Northwest Passages Summer 2020

Hello Northwest Region members,

It has been a challenging spring and summer thus far for all of us. Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustices in the United States receiving more attention for the public than they have previously, there has been a lot to consider and think about.

The NAI National Office has been committed to supporting members through both of these challenging issues.

For more resources on interpreting during a time of Coronavirus, check out the webpage linked below. Opportunities include membership extensions, professional grants, and a place to share and see reopening plans from different organizations.

As a white female, I have found myself wondering what else I can do to advocate for racial and social justice. NAI has put together an extensive list of resources for those wishing to educate themselves to get more information on their own biases. Some of our members have already been doing this work, but if it is of interest to you, check it out here:

I also strongly encourage you to join the NAI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Facebook group if you have not already. There is a lot of great information there, as well as projects to support and updates on work interpreters across the country are doing to advance social justice. You can join here:

As part of our regional commitment to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the Northwest Region, look for more information and opportunities to be involved in the coming months.

Also, look for information on Facebook and in the newsletter on our upcoming elections for Director and Secretary. We are also looking for a membership chair. If you’re interested in learning more about those positions and influencing the future of the Northwest Region, please contact Alysa Adams, Elections Chair at and she will get you more information!

Take care of yourselves and each other,


AJ Chlebnik
NAI Region 10 Director
Pronouns: She/her/hers

A virtual 40th “Eruptiversary” for Mount St. Helens 

By Alysa Adams, Parks Interpretive Specialist at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center 

For the past year, the staff of the Upper Cowlitz Recreation Area (in Southwest Washington) have been busily preparing for the “Big four-oh”, and we’re not talking about a birthday. This was a big year for volcano enthusiasts, local residents, and folks near and far affected by the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It has been a momentous chapter for geologists, researchers, and other members of the scientific community. An event in Washington’s history, a topic of curriculum in our schools, and a natural disaster our future generations will continue to hear about. This well-known volcano our staff has the honor to educate on and help protect has been the center of our attention- and for good reason! It famously erupted May 18, 1980- taking 57 lives with it and forever altering the surrounding land- and this year marked 40 years since the passing of that cataclysmic day. 

With high expectations from visitors, locals, and partners to commemorate this date our team got to work! We pulled together to provide travelers a beautiful visitor center, manicured grounds, a seasonal exhibit with memorabilia and oral history content, and a culminating weekend event packed with educational offerings, guest presenters and family activities. With staff spearheading different passion projects to contribute to the overall success, we were on-track to make it happen! As many of you experienced first-hand, the pandemic hit, and plans changed quickly. Much like the 1980 eruption, we were soon immersed in an unexpected situation during unprecedented times, requiring us to get creative and stay open-minded. With the Visitor Center closed many of our events went virtual- and our impact became farther reaching than we could have imagined (around the world like the ash!) Our efforts even made a rumble on KNKX Northwest Public Radio, KOMO 4 News, and the Seattle Times Pacific Northwest Magazine

Fortunately, we had established a multi-agency 40th eruption anniversary committee a year prior, and we shifted our priorities. Our agency (Washington State Parks) started an “Ask a Ranger” Facebook Live series (#AskaWARanger), where Mount St. Helens was the first topic presented. The Washington State Parks Foundation converted “The Great WA Camp-Out” event to “The Great WA Camp-In” and offered a virtual camping experience; with a Mount St. Helens ranger talk alongside the poets, musicians, and dancers. Thanks to our many amazing partners (USFS, USGS, MSHI, and The Cowlitz Indian Tribe to name a few) we were able to collaborate multiple offerings for the public. When May 18th came with a bang, we were still ready. Between all the varying platforms available to our viewers we soon realized we had larger audiences than would have arrived in person. The Washington State Historical Museum hosted our May 18th Story-Hour Event, and we had over 400 participants that evening, with over 10,000 views after. On the Adventure Awaits Blog we shared inspiring quotes from our Oral History Project to showcase the voices of the Mount St. Helens community. We partnered with the Mount St. Helens Institute to provide youth focused content for the teachers hosting classes online. Our Folks and Traditional Arts program launched social media posts leading up to the big day (check those out here and here), as did many of our volcano colleagues.  

