Community Conversations – Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

During this extraordinary time, staying connected to our community and collaborating with our partners is more important than ever. We as King County Parks are happy to introduce a blog series to highlight different organizations that we partner with to shine a light on their work and provide them with a platform to share their stories. First up: Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust!

Tell us a little bit about your organization.

The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust leads and inspires action to conserve and enhance the landscape from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Central Washington, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature. We work to conserve and restore natural lands, open spaces, and historic sites; build and maintain recreational trails; engage with students through our environmental education program; advocate for public lands and recreational access; lead a robust volunteer program; and so much more.

We are also the coordinating entity for the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area. National Heritage Areas are places designated by Congress where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes. We received designation in March 2019 and are currently in the midst of a three-year cooperative management planning process.

The work we do would not be possible without the partners that we collaborate with every day. The Greenway Coalition is a catalyst for action, convening multiple interest groups. We work together to tackle challenges and plan for the future of this incredible landscape and the people who live, work, and play here.

Planting demo at Greenway Nursery on MLK Day 2020.

How has your mission and partnership work changed in the past few months?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our major priorities at the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust has been helping the public understand how they can continue to safely connect with nature. This has been a challenging time for all of us who are used to recreating and working in the great outdoors. We’ve been working hard to help provide clarity and consistency in information for recreationists, while keeping health and safety a top priority.

We added a new page on our website to pull information about closures and re-openings together into one place for easy reference. We have also compiled an ever-growing list of creative ideas for people to do from home since we can’t enjoy the outdoors in all the same ways we used to. As things begin to reopen around the state, we are collaborating with our partners in the recreation community to help users understand the nuances of where they can safely go, and spread a consistent message of what it means to all work together and #RecreateResponsibly.

Another area where our organization has pivoted to continue serving the public is through our education program. With schools closed around the state, we’ve been unable to lead our usual environmental curriculum, which combines in-class learning with an in-the-field component and serves more than 4,000 students on average each year. To adjust to the current state of things, our team created a series of virtual education videos to teach our “Forests and Fins” salmon curriculum, combined with activities families can complete at home. In the near future, we’ll be adding our “Next Generation Stewards” curriculum to the offerings as well.

Environmental education does more than bring science to life. Outdoor learning experiences foster teamwork, nurture the imagination, increase students’ sense of ownership over their learning, and instill a conservation ethic. We are eager to get back in the classroom, but we will continue finding ways to connect with students until that times comes.

A still from the Education Team’s salmon video series.

How have you or your partners been innovating around the themes of equity, access, and community engagement in relationship to the outdoors during this time?

One of our core beliefs at the Greenway Trust is that when we are connected with nature, our lives are better. The pandemic has pushed us to think more creatively about what that connection can look like, and how it might differ from one set of circumstances to another. Since the beginning of the closures, we have been compiling and sharing a wide range of ideas for how people can connect with nature from their homes. Whether you live in an apartment building in Seattle, or in a more rural setting like the Snoqualmie Valley or Eastern Washington, there are ideas that can work for anyone, and we hope they have brought some joy to people while we’ve all been missing the great outdoors.

We’ve also been working with our partners and trying to bring as much clarity as possible to the closures (and now reopenings) and what it means to recreate responsibly during COVID-19. We are living in unique times, and there are many new people turning to the outdoors for their well-being right now. It’s important we speak to everyone, and not just those more experienced recreationists that have traditionally made up much of our audience.

One of the Greenway’s last field trips before the onset of COVID-19.

Which forms of media or self-care practices have been helping your team through this time?

We have a close-knit team of people at the Greenway Trust. We do weekly staff check-ins (on Zoom, of course!), and we’ve had a few optional virtual happy hour opportunities that different staffers have planned. We have a supportive group of supervisors who check in weekly, and we are constantly reminding each other that we are all in this together, which has helped!

We also pivoted our Annual Fundraising Breakfast last month from an in-person event to a virtual gathering. There was a lot of uncertainty leading up to it about how it would go over, but we were absolutely blown away by the way our community of supporters rallied to make it a success. The same can be said for our Board of Directors (which is rather large!). We’ve been missing our in-person meetings, but everyone has leaned in during this challenging time to push the mission of the Greenway forward and help us weather the storm.

Greenway staff on the all too familiar Zoom call.

What has your team been doing to stay connected with nature?

It’s fair to say that as Greenway staffers we are passionate about our jobs and about this amazing place that we all live and play in. Nature is at the forefront of most people’s minds. Our staff has gotten to know their neighborhoods, their gardens, and the natural areas close to home very well. We’re excited that our Restoration Crew is able to (safely!) head back out to work on the trails very soon.

Building picnic tables for National Public Lands day fall 2019.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Even though these past several weeks have been extremely challenging, it’s been really encouraging and inspiring to see the recreation community come together in such a united way. We know it’s getting harder as time goes on and the weather is getting even nicer, but it continues to be so important that we all recreate responsibly. Following the guidelines will not only help us all stay safe and healthy, but also ensure that parks and trails can stay open.

No matter how you like to recreate, we are all united by the love we share for our public lands. The need to recreate responsibly will continue even after the pandemic is behind us. We have a shared responsibility to care for these places and ensure they remain for future generations to enjoy.

Backcountry trip with AmeriCorps summer 2019.

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