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A grant from the state will allow the Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) to “connect kids to camp” this summer. KEEN has been awarded $59,505 from the No Child Left Inside Program to connect young people with nature in afterschool programs, during free summer lunches in community parks, and at KEEN’s annual summer camp, Pond to Pines.

The Washington State Legislature created the No Child Left Inside grant program to provide under-served students with quality opportunities to experience the natural world. Grant funds are available for outdoor environmental, ecological, agricultural, or other natural resource-based education and recreation programs serving youth. This grant program is intended to empower local communities to engage students in outdoor education and recreation experiences and focuses on serving students with the greatest needs. Students work to improve their overall academic performance, self-esteem, personal responsibility, community involvement, personal health, and understanding of nature. In 2017, the Legislature allocated an additional $1.5 million to be used for grants with $500,000 awarded to organizations that have at least one veteran on staff who will be assigned primarily with implementation of the grant.

This summer, KEEN has hired Tom Duke, a Marine Corps veteran, artist, musician, and educator, to coordiante free nature education at Ellensburg City Parks, in coordination with FISH’s summer lunch program. KEEN will visit North Alder, Kiwanis, Mountain View, Memorial, and West Ellensburg Parks, offering activities twice a week at each park. The schedule will be published in the newspaper and on-line in the next few weeks. Children aged 2 – 18 and their caregivers will find opportunities to explore and investigate nature at each park, and to create nature-based crafts.

Ellensburg Parks and Recreation and high school reading volunteers are also offering activities at the parks this summer. The organizations are working together to stagger activities, so that there is something offered at each park at least four days a week.

For kids who discover that they love learning about nature while playing outside, KEEN is offering nine weeks of nature day camp at Helen McCabe State Park. The NCLI grant will help to make transportation to the park easier for families, and to extend camp hours to make it more accessible to working parents. Information about the Pond to Pines summer camp is located at

As the summer winds down, KEEN’s educators will reach out to Kittitas County afterschool programs. In partnership with Washington Outdoor School, KEEN will develop weekly activities to get kids outside and exploring nature throughout the county.

“We are excited to put this grant to work,” said Rebecca Wassell, Chair of KEEN’s Education Committee, “Summer should be about playing outside, and incorporating learning will help our kids to avoid the dreaded ‘summer slide’, in which kids lose some of what they learned during the school year. KEEN’s activities are tiered to national educational standards and incorporate best practices of environmental education. And even with all those big words, kids will find they’re having a lot of fun!”

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