park in its entirety and move towards returning ecosystem functionality and ecological services on this property on the outskirts of Ellensburg WA.

Located at the ‘bottom of the bathtub’ of the Yakima River Valley in Kittitas County, the park is home to

critical ecosystem services; every drop of water in the valley filters through and under the park. Notably

the park is home to substantial aquifer recharge areas, wetlands, riparian and floodplain habitat, and re-

introduced native plant habitats.

KEEN is working to bring this area back to functionality through our all-volunteer work on invasive species management, floodplain roughening, native planting and involvement of our community in restoration activities.


KEEN believes there are significant social and cultural benefits to functioning ecosystems and we work hard to increase the public use of the park by building trails, hosting work parties, offering a nature preschool, summer nature camps, and naturalist trainings/field trips. KEEN strives to educate the next generation of young adults to be ecologically aware, inform our local community, and create behavioral changes - ranging from basic ecological understanding to consumer and policy advocacy.

Our ultimate goal is to establish the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center at the park as it is the northern gateway to the oldest state scenic byway in Washington. The Canyon, and Central Washington in general, is home to endangered shrub-steppe habitat that hosts sage grouse, shrub-steppe obligate mammals, birds and reptiles, iconic bighorn sheep, an important bird area (IBA) for passerines, a diverse number of raptor species, and the adjacent Yakima River with endangered salmonid stocks.


This is a restoration project adjacent to where many of Washington citizens work and play.


As the effects of climate change continue to manifest in our region – evidenced by lower snow pack and higher rainfall – KEEN’s efforts in this area become ever more appropriate. As we watch our endangered habitat become devalued and fragmented, the urgency of our work becomes more evident. We believe that it is our ethical and moral duty to educate and engage our community in its own environmental future and having a restored area with ecosystem services, offering stepping-stone connectivity within the Yakima corridor, is a big part of that future. We believe that having protected and rehabilitated areas on the edge of town are critical to connecting our community to nature, effecting change, and eliciting behavioral changes.

KEEN is always seeking support our work in continuing to improve the ecosystem function of Helen McCabe State Park and will allow us to negotiate the long-term lease that will provide us managerial control over the 64-acre parcel. Due to state surplus rules, KEEN cannot become the owner of the park, but we can move into a lead position on caretaking for 50+ years if we can strike the right note in the lease.


Although the size of the park is small, the impact of this project is huge. With over 1.1 million people driving past this park on an annual basis (WSDOT Traffic Study 2015), we have an unparalleled opportunity to communicate important ecological information, provide a place to engage and reflect, and create a functioning ecosystem that provides true ecological function.


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