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Why KEEN Believes Environmental Education is Critical to Our Future

According to recent population projections, Central Washington’s population may increase by as much as 20% in the next decade. (Kittitas County alone has had a population increase of almost 17% in the previous decade). A growing population brings unique resource management challenges, both locally and globally. Soon we will reach a crossroads where we will all have to make informed ecological decisions. We need well-educated citizens, especially young people, to work on solutions to complex issues that affect our economy like flooding, fires, drought, and climate change.​

Environmental education connects us to the world, teaches us about the interactions between and within natural and modified landscapes, and provides context for relationships with our surroundings. ​At its core, environmental education is a resource that transcends the classroom and helps all of us understand how natural systems function and how humans and the environment are intertwined. Educated citizens are a vital component of preventing, addressing, and solving local environmental problems. More than ever, children and adults need to know how ecological systems work and why they matter. The health of the environment is inseparable from humans’ well-being and economic prosperity. Some people are so disconnected from the natural resources that sustain them they do not know where their food comes from or where they get their drinking water.

​Environmental education gives individuals the tools to be good stewards of the environment in their neighborhoods and communities, and to successfully address and solve environmental problems in their daily lives. To foster environmental literacy, we must expand learning opportunities into natural areas. Experiential education forges stronger links with the environment and helps us transform conceptual knowledge to hands-on understanding. It also combats physical and psychological health concerns like obesity, asthma, depression and ADHD.

​The Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) was established as a 501(c)3 in 2000 and has been operating in Kittitas County as an all-volunteer organization for the past 16 years. Our mission is to Connect Community to Nature following the principles of environmental education; teaching people ‘how’ to think, not ‘what’ to think. Our primary goal is to establish (design, construct and operate) the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center near Ellensburg, WA. Environmental education is a lifelong process and establishing the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center will allow learners of all ages and backgrounds to discover their personal connections to nature. The Interpretive Center will serve as the gathering place for our community, for visitors to our community, and for engaging and connecting to nature in Central Washington.

​In 2016 KEEN hired our first employee, ran 3-weeks of summer camp for over 130 children, started a late start Monday program at our elementary schools, and operated an outdoor preschool at Helen McCabe Park in partnership with Washington Outdoor School. We continued our 10-year tradition of trail building and park maintenance working towards full habitat restoration at Helen McCabe Park which will be the future home of the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center.

KEEN hosts the annual Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe event (May 12, 2017), a series of expert-led field trips, lectures and educational activities that highlight the surrounding endangered landscape, plant and animal communities, weather and geology that together create such a strong sense of place for Central Washington.

KEEN also hosts the annual e3 Winter Fair, an environmental farmers market that celebrates the intersection of environment, education and economy (January 28, 2017). Additionally KEEN brings community to nature with our Second Sunday guided nature walks and seasonal urban nature walks.

KEEN: Connecting our Community to Nature will be a monthly column written by our board members and educational committee volunteers. We hope these columns will inspire, challenge and promote discussion and community engagement. We also hope to see you at one of our monthly or annual events and welcome inquires and engagement any time.

Jill Scheffer - KEEN Board Chairperson

Jill is one of the original founders of KEEN who returned in 2006 to lead the board into a new era of education, outreach, events, and planning for the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center. Her educational background is in Geography and Environmental Studies from the University of Victoria in BC. She works for Forterra, the region's largest conservation and community building organization (10 years), and she is an elected member of the Ellensburg City Council (6 years). Her two loves are her son and daughter who together explore the outdoors and share their family love of music and dance.

KEEN Connects is a monthly column produced by the Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) board members and volunteers. KEEN’s focus is on creating an ecologically and environmentally literate citizenry who connect and engage with their surroundings. Our goals include establishing the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center, restoring native habitats at Helen McCabe Park, and helping our community make lifestyle and behavioral decisions that support the ecological integrity of our region. Join us on our Second Sunday Guided Nature Walks and First Friday Green Drinks, and several annual events. You can find out more about KEEN at

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