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Susan Ballinger | How you can connect with nature

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Would you like to spend a few Saturdays this fall exploring our local river valleys, with a seasoned naturalist as your guide? Does it sound fun to linger stream-side on a gravel bar, with the warm September sun on your back, taking notes on what you see? Would you enjoy strolling beneath a grove of leafy cottonwood trees while trying to spot a bird calling overhead? If you’ve answered “yes,” consider signing up for the Wenatchee-based Wenatchee Naturalist course, a program of the Wenatchee River Institute. The fall course begins on Monday, Sept. 23.

I have the privilege of being the course designer and lead instructor. Over 12 weeks, participants make new friends, discover lovely local places to visit again, and gain new eyes for the natural wonders of North Central Washington. This class is designed to inspire a deeper connection to our valley and to bring new sources of joy to everyday life.

To date, 72 adults from Leavenworth to East Wenatchee, Chelan to Malaga, have become Wenatchee Naturalists. Florence Robinson, 72, completed last spring’s course, with encouragement by her son and daughter-in-law, Andy and Mary Robinson, who became Wenatchee Naturalists one year ago. Florence Robinson writes that “this class has more lifetime effects than any other class I have taken — this new appreciation makes me feel that there is no age requirement to join in the awe of what we can observe. The field trips were the absolute highlight of this class for me.” Florence concluded by saying, “even more exciting is finding other people who are as excited and interested as I.”

Community partners are a key element of the course. Monday evening sessions are held in downtown Wenatchee at the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust (CDLT) office and field trip destinations include CDLT properties.

Wenatchee Valley College provides access to the Biology Department’s collections. Guest speakers bring their passion to both the classroom and the field and include a geologist, botanist, entomologist, and wildlife biologists.

Each week at class, students get to meet a local person representing a natural resource organization. The mission is to cultivate awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the Wenatchee River region by developing an active corps of well-informed community volunteers.

Upon class completion, students are asked to pledge to volunteer 20 hours as they choose doing citizen science, stewardship, or education.

The course is designed to meet the needs of busy adult learners who sometimes have to miss a class. All materials are provided on a website and within a box of loaned reference materials. Every class has hands-on activities and uses journaling as a tool to increase observation skills. Wildlife biologist and artist Heather A. Wallis Murphy kicks off the course with drawing instruction for beginners. Through labs, students are guided toward field identification of 100 common mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish, trees, shrubs, and wildflowers.

Register and learn more about the Wenatchee River Institute website at Feel free to contact me at 509-669-7820 or

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