Copper River Record March 2014
By Robin Mayo
As the busy spring and summer seasons of environmental education programs grow closer, my calendar overflows with meetings…and acronyms. I’m meeting with NPS and BLM about EDD, CRWP and PWSSC about CRSP, and NVG about YES. The alphabet soup can be overwhelming sometimes, but it is actually a sign of a very healthy phenomenon in our valley-agency, tribe, and nonprofit partnerships, pooling our ideas and resources to get some great things done. With our small population and many diverse groups, it would be easy to be stepping on each other’s toes and duplicating efforts, but instead we have learned to cooperate, for the benefit of all. When I first started my job at Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, I found all the partners and acronyms overwhelming, and secretly wondered if it might be easier to just do the job myself rather than do all this coordinating. 18 months later, I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) the value of our partnerships, and now find myself actively looking for ways to expand them.
As any organizer knows, any community event takes months of planning, making sure all the logistics come through smoothly. For the kids who participate in Earth Discovery Day at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitors Center each May, the event begins when they step off the bus. But the planning begins months earlier, when the partners pin down the date and start lining up all the volunteers, supplies, and paperwork necessary.
Earth Discovery Day involves four core partners: Nonprofit Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment (WISE), federal agencies Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Park Service(NPS), and the Copper River School District (CRSD). It is a partnership honed over 12 years of successful programs to take advantage of individual strengths, and make best use of available resources. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has the venue, but does not have the manpower at that time of year to put on a program of this scope. BLM has experts and great learning resources available. As an independent nonprofit, WISE has the flexibility to solicit and spend funds and act as a liaison between the groups. And of course the Copper River School District has the most important ingredient of all, students eager to learn, and teachers willing to bring them to us for a day outdoors.
These four are just the key organizing partners. On Earth Discovery Day, we are joined by staff and volunteers from a host of other local and statewide organizations, making the event a true who’s who in resource management and education in the Copper River Valley. On May 6th this year, we’ll be joined by Ahtna Heritage Foundation, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension Service, Native Village of Gakona, Mount Sanford Tribal Consortium, and Wrangell Mountains Center. Additionally, travelling teams will come from Alaska Wildbird Rehabilitation in Wasilla and University of Alaska Fairbanks.
All together, Earth Discovery Day involves about 150 presenters, volunteers, teachers, and students from a dozen different groups working together at something we all love. As the best long-term events do, it has taken on a life of its own, and I sometimes wonder if everyone would show up on the first Tuesday in May if I didn’t do all this organizing. Perhaps, but they’d be lacking schedules, lanyards, passports, rubber stamps, sandwiches, muffins and most importantly, coffee.
Another program which simply would not happen without partnerships is the Copper River Stewardship Program, a summer intensive journey for teens. WISE, BLM, and NPS are joined by nonprofits Copper River Watershed Project (CRWP), and Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) of Cordova. Since our offices are many miles apart, up and downriver, planning for this yearly event requires teleconferences nearly every month of the year, and literally hundreds of emails as we coordinate a multi-day road, ferry, and wilderness trip involving the 5 main partners, 10 teens, guest educators, and the many local resources we touch base with along the way. We each have our specialties: Kate can make sense of ferry schedules and sometime even bend them to her will, Glenn is great at organizing river trips and making everyone laugh, and Marnie is a whiz at navigating paperwork tangles and coming up with “YES” as the final answer. In 2013, the first time we were actually all in the same room was the first evening of the trip, and for several of us it was the first time we’d ever met in person.
The Copper River Stewardship Program team works so well together we’ve gotten somewhat organized and informally call ourselves the Copper River Education Cooperative. As well as CRSP we work together in various configurations on many programs throughout the year. We have learned to rely on each other not only to organize programs, but for moral support, grant editing, equipment loans, and shared manpower. Instead of competing for funds and each pursuing our own slightly different agenda, it just makes sense to team up. I also like to believe we are setting a good example for the youth in our programs, and other groups both locally and in the bigger picture. When you get to the essence, we often find we are all on the same side, and if we team up we can make great progress. Plus it is a lot more fun.
Teamwork at WISE’s summer Aquatic Ecology Camp: BLM summer intern Robben Taylor, camper Rhiannon Lawrence, WISE Executive Director Robin Underwood, and Eric Stuart from BLM Campbell Creek Science Center. Photo: Marnie Graham, BLM
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.