Though this commemoration was not as expected, we all made the most of it and realized we were way ahead of schedule for next year! These trying times reminded us that our strength is found in our teamwork and a perseverance to embrace our nature in a new way. Working together with all the Mount St. Helens partners provided a memorable virtual experience for the thousands of visitors unable to arrive in person. (Check out archived programs here). With our built-up excitement and passions ready for release (much like a pyroclastic flow), we have plans to regroup and try again in 2021 as we memorialize “Forty-wonderful years” for the 41st anniversary. We’re just crossing our fingers the mountain doesn’t get too excited between now and then……

Interpretive Adaptation

Interpretive centers and museums have become quite creative in the way they have answered the call to continue to tell their stories in the midst of closure.  Here are two.

Whatcom Museum’s Story Dome.

Staff at the Whatcom Museum built a mobile, geodesic recording studio in the lobby of one of their museum buildings. After COVID hit, they adapted by launching Story Dome online. Everyone is welcome to record their story in response to one of the prompts related to the themes of place and identity. Once they reopen, they will curate selected stories at listening stations in their gallery. And in the coming weeks, they will also share standout stories online.


Naturalist, Wild Pacific Trail Society
Tanya Nestoruk

Here at the Wild Pacific Trail we are delivering fun, free  5-10 min interpretive online videos (new ones posted every two weeks) all about the flora and fauna in our west coast backyards! The response has been amazing, we’ve never created videos or done anything of the sort and our first one hit over 5000 views on Facebook. They feature myself as the naturalist and my roommate Arya Touserkani as videographer. It really is unique the opportunity we have as roommates during Covid to come up with creative solutions that allow us to continue sharing our love for nature with people across the world in this new interactive platform. Here is a description with more information on our youtube page which we just started:

The Wild Pacific Trail Channel provides short educational and entertaining videos, for all ages to get up close and personal with flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest. -ABOUT- The Learn Where You Live series inspires a personal connection to nature, creating a wave of environmental stewardship through exploration of species found along the Wild Pacific Trail. This 9km coastal walking trail skirts the rugged cliffs and shoreline along the West Coast of Vancouver Island, located in beautiful Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada (just south of neighbouring Tofino). First Nation elders and teachers share traditional wisdom offering priceless insights in partnership with the Nuu-chah-nulth; Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ community/elders, and Gisele Martin of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. So SUBSCRIBE and join our Naturalist she uncovers unique creatures and what they have to share, from the wisdom of Banana Slugs, to secrets of skunk cabbage and flammable mosses in this EXPLOSIVE series!

What has one foot, one lung and more teeth than a SHARK!? – YouTube

What has one foot, one lung and more teeth than a shark!?… Find out NOW in the next episode of our Learn Where You Live Web Series. These slimy recyclers play a key role in temperate rainforests …


Agents of Discovery

By Julia Welch,
Agents of Discovery McCall Coordinator, Payette National Forest Conservation Education Intern, Northwest Youth Corps

Photo: Payette National Forest Archives

The Agents of Discovery™ platform is an app which encourages kids to use technology as a way to interact more deeply with their landscape, moving to explore and learn. By presenting thought-provoking educational content in a fun and engaging way, users are able to gain an environmental educational experience through play. Igniting curiosity through sensory-based, factual, and fun questions, kids can learn about the National Forest’s diverse resources, as well as the importance of our management actions.

Photo: Payette National Forest Archives. This is a cambium peeled tree, like the one that can be found in Rotary Park in downtown  McCall, Idaho. A challenge at the Rotary Park Mission, based on a cambium peeled tree is shown below.

There are Agents of Discovery™ “missions” nationwide, and even in other countries. Within these missions, there are a series of challenges relating directly to the topic or location of the mission. One category of mission topics available for programming are “Agents of Culture.” On the Payette National Forest in west central Idaho, there are many rich cultural resources, as well as natural ones. From Chinese gold mining sites in the town of Warren, to cambium peeled trees by the Nez Perce, and firefighting- there is a lot to learn from the history in this area. Educators on the Payette have been implementing Agents of Discovery™ as an interpretive technique, creating missions with challenges intended to engage users with historical features on the forest-some that are even right in town! 


