Empowering Youth Through Nature

Teachers, parents and youth leaders are increasingly turning to nature to help inspire and empower youth. The Snoqualmie Valley is an amazing place for youth to explore and connect with the outdoors. Local leaders are launching new initiatives to better strengthen that connection.

Over a dozen Snoqualmie Valley youth program leaders and outdoor educators gathered in early November, as part of the Snoqualmie Strategy—an initiative that is co-led by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Stewardship Partners—to identify how to connect more young people to nature.

Outdoor experiences can have life changing impacts on young people, according to the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Roberta McFarland.  McFarland is the Director of Camp Wascowitz in North Bend and has been involved with outdoor youth work for more than 35 years. She regularly witnesses incredible transformations that outdoor experiences can have to enable disenfranchised youth to learn to be more confident and successful throughout their lives. In addition, her recent research shows that youth who are connected with the outdoors have a significantly higher graduation rate than those who do not.

As a result of the meeting, local youth leaders and outdoor educators have identified four priority projects to be carried out this next year to help facilitate that connection to the natural world:

The Snoqualmie Valley Youth Activities Center (YAC), established in the 1950s, lost its community center in 2008 when the North Bend wastewater treatment center overflowed into it. In 2010, the YAC purchased a 20-acre property along Boalch Ave NW. Since its purchase YAC members have been working to remove weeds, establish trails, and raising funds to re-build the community center. Once built, the center will offer a free or greatly-discounted meeting and activity space for youth to hold club meetings, hike and develop leadership skills.

A Youth Outdoors Jamboree is planned for summer 2016. The Jamboree will bring together youth and families from across the Snoqualmie Valley to Meadowbrook Farm to experience a host of outdoors activities, including native plant identification, foraging, wilderness first aid, Leave No Trace, and wildlife habitat restoration. Families can choose to camp and participate in a group bonfire and stargazing. Outdoor education organizations will be meeting soon to plan the event.

The “Family Nature Club” would be like a year-long Jamboree. The club would hold a monthly activity, each month sponsored by a different outdoor organization, helping parents take their families outside. Activities will be held in different areas around the Valley to help connect families to outdoor places to explore.  Organizers are hoping to reach 100 people in the first year and 1,000 by year three.

The fourth idea, spearheaded by Mt Si High School (MSHS) alumnus Kelsey Walker, was to help create a stronger connection between MSHS and the agricultural heritage of the Snoqualmie Valley. Kelsey envisions bringing together a number of classes, including shop, horticulture, biology, environmental science, and culinary arts to create an edible garden at MSHS. Edible gardens are becoming integral to schools throughout the country to help students learn how to grow healthy food.

Participating organizations included the Snoqualmie Tribe, Wilderness Awareness School, Si View Metropolitan Parks District, Snoqualmie Valley Venturing Crew #115, Oxbow Farm and Education Center, Two Rivers School, Snoqualmie Valley YMCA, Nature Vision, Sound Salmon Solutions, Cedar River Watershed Education Center, Snoqualmie Valley Youth Activity Center, Northwest Railway Museum, and the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network. These groups will be coming together again soon to continue planning. To become involved in any of these projects, please contact Jennifer McKeown.

In the meantime, visit Greenway 365 for ideas for taking your family outside in the Snoqualmie Valley.