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SRBEIC: Flying High After 20 Years

SRBEIC: Flying High After 20 Years

The Skagit River is one of the Pacific Northwest’s most beautiful watercourses, flowing down from the North Cascades and making its sinuous way to the Salish Sea. In winter, bald eagles gather along its banks in amazing numbers, feeding on salmon. This epic cycle of salmon and eagle is one of nature’s great spectacles.

Photo by Lee Mann. Courtesy of Bryce Mann

Photo by Lee Mann. Courtesy of Bryce Mann

For the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center (SRBEIC), the 2016-2017 winter season will mark twenty years of sharing the amazing bald eagle migration with visitors from near and far. In December and January, this small nonprofit is in constant motion. The mostly volunteer-driven team educates eagle watchers about the Skagit River watershed by hosting a variety of educational activities including guided nature walks, speaker presentations, a K-12 School Program, informative videos, interpretive displays, a Nature Store, a Children’s Corner, and a life-size eagle’s nest. They’ve reached this 20-year milestone with the help of enduring collaborations with Skagit County Parks and Recreation, the U.S. Forest Service, the Skagit Eagle Watchers, and the Skagit Eagle Festival.

The 20-year celebration would not have been possible without the devoted Skagit River Bald Eagle Awareness Team. Long-time east Skagit County residents Judy Hemenway (Treasurer/Sponsorship Coordinator), Ember LaBounty (Nature Store Manager), Leatha Sullivan (Secretary), and former President Deanna Ensley have passionately served the organization and community since the winter of 1996. New SRBEIC Coordinator Anissa Smith has brought invaluable environmental teaching experience to the team. Cora Thomas, a third-year volunteer, editor and PR manager, stepped into the role of president last year.

(L-R) Kyle Peninger, Leatha Sullivan, Ember LaBounty, Anissa Smith, Cora Thomas, Judy Hemenway

(L-R) Kyle Peninger, Leatha Sullivan, Ember LaBounty, Anissa Smith, Cora Thomas, Judy Hemenway

“People visit once, are awed by the beautiful experience, and then return the following year with family and friends,” Thomas explains. The Center’s increasing tide of visitors underscores the importance – and popularity – of the organization’s work, which highlights awareness of human impacts on the ecosystem.

Each winter is different—eagle and salmon counts fluctuate, the weather is unpredictable, and the organization’s budget rises and falls. However, one element, hasn’t wavered — the appeal of getting up close and personal with the eagles. Last season saw approximately 3,500 visitors – a record – in only 35 days.

“Our work is important for future generations,” Thomas says, “and we would like to continue to stay open for many years to come.” But the future can be uncertain at times for this volunteer-dependent organization,  which relies each year on grants and donations by individuals and organizations.

Photo by Lee Mann. Courtesy of Bryce Mann

Photo by Lee Mann. Courtesy of Bryce Mann

The Interpretive Center is open weekends from December through January (closed on December 24 and 25), and every day from December 26-30, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Howard Miller Steelhead Park, 52809 Rockport Park Rd. in Rockport, WA.

The SRBEIC is currently seeking volunteers to join their team and help celebrate their 20th Anniversary. To discuss interest and availability—or to learn more—contact srbeatic@frontier.com or 360-853-7626. More info: skagiteagle.org

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