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Be Prepared to Fall in Love with the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center By Jill Scheffer, KEEN President

Kids will not remember their best day of television, or the time spent scrolling through social media. A butterfly landing on a nose; a fish caught with a handmade pole; a first overnight in a tent away from home—these are the stories and experiences that will be told to friends, spouses, and children for a lifetime. Memories made at the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center will last a lifetime, and you can be part of making that vision a reality. With a backdrop graced with restored native grasslands, colonies of quaking aspen, stately Ponderosa pine, and miles of trail, the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center will be a destination for bringing people together to learn about and immerse themselves in nature.

KEEN was founded in 2000 with the idea of establishing an interpretive center near Ellensburg. The vision included a center that would serve as a hub of activity for connecting with nature, life-long learning opportunities, outreach, and education for visitors to our area, and a focal point for the restoration and protection of the endangered shrub-steppe habitat. 

​In 2004, KEEN signed a lease with WA State Parks to build the center at Helen McCabe Park, just five miles south of Ellensburg at the mouth of the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway.

​Over the last 24 years KEEN, a volunteer-led organization, has worked on restoring and improving recreation access at the park, completed feasibility studies, created a business plan, designed an educational interpretive plan, and worked to secure funding for the center. 

​In 2022, KEEN secured $150,000 in funding to work with our architect, Marc Brown Design, to complete 30% design for the center. Marc is working with Yakama Nation archaeologist Noah Oliver, to ensure the design reflects the history of our region. KEEN is also working with Central Washington Archaeology Services and Dr. Steven Hackenberger from CWU to complete a full cultural resources survey for the site. These will be completed by Summer 2024.

​In 2023, KEEN secured $518,000 in funding to make improvements to the park to specifically benefit our Pond to Pines camp program. These funds will allow us to build infrastructure including fencing and security, fluid-balance break areas, and camp facilities. 

Though Washington is known as the evergreen state, the Yakima River Canyon is nestled lovingly in the shrub-steppe ecoregion with rainfall so scarce that trees are hard-pressed to persist. The native habitats in this region are subtle, diverse, and highly endangered. With the highest density of passerines in the state and wandering big horn sheep, it is a wildlife-watchers dream. Nesting birds of prey, a vitally important salmonid nursery, ancient basalt lava flows, and timeless Native American history all make the Canyon a remarkable place.

The Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center (YCIC) will celebrate and share this special place with the world.


The Center is the gateway to the 26-mile-long Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway. The Center is inextricably tied to the Canyon with its endangered shrub-steppe habitat, wildlife communities, stunning landscapes, and vital recreational opportunities. 

Approximately 10 million years ago the ridges and valleys of the Yakima Canyon fold belt started to form. This area was pressured simultaneously from the north and south causing it to be wrinkled like a table cloth being pushed together. As the ridges rose at the rate of a few inches per millennium, the Yakima River kept down-cutting its channel to maintain its established course. After a million years of uplift and simultaneous erosion, the river’s meandering course is now deeply entrenched. The shrub-steppe habitat that evolved on the hillsides with a combination of acidic soils and low rainfall, is one of the world’s richest ecosystems and supports a wide variety of animal and plant life.

The future home of the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center rests on the ancestral lands of the fourteen Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. The people of the Yakama Nation inhabited more than 12 million acres across Central Washington. We honor those native peoples who are tied to the land through history, legends, and culture. We acknowledge their descendants who live in the world today. We thank the caretakers of this land, who have lived here and continue to live here since time immemorial.

As the gateway to the Yakima River Canyon Scenic BywayThe Center will invite lifelong learners to become active informed citizens and provide a sense of place for this land we love.

Serving thousands of life-long learners each year, The Center will encourage passion and awe for outdoor education and experiences that promote a healthy respect and appreciation for the natural world. School field trips, evening lectures, special events, and summer camps will inspire a generation of people to make wise and informed decisions about how our environment sustains us.

Adults may find they enjoy the tranquility of cross-country skiing through towering Ponderosa Pines or simply reading a book in the fresh air with a light breeze. Seniors can easily access the trails, join in on science activities, and volunteer at The Center as docents and leaders for school groups. The Center will take care to ensure everyone of all ages, all stages, and all abilities can enjoy nature. Our community calendar will be filled with opportunities for everyone to join us in education, recreation, and conservation activities.

For more than two decades, KEEN has inspired a nature-based ethic in our community with unique outdoor educational programs, hands-on habitat restoration, and creating a sense of place for learners of all ages. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funding and volunteer sweat equity committed to habitat restoration and recreation improvements at the future home of The Center reflects KEEN’s commitment and passion for our region.

KEEN believes that it is our ethical and moral duty to educate and engage our community in its own environmental future. Having a restored area with ecosystem services, offering stepping-stone connectivity within the Yakima corridor, is a big part of that future. We believe that having protected and rehabilitated areas on the edge of town are critical to connecting our community to nature, effecting change, and eliciting behavioral changes.

Over 1.5 million drivers experience the beauty and serenity of the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway every year. We believe that The Center, located in the center of the state and at the mouth of the byway, will attract even more visitors and will be a destination for locals and travelers alike. With high visibility from Interstates 90 and 82, The Center has the potential for 100,000 or more visitations each year.

You can be a vital part of bringing this vision to life. KEEN welcomes donations and discussions of legacy opportunities at any time. Please reach out to Jill Scheffer at 509-551-8807 or via email We also gratefully accept donations by mail at 115 East 4th, Suite 215, Ellensburg, WA 98926 or online at our website at



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