A Big Dream for St Ed – Center for Nature Connection

A Big Dream for St Ed – Center for Nature Connection

Position Paper for St. Edward Center for Nature Connection As Kirkland creates a comprehensive plan for the development of Finn Hill, the green gem of the Lake Washington watershed, and St Edward State Park’s historic seminary languishes at our boundary calling for habitation, I have a dream.  Seize this moment to create a St Edward Center for Nature Connection, inspired and organized by Kirkland’s Finn Hill neighbors, supported by the City of Kirkland and regional and statewide partners, serving greater Seattle schools, and becoming a national center for the theory and practice of Nature Connection.

Here’s my dream for St Edward Center for Nature Connection

St Edward Seminary building

St Edward Seminary building

Nature Connection
Key to this vision is my awareness of trends in environmental education, nature stewardship, and community sustainability — which all come under the umbrella of “nature connection.”  With Wilderness Awareness School, I’ve written a successful book called Coyote’s Guide to Nature Connection. Connection is the key term.  It refers to re-connecting humans with the rest of nature. A bit different from “environmental education,” it emphasizes positive, hands on engagement with nature that leads to caring stewardship, a sense of being part of the landscape.

Richard Louv, wrote the introduction to our book.  His book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, started a robust national and international movement called the Children and Nature Network that brings many resources together with the mission to restore the bond between children and nature – for the sake of the health of both people and environment.  He’s just written a new book, The Nature Principle, with ideas about how to do this, especially in the form of making space and programs that encourage nature connection.

The trends gathering under the umbrella of nature connection are many.

  • Education: Place-based education, wilderness awareness education, local nature mapping and monitoring for regional data collection, “nearby nature”exploration, family nature clubs, and the research that shows all these are effective to enliven the brain, make the body healthy, and network the community.
  • Land stewardship: Communities are energized and bonded by joining in work/play project that involve direct connection with nature:  restoration of diverse natural urban park areas, public school adoption of restoration projects, municipal policy initiatives to preserve buffers and expand wildlife corridors, building trails through developing areas, designing and building neighborhood button and pocket parks, tending peapatch gardens and orchards, neighbors sharing tools and joining in “barnraising.”
  • Natural Design:  Designing around the landscape, within larger cities smaller village centers where residents can walk to the center, multi-use city building entry-place design where kids can play in the fountains and folks can eat lunch on the sidewalks and people can sit near a bush, green certified architecture with amazing technology  and the structural bones on energy and water systems showing, natural playscapes, off-grid energy generation.
  • Urban Farming: Community and peapatch gardening, community sustained agricultural (CSA) collectives, permaculture initiatives, and the profound sense of community generated by growing what you eat and sharing tools, land, labor, and produce.
  • Natural Health: Naturopathic medicine, growing and harvesting native plants for medicine and food, and the healing of “nature deficit disorders” such as attention deficit disorder, depression, obesity, and immune deficiency.
  • Transition communities: Planning as a local community for less dependence on the energy grid, and more sustainable collaboration with local government and each other for food, waste disposal, energy generation, education, transportation, etc.

Diverse use of the Center
It will an ever increasing number of millions of dollars to restore St Edward seminary, design it for new purposes, and staff programs.  That’s a lot of money.  The only way I know to raise that much money is to have a big and diverse vision that can attract support because it is a big, diverse, and a cutting edge vision.  Nature Connection would make this different from other nature centers that educate the public about the natural resources of the center.  Beyond environmental education, I see this center combining education, local community, technology, research, and advocacy.

  • Education:  The Center runs a school year youth program for area 6th graders (on the model of Islandwood in Bainbridge and North Cascades Institute in Skagit County which serve area public school 6th graders with 3-5-day residential EE programs ) in Nature Connection Education including dormitory, food service, and areas developed for camping out.  Pays small core staff to generate curriculum, coordinate teaching, and research program outcomes. Offers internships to Environmental Education/ Naturalist Studies students at area schools with BA and MA programs – serves greater Seattle public and private schools, provides training and jobs for students and graduates.
    • Produces learning materials derived from successful innovative education –a private enterprise of a partnership of neighbors. Includes artists, printers, writers, program managers, social networkers and could operate as a cooperative.
    • Runs a program in Regional environmental sciences including geology, ethnobotony and wildlife restoration. Students contribute to inventory and mapping.  Offer certifications with Cascadia Community College.
    • Offers evening and weekend programs to the public, including speakers, concerts, and outdoor workshops. Engages national spokespeople for nature. Showcases local bands. Workshops for families
    • In active partnership with schools: Wilderness Awareness School, Islandwood, North Cascades Institute; Cascadia College, University of Washington Bothell, Bastyr University, Western Washington University; Inglemoor and Juanita High Schools, Finn Hill and Kamiakin Jr. High schools, Carl Sandburg, Juanita, Arrowhead, Thoreau elementary schools.
    • In active partnership with community members.  The people of the whole annexation area get together with a shared vision and build a national showcase for outstanding environmental education.
    • With spacious assembly rooms: classrooms, computer labs, offices, the refectory as a general meeting room.
    • Funded by a coalition of partners (see below) who form an Advisory Board.

The New Finn Hill neighborhood could be galvanized by this green vision.  We possess abundant intact natural resources. What do we want to look like as a region of Kirkland that is a model of the use of urban greenspace?

I think we could start by spinning out a set of projects that would generate enormous pride and excitement about the potential of our area, given its “out of the way” topography, and launch a Marshall Plan of concerted caretaking efforts:  looking at watershed communities, park preservation and restoration, water and wildlife monitoring, mapping, security, roads and traffic, school partnerships in stewardship, history gathering, nature camps and family outings, land conservancy acquisition, regulatory policy, gardening cooperatives, forest stewardship, and transitional community gatherings.

Let’s include the whole annexation area in creating this vision, let’s leave it better than we found it. Let’s become Kirkland and Washington State’s regional and national model!

Potential Partners
City of Kenmore
City of Kirkland
State Parks
King County Parks
Denny Creek and Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance
Greater Seattle school districts
Bastyr University
Cascadia College
University of Washington
Western Washington University
Cascade Conservancy
Washington Wilderness Coalition
Area schools in Lake Washington and Northshore districts
The Children and Nature Network and Richard Louv
Seattle Children and Nature Collaborative
The NatureMapping program of UW – Karen Dvornich
Pacific Education Institute – Margaret Tudor and Lisa Eschenbach
The Guiding Lights Network and Eric Liu
Wilderness Awareness School
North Cascades Institute
The Whidby Institute for Earth and Spirit
Earth Ministry
St John VIanney church
The Mormon church
Overlake Christian Church
Friends of St Edward – Nick Bay
Foundations interested in supporting nature connection, environmental education research, land conservancy, sustainability.

by  Ellen Haas

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