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KEEN Connects: Winter brings opportunities to recreate, help others

The nights are getting colder, and starting earlier (thanks, daylight saving). Snow has already hit the ground, turned to slush and soaked my feet, and it feels impossible to leave the house without seven layers to keep warm.

Even though the natural environment is less hospitable in the winter, we can all find ways to spread some holiday cheer among friends and strangers alike.

First, we need to remember that not all of us have the same level of shelter from the elements.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to go through the winter closet and find old coats and sweaters that don’t make it out much. There are a number of options to send those to people who could use them, from clothing drives through the schools to APOYO to the clothing bank at the Methodist Church.

Putting old clothes to good use is a benefit both to people and to the environment. Many of the items that might get tossed are in reality still functional, and finding a new owner gives them a second life and keeps them out of landfills.

With colder nights, it’s also important to make sure members of our community have a place to stay warm throughout the winter. Several churches are running a cold weather shelter, and volunteers are always welcome.

If you’re cozying up to a wood-burning stove, keep in mind how the quality of your stove and fuel affect the air quality. Consider looking into a cleaner-burning stove, and pay attention to burn bans in the area. Being in a valley, smoke can build up and make it less pleasant for everyone.

Sitting inside by the fire, sipping on a hot chocolate — what more could you ask for? Keeping the heat inside and the cold out can make cold nights more bearable. Getting your home ready for winter can mean stopping up gaps under doors and around windows, and HopeSource is a great local resource for weatherizing your home.

And for those of us who are prepared to venture outside, winter can be one of the most beautiful times of year.

Snow brings new opportunities to recreate, from building snowmen and making snow angels, to skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing. Your favorite hiking trails are, for the most part, still accessible during the winter with the right equipment. I’ve heard people are already skiing and snowboarding in some areas, likely bootpacking or skinning in, and the lifts will be open soon at Snoqualmie, Mission, Stevens and White.

Finally, snow is an ecological boon as well as a recreational one. A thick snowpack helps protect the land underneath, and means a good supply of water for next summer. Natural areas depend on the snow for their water supply, as do the irrigated fields of timothy hay, alfalfa, potatoes, sunflowers, grapes, hops and more.

So even as the world draws in and nature howls at our door, remember there are ways to help ourselves and the environment coexist. I’m thankful for the opportunities winter brings and the way it encourages people to come together in common cause. This Monday was World Kindness Day, and it serves as a reminder that our actions toward others make a difference, from helping out directly to donating to a cause to just keeping our community’s air clean.

There’s a lot to celebrate this season, and you can join KEEN at our winter gathering on Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. in the Oddfellows Hall. We’ll be sharing good food and conversation, as well as sharing what makes us thankful — including some exciting new news. We hope to see you there.

Thatcher Montgomery grew up in Ellensburg and is a 2012 alumnus of EHS. He returned after earning a bachelors degree from Carnegie Mellon University, and is now a board member of KEEN and assistant manager at Mountain High Sports. Learn more the Kittitas Environmental Education Network at

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