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A time-treasured outdoor event is being held in the flesh again this year, and that is a big win for a local nonprofit.

Kittitas Environmental Education Network hosts the 22nd annual Get Intimate the Shrub-Steppe this coming weekend at Helen McCabe State Park. The event will be held concurrently with Birdfest, although both will look slightly different than traditional events held in years prior to the pandemic.

“I am overjoyed to be able to do this in person,” KEEN Director Jill Scheffer “We obviously planned for it last year, and then the shutdown happened. We had to go to virtual, and it was just tough.”

Scheffer said last year’s event was a challenge because planning had to happen on the fly. She said limited interaction and engagement made for a disappointing experience.

“It was just so different last year,” she said. “It’s just really nice to be able to have this outdoor event, where we feel like we can still follow the COVID guidelines of wearing masks and social distancing, but also experience some hands-on, science-based education. It’s thrilling!”

ADJUSTMENTS FOR 2021

Changes for this year include the combination of GISS and Birdfest, as well as limited in person fieldtrips. Scheffer said the fieldtrips that are happening will be limited to less than 12 people and must be registered for in advance. Carpooling and shuttles to the fieldtrip sites is also nonexistent this year.

Birdfest will also look different this year, as Scheffer said public gathering restrictions prohibited the organization from holding their traditional social events for the festival, such as a fundraising dinner. Although everything is free this year, there will be raffles at the park over the weekend for attendees to help support the nonprofit if they are interested in doing so.

What will look similar to previous years, however, is the educational center held at Helen McCabe. Educational booths will be on site this year, as well as the pickup site for the native plant sale. Some participants who normally hold field trips will also be at the park to present educational programs for attendees. Central Washington University Professor Dan Beck will be bringing live reptiles to the park for attendees to learn about.

“He’s just a wealth of knowledge,” Scheffer said of Beck. “Normally, he would be leading a field trip, but because the bridge at Umtanum is closed for construction, we can’t do that one.”

Attendees will also be able to learn about aquatic life found in the waterways of the park and will have the chance to interact with owls and raptors with the Washington Falconers Association as in previous years.

CHANCES TO GET INVOLVED

Scheffer said there are still spaces left to sign up for the interactive field trips but stressed again that the numbers are much lower for the events this year than in previous events. The event is also seeking volunteers to help out Saturday, mainly with setting up signage and helping with the native plant sale.

“The plant sale is going on at the same time as the event,” she said. “People might just want to pull through and get their plants and go, so the more people we have facilitating that, the better it will be.”

Sheffer said the event would be impossible to hold without volunteers, as every individual helping to make it happen is there in a volunteer capacity.

“Showing their love and passion for the shrub-steppe and supporting KEEN in this way blows me away every time we hold the event,” she said. “I appreciate it so much.”

Scheffer said getting the event back on its feet in a more traditional format is a huge win for KEEN, as the event is one of the crown jewels of its yearly lineup.

“This really is the mission of the organization,” she said. “Our goal is to help people understand and appreciate the shrub-steppe and learn everything we can about it. That is why KEEN came together, and that is why we still exist.”

More information on event schedule and volunteer forms can be found on the organizations website at www.ycic.org/get-intimate-with-the-shrub-steppe

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!

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