Natural resource center expands programming

CHELAN AND KITTITAS COUNTIES – Made up of approximately 9,000 acres of land for study and educational programming, the Colockum Natural Resource Center has become a joint venture of Chelan and Kittitas counties to use for new programs, tours and teaching strategies.
“What you see on our website is just the beginning of what we hope will be a natural resources learning center for all of north central Washington,” said Raymond Faini, director at WSU Chelan County Extension.
“This is a unique facility in many ways,” he said, “but the shrub-steppe environment makes it different from all the other natural resource learning centers in the state.” 
Counties take over from WSU
Faini said the county took over management of the site in October 2009 after the WSU Department of Natural Resource Sciences (NRS) gave up the lease it had held on the state-owned property since 1961. Faini said WSU gave up the lease due to budget restrictions and a decrease in research by WSU at the site.
He said the state did not really want the property to be auctioned off to private ownership; instead, it wanted someone who would take over the lease for educational purposes. An agent from the state contacted Faini to ask if there was any way Chelan County could do that.
“Since the site is so close to our extension office and is such a great place to do natural resources education for local teachers and students, we decided to take it on,” Faini said.
When the lease was controlled by the NRS, there was no connection with the local extension office, Faini said. Now the extension office is taking leadership not as WSU Extension, but as a unit of county government. Though there is a partnership with the Chelan and Kittitas county extension offices, Chelan County is the entity on the lease.
“The partnership with Kittitas County’s extension office came about because the director of that office, Tip Hudson, is a livestock specialist and wants to do demonstration plots using the Colockum lands,” Faini said.
Programs and benefits
Programs and activities offered at Colockum include livestock grazing management, forest stewardship, 4-H eco-stewardship, experiential education, horseback tours and general tours.
The site is equipped with a 50-person classroom; a kitchen stocked with pots, pans, utensils, refrigerators and a stove; bathrooms; and sleeping quarters made up of five cabins that sleep 31 people total.
The site is filled with a variety of habitats suitable for natural resources education. It is a well-known wildlife area. Approximately 500 to 1,000 Rocky Mountain elk pass through during spring and fall migrations, and other wildlife such as mule deer and many types of birds can be seen throughout the site.
Grazing; horseback tours
Hudson is co-managing the resource center and is in charge of the livestock grazing demonstrations and horseback tours. He said this will be the first year for any significant level of livestock grazing, which will begin in late April.
He has, however, been conducting youth horseback tours for the past two years on the site. In 2009, 114 high school youth and adults participated in the natural resource science tours on horseback.
These tours aim to introduce concepts of how humans fit into wildland function and sustainability. Participants engage with plant identification, management techniques, stewardship considerations, ecosystem functions and tools of the trade.
As the livestock grazing management begins in April, the hope is to demonstrate grazing practices that promote rangeland health and watershed function – and communicate these methods to livestock producers and the non-agricultural public.
Plans for the future
The use of the Colockum site by the extension offices will differ from how it was used by WSU’s NRS. Faini said WSU used the site for research and did not promote use of the property.
The extension offices will promote the center as a resource to local schools, colleges and universities for teaching a variety of topics that fall under natural resources. Individuals and families will have access to the trails and resources of the CNRC.
“We believe there is a need for a central Washington natural resources learning center, and the unique habitat of the Colockum makes it the premier site,” Faini said.
Kevin Powers, program director for the WSU Extension 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program in Chelan County, said that program hopes to use the property for hikes and camping activities as part of the summer program. The site also is being considered for WSU King County Extension’s Rite of Passage Program.
Faini said he has high hopes for the new and improved Colockum Natural Resource Center.
“My hope is to use it for teacher in-service training, as a student learning site, and for community access to help improve awareness and appreciation of the various systems at play in a watershed and its relationship to healthy rivers and communities.”
Click here for more information on the Colockum Natural Resource Center.