Photo: Agents of Discovery

Users will select their answer and have the opportunity to receive feedback about it.
In this case, the correct answer is the hand. The Post-Challenge Info goes on to describe how Native Americans created cambium peels, and even works to engage the user’s different senses, so as to fully experience the place they are in and the features they are learning about.


By implementing technology as a positive way to explore, educators can promote learning about one’s landscape, community, or culture, creating an interactive, place-based experience. From the initial technology based experience, users can be drawn into more traditional place-based explorations that align with an organizations interpretive themes or learning objectives.In this way, the use of the app provides a bridge to attract new tech-oriented audiences but the connection can then be fostered through engaging interpretive programming.  Download Agents of Discovery  today by searching for Agents of Discovery™ in The App Store or Google Play, then look at the map of missions close to you, download your missions and have fun exploring!

April Showers Bring May Flowers: NOT!

The springtime adage, “April showers bring May flowers” may be the case in the lower 48 states, but not so in Southeast Alaska where precipitation is perpetual and April temperatures range between 35 to 49 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 10 centigrade). May temps in Juneau historically range between 42 and 57 degrees (6 and 14 centigrade). Therefore, I believe it is not rain, but sunshine and warmth, that triggers the spring eruption of wild flowers across the forest floor of Southeast Alaska in late May and June. That said, four of the last 5 years the flower power of Southeast Alaska sprang forth in very early May and was in full bloom by May’s end. I suspect May’s flora flourished early due to less rain and unusually high temperatures in March through May.

According to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “The Alaska statewide average temperature for May 2019 was the warmest in 91-years of record keeping at 44.9°F, 7.1°F above average. Through July 10, Juneau saw the high temperature reach at least 70°F for a record 17 consecutive days.”  Sadly, Juneau’s “…warmest temperatures on record…have occurred in the past 5 years,” according to an October 2019 Report by NOAA.

While not optimum for the health of Alaska’s temperate rainforest overall, wild and garden flowers, as well as my tour guests, reveled and thrived in the record-challenging weather. In fact, I am always amazed at my guests’ interest in wildflowers and take advantage of their interest to address climate change and how each person can make small changes that can make a big difference as a whole.

Here is just a minuscule sample of some of the wildflowers I encounter on our interpretive tours.

Petite, but greatly appreciated, the forget-me-not species is the Alaska State Flower.  It grows well throughout Alaska and belongs to one of the few plant families that display true-blue flowers.

This abundant, showy native wild flower is a staple in many Alaskan households and harvested annually as its flower buds make a flavorful jelly and its flower petals a tasty tea. We say in Alaska, “When the fireweed turns to cotton (spreads its seeds), summer is soon forgotten.” One can expect the first snowfall in 6 to 8 weeks. 

One gardener’s weed is another gardener’s flower. These showy “flowers” are the first abundant color to burst forth in early spring. All of this plant is edible and many Alaskans harvest dandelion greens for salads and the flowers for wine and jellies. Dandelion greens can be eaten raw, steamed, boiled, sautéed or braised. 

Wild roses offer an abundance of showy flowers. According to local university scholars, cooks and gardeners, various parts of the rose are edible. In spring, the shoot may be peeled and nibbled. In early summer, the petals add a touch of color and flavor to salads, sandwich spreads and omelets. Petals may be steeped for tea or used to make jelly. Candied rose hips may be used as a snack or in cookies, puddings and cake.

This perennial has several common names, but it is commonly referred to in Alaska as Northern Geranium. The entire plant is edible and Alaskans will add it to salads for a hint of color, scent and flavor. 

Photo and text by Scott Ranger © 2015
When the gold miners arrived from their sea journey to Alaska, many were beginning to suffer from scurvy. Those who came before advised the newcomers to eat this plant, and are responsible for its common name. Quite tasty and juicy, the abundant vitamin C staved off the symptoms of this nasty disease. 

Text and photos by Aleta Walther CIG, ATG, CTA
Naturalist & Outdoor Adventure Tour Guide
Gastineau Guiding Company, Juneau, Alaska
Travel Blog: http://Alaska

Aleta Walther © 2020


Our Summer Iconic Salmon

Columbia Springs Hatchery
Vancouver, WA

Vista House
Columbia River Gorge