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KEEN was founded in 2000 with the idea of establishing an interpretive center near Ellensburg. The vision included the center acting 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 Memorial State Park, just five miles south of Ellensburg at the mouth of the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway.

Over the last 23 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 education 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 fall 2023.

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. 

KEEN has also started to convene our Capital Campaign Committee to reach our $5m funding goal for the Center and endowment. To find out more, reach out to Jill Scheffer, KEEN President at 509-551-8807 or jillscheffer@keenetwork.org

 

Kids won’t remember their best day of television.
A butterfly landing on a nose, a fish caught with a handmade pole, or 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.

 

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 plant 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 the living cultures of Indigenous peoples in this region all make the Canyon a remarkable place.

 

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

 

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

 

With over 1.5 million people driving the canyon annually, the YCIC will be a destination for meetings, special events, and educational programming. YCIC represents an unparalleled opportunity to engage visitors and community members of all ages in nature-based education, draw tourists to Central Washington, undertake environmental stewardship and habitat restoration, and accomplish protection of the endangered shrub-steppe biome.

 

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 arose 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.

The Yakima River Canyon is a special place and you can ensure your legacy by supporting this effort. KEEN is now seeking partnerships with legacy donors to establish construction funding and a permanent endowment. More details about the project and naming opportunities can be found below. Please be in touch with Jill Scheffer, our Board President, at keen@keenetwork.org or 509-551-8807.

Order Your Copy of the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway Pocket Naturalist Guide today!

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Land Acknowledgement

An Important Recognition

The future home of the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center rests on the ancestral lands of the Pshwánapam people (fourteen Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation). The people of the Yakama Nation inhabited more than 12 million acres across Adams, Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Klickitat, and Yakima Counties. We honor those 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.

An acknowledgment is a simple, powerful way to show respect, and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture. It also honors the truth.

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About YCIC

Our Business Plan

With over 1.5 million people passing by, the YCIC will be a destination for meetings, special events, and educational programming. 

This project represents an unparalleled opportunity to engage visitors and community members of all ages in outdoor education, draw tourists to Central Washington, undertake environmental stewardship and habitat restoration, and accomplish protection of the endangered shrub-steppe biome.

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The Yakima River Canyon

The First Scenic Byway

The Yakima River Canyon is its own unique landscape. Linear oases supporting vital riparian corridors in this time of climate change. With the highest density of passerines in the state and wandering big horn sheep, it is a wildlife-watchers dream. Nesting birds of prey, endangered plants and animals, economically-important Yakima River trout fishery and salmonid nursery, visible basalt lava flows, and rich Native American history all make the Canyon a distinct place. These stories and themes engage us and keep us working to protect the future of the Yakima River Canyon. The Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center (The Center) will celebrate and share this special place with the world.

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Habitat Restoration

19 Years of Habitat and Recreation Improvements

KEEN adopted and has been restoring habitat at Helen McCabe Park since 2004. Over the years, we have invested hundreds of volunteer hours and thousands of dollars into habitat restoration.

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Helen McCabe State Park

Dr. Helen McCabe's Legacy

“As I read your note, the memory of my mother's interest and passion in developing and encouraging the recreational potential of central Washington jumps up. Seeing others active, involved, and most of all having fun outdoors, was so much of what made her life meaningful. The joy she felt in watching others have fun, myself my brother and the many family, friends and students, we all found a confirmation in her enthusiasm for the outdoors and the joy it so richly returns to those of us who venture out. This little park and the anticipated interpretive center is a wonderful expression of what meant so much to her”. Ross McCabe, Dr. Helen McCabe's son.

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