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KEEN Connects - Discovering Beauty in the Kittitas Valley

At the very end of April when I relocated to Ellensburg from Florida, I immediately set about exploring the surrounding area. I marveled at the rock formations along the Yakima River, at the feeling of the ever-unfolding diverse topography opening up around the bend of the canyon, the explosion of wildflowers along the shrub steppe, and the panorama of ridge lines enfolding into one another until they meandered off into the scenic mountain tops veiled in mist against a hazy blue.I followed winding trails across peaks and through dreamlike forest passes. As I sped along the water’s edge driving down Canyon Road, with the gold and dappled green of hill slopes rising and falling like wind and waves, I remember mentioning, “The land out here is like a poem that doesn’t end.”

I was thrilled to see so much untouched land surrounding the valley. Sun-drenched and blossom-speckled, there sat Ellensburg at the foot of the mountains with her wild skirts about her. As I started to get to know the town and its people, visit local establishments, explore the First Friday arts circuit, and find my bearings, I noticed something interesting. Being a newly arrived outsider I suppose it was easy to recognize. For a small town, there is a remarkable, refreshing amount of diversity here. It’s a tiny melting pot bubbling with all ages, backgrounds and walks of life, agricultural communities, outdoor enthusiast groups, academics and arts, the influx of young ideas, and the steadying flow of tradition.In search of kindred spirits who believe in the importance of environmental education, I found KEEN online and joined them for one of their Green Drinks events at the Iron Horse pub. I was relieved to have found an active group here with impressive projects in development and a solid number of years of pro-environmental work in the area. I was readily welcomed into the group and have been enjoying getting to know the many ways KEEN’s members interconnect throughout Ellensburg’s business and academic communities.

This was certainly part of my second observation. People are kind to one another here. And people care about the wild land and natural resources. I met an imposing figure of a man who retired from the military. Twenty minutes into chatting, he shared with me his beautiful wildlife and nature photography gallery. I visited the farmers market and heard people asking about local, organic, sustainable produce. I drove out on the rural back-roads and saw gorgeous farm houses with solar panels out back gleaming in the afternoon light.One night at a bar I overheard a conversation between two people who represent opposing political positions. Not only was it a polite discussion, but they shared some concerns about sustainable energy and the environment. When the preserved beauty and protected health of our local wild lands and natural resources can serve as a bridge between people of diverse beliefs, everyone benefits.To get a better understanding of the unique value of this area from a business perspective of preservation and resource protection, listen to a vintner describe the terroir of the area. It’s like poetry for geologists. KEEN’s very own Gary Cox of Ellensburg Canyon Winery has many years’ experience in the area’s plants and soils, and is available for tours.

As the land connects people with its inspiring beauty, its wide array of outdoor activities, and the rich history that it holds, we continue to work to connect people to the land. And that mission would not be possible without the incredible support we receive from our donors. Thank you for understanding the importance of teaching our children about the environment and the lands that make this area so beautiful. You make a crucial contribution toward the future through facilitating environmental education. For their generous support we’d like to thank our camp scholarship sponsors, our members, our individual contributors, our local business community, and the parents who support our education programs.

Tiana Kirby has lived in Ellensburg since April 2017. She has recently joined KEEN’s board of directors serving in outreach and event planning support. With degrees in fine arts and anthropology, she is currently studying culturally focused solutions for conservation and sustainable commerce.

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