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KEEN Connects: Stewardship and how it connects us

Stewardship. The definition of the word is simple; the job of supervising or taking care of something. So, we all have something in common in Kittitas County, we’re stewards of our community, our natural resources, our futures. This connection extends outside of our shared geographical boundaries, as we’re not all “from here” but play a major role in how we take care of our home. Let’s explore the concept of stewardship and how it connects us.

An expanded definition of stewardship includes words like duties, obligations, and the “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care,” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. As a parent and business owner, I’m responsible for teaching my children how to be good stewards of their home, schools, and public areas. This is as simple as not passing by garbage on the street, using my experience and knowledge to teach others about ethical catch and release fly fishing on the Yakima River, and being involved in creating the future of Kittitas County.

As new residents to Kittitas County in 2015, my family has become more used to a rural lifestyle by managing a small fruit orchard. I’ve learned quite a bit from my neighbors and community about pruning, disease prevention, irrigation, and more importantly, sharing. There’s been some trial and error, but through experience and observations we’re becoming better supervisors of our land. In short, we’ve become better at asking “why?” and seeking the expertise of others. Being open to not knowing the answers and honest about the solutions has been eye-opening in more ways than one.

For example, a recent community meeting about the moratorium in place affecting the siting of solar projects, the environmental benefits of clean power were left out of the discussion. We’re all aware that sun and wind are constant factors here. Instead of asking “Why is solar a good alternative for air and water quality in Kittitas Valley?” the conversation centered around the potential shift of 1.6 percent of irrigated farmland and the financial impact to the community. While that’s important, we do need to seek a balanced approach to creating a sustainable future here — clean air and water mean a vibrant community we can all live in.

It’s what I enjoy about my involvement with the board and membership at KEEN. There are many unique, talented, committed, and knowledgable community members in Kittitas County that I’ve already learned from. There is a vulnerability in asking why, and how. In other aspects of my personal and professional life, I’ve developed an expertise. But in others, there’s still questions that need answers. We are all facing questions and in a rapidly changing environment, the answers aren’t always credible, or believable, or even truthful. But we’re all connected to the outcomes.

What are some of the outcomes we’ll be having to manage in the coming years? Quite a few. As a community, in our towns and cities with a shared stewardship, we are facing the demands on open space, availability of water to support our fish, families, and farms. We’re asking our neighbors to open their hearts and pocketbooks to support an expanding need for schools, the safety net for housing, and respecting diversity. Not easy changes to make, but certainly fitting the definition of stewardship.

I’m proud to be part of KEEN and seeking the solutions through the educational programs that connect community to nature following the principles of environmental education. When we ask the question “how” to solve the problems, instead of “what,” it opens the door to better solutions. For nearly 20 years, KEEN has been teaching people of all ages the framework for finding the answers by asking the right questions. Taking responsibility for the outcomes is the very essence of stewardship. The truth is, what’s happening to our environment will drive the solutions, we need to be prepared to not only ask how, but also be open to the answers.

I’m excited about the short and long-term plans and vision for KEEN. From next summer’s Ponds to Pines experience at Helen McCabe Park along the Yakima River, Bird Fest and Get Intimate with the Shrub Steppe, and the on-going campaign to construct the Yakima Canyon interpretive center. Our shared history and future follow the course of the Yakima from it’s headwaters to the Columbia. People come from all over the United States to experience the natural resources in Kittitas County, from wildlife watching to hiking, exploring the peaks and trails, agricultural tourism, and more.

This is a great place to live and learn. There are diverse organizations and leaders in our community developing solutions that will be the model for the future. As stewards, we share in the responsibility for teaching others to ask “how” more often when thinking of solutions to the demands we’re all facing. There’s nothing more truthful than our shared responsibility in the future here in Kittitas County.

Derek Young has a passion for natural resource conservation, outdoor-based education, community outreach, and experience in corporate management and owning a small business. KEEN Connects is a monthly column produced by Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) board members and volunteers. Learn more at

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