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KEEN Connects: Reflecting on a fun summer for KEEN

Summer passes by so quickly sometimes that we fail to fully appreciate it. However, this summer was tough on many levels. Fires surrounded us in the valley, and for some more than others, hit too close to home. Our neighbors to the south suffered flooding and major destructive storms, and most of the rest of the West was on fire. These challenging times are likely to become the norm, according to climate predictions.

From KEEN’s perspective, our work to educate our community and work to increase our critical thinking skills is becoming ever more important. This summer, KEEN held our second year of outdoor summer camp at Helen McCabe Park. This nature camp integrates fun and learning and helps to stop the summer-slide in reading, math and science that many of our children suffer. We engaged over 200 kids during the nine-week summer camp with hands-on nature-based activities. We plan to continue to grow this program and continue to bring this type of learning to our schools as well.

Last spring, we pioneered a one-day nature camp for fourth-grade students from Valley View Elementary School. We brought them to Helen McCabe Park and integrated their science curriculum with real-world decision making. Environmental education builds social relationships, creates understanding between groups, fostering independent and cooperative group learning, and brings critical thinking skills to our educational system. This year we plan to bring the fourth-grade camp to all schools in the district and expand our after-school programming as well.

KEEN also works to educate our adult population and holds special events that are open to learners of all ages. Our annual events include the Winter Fair in January, our spring events Get Intimate with the Shrub-Steppe and the Yakima River Canyon Bird Fest that help to increase awareness of our special place and welcome visitors from across the region.

Coming up on Oct. 7, KEEN is starting a new fundraiser, the KEEN Hard Cider Fest, that celebrates local craft cideries and highlights our region’s agriculture. As the largest annual fundraiser for the KEEN, this fun new event will be held during the peak of fall colors and the height of the harvest in Central Washington in the Gold Buckle Room at the Kittitas Valley Event Center at 901 E. Seventh Ave., just outside of downtown Ellensburg.

The first annual KEEN Cider Fest is expected to draw a sell-out crowd to sample sips from a large mix of local pourers. In addition to tasting cider, guests can enjoy bites of artisanal food including local cheeses, baked goods and other treats. A limited number of VIT (Very Important Taster) tickets will be sold. VIT’s gain early access to the event and will have the opportunity to speak to our cideries and learn all about their business and their craft.

The first 100 event attendees will receive a complimentary KEEN Cider Fest tasting glass. Proceeds from the KEEN Cider Fest directly support our work to engage learners of all ages with our environment. Funds will specifically support our summer nature camp for pre-school to eighth graders, and our project to construct the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center. We are still working on our long-term plan to build the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center at Helen McCabe Park and continue to improve our excellence in non-profit management. We love to invite people to engage and find out about what we do — please contact us at or by phone at 509-551-8807.

Jill Scheffer is one of the original founders of KEEN who returned to KEEN in 2006 to lead the board into a new era of education, outreach, events, and planning for the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center.

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