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The Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center envisions a future where the unique landscapes and rich biodiversity of the Yakima River Canyon are celebrated, understood, and conserved by all. As a gateway to this natural treasure, the Center will inspire and educate visitors of all ages through immersive, science-based programs and experiences. We aim to foster a deep connection to nature, promote sustainable stewardship, and enhance the cultural and ecological appreciation of the Yakima River Canyon. By uniting our community around the beauty and importance of this region, we strive to ensure its protection for future generations, while contributing to the economic vitality and environmental literacy of Central Washington.

The Yakima Canyon
Interpretive Center
A KEEN Project

create lifelong memories

Kids won’t remember their best day of television, but they will never forget the magic of a butterfly landing on their nose, catching a fish with a handmade pole, or their first night in a tent away from home. These are the stories that will be cherished and shared for a lifetime.

 

The Yakima River Canyon is a special place, and you can leave a legacy by supporting this endeavor. KEEN is now seeking partnerships with legacy donors to  support  construction funding and a permanent endowment for the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center. To learn more about the project and naming opportunities, please contact Jill Scheffer, our Board President, at keen@keenetwork.org or 509-551-8807. Your support will help create a place where lifelong memories are made, and the natural wonders of the Yakima Canyon are preserved and celebrated for generations to come.

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Photo: Phil Klucking Photography

the journey

In the year 2000, a passionate group of nature enthusiasts and educators came together with a shared dream: to establish an interpretive center near Ellensburg that would serve as a hub for connecting people with nature, providing lifelong learning opportunities, and spearheading efforts to restore and protect the endangered shrub-steppe habitat. This visionary group, known as KEEN (Kittitas Environmental Education Network), embarked on a mission to bring this dream to life.

By 2004, KEEN had made a significant stride towards realizing the vision. KEEN signed a lease with Washington State Parks to build the center at Helen McCabe Memorial State Park property, a picturesque location just five miles south of Ellensburg at the entrance to the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway. This site, with its natural beauty and accessibility, was the perfect setting for what KEEN envisioned: a vibrant center dedicated to environmental education and conservation.

Over the next two decades, KEEN, driven by the dedication of volunteers, tirelessly worked on multiple fronts. They restored and improved recreation access at the park, conducted feasibility studies, crafted a detailed business plan, and designed an educational interpretive plan. These efforts were all aimed at laying a solid foundation for the interpretive center. Securing funding was a critical component of their journey, and KEEN's persistence in this area never wavered.

A major milestone was achieved in 2022 when KEEN secured $150,000 to work with the architect Marc Brown Design to complete 30% of the center’s design. This phase included collaboration with Yakama Nation archaeologist Noah Oliver to ensure the design respectfully reflected the rich history of the region. Additionally, KEEN partnered with Central Washington Archaeology Services and Dr. Steven Hackenberger from CWU to conduct a comprehensive cultural resources survey, ensuring that the site’s historical and cultural significance was thoroughly documented and preserved. This survey is set to be completed by Fall 2024.

In 2023, KEEN received another significant boost with $518,000 in funding to enhance Helen McCabe Memorial State Park property, particularly to support the Pond to Pines camp program. These funds will be used to build essential infrastructure, including fencing and security measures, break areas, and camp facilities, all aimed at enriching the educational experience for campers and visitors alike.

KEEN’s journey from a bold idea to the brink of groundbreaking at Helen McCabe Memorial State Park is a testament to the power of vision, community, and unwavering dedication. The Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center is set to become a beacon of environmental stewardship, education, and cultural appreciation, fostering a deep connection to nature and inspiring future generations to protect and cherish the natural world.

About YCIC

The Yakima River Canyon is a landscape like no other. Its linear oases support vital riparian corridors, crucial in this era of climate change. With the highest density of passerines in the state, wandering big horn sheep, and nesting birds of prey, it is a wildlife watcher's paradise. The Canyon is home to endangered plants and animals, an economically important Yakima River trout fishery, and a salmonid nursery. Visible basalt lava flows and rich Native American history further enhance its uniqueness. These stories inspire our commitment to protecting the future of the Yakima River Canyon. The Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center (YCIC) will celebrate and share this special place with the world.

YCIC will be situated at Helen McCabe State Park, the gateway to the 26-mile-long Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway. This location, with its endangered shrub-steppe habitat, diverse wildlife, stunning landscapes, and recreational opportunities, is integral to the Canyon's identity. The Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) leads the planning for the scenic byway, partnering with economic development and tourism entities to ensure the Canyon remains a cherished part of Central Washington State. YCIC, surrounded by restored native grasslands, quaking aspen, Ponderosa pine, and wild rose, will be a destination where people gather to learn about and enjoy nature.

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The WHy

Washington may be famous as the Evergreen State, but the Yakima River Canyon reveals a hidden gem—a stunning landscape within the shrub-steppe ecoregion where rainfall is scarce, and trees fight to survive. This unique habitat is a treasure trove of biodiversity, boasting the highest density of passerines in the state, roving bighorn sheep, majestic birds of prey, crucial salmonid nurseries, ancient basalt lava flows, and the rich cultural tapestry of Indigenous peoples. The Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center will bring the wonders of this extraordinary place to life, sharing its secrets with visitors from around the world.

The Yakima River Canyon is a treasure waiting to be discovered, and you can leave a lasting legacy by supporting the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center. KEEN is now seeking visionary partners and legacy donors to help fund the construction and establish a permanent endowment. Join us in creating a place where lifelong memories are made, where the natural wonders of the Yakima Canyon are celebrated and preserved for future generations. To learn more about the project and naming opportunities, please contact Jill Scheffer, our Board President, at keen@keenetwork.org or 509-551-8807. Your support can make this dream a reality, ensuring that the Yakima Canyon Interpretive Center becomes a beacon of education, conservation, and unforgettable experiences.

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