Northwest Passages Spring 2021

 2021 Northwest Region workshop- virtual connections and time for reflection

The March 17th workshop was well received with 17 registrants and over 23 participants (including the leadership team and presenters)! We had a truly memorable experience and thoroughly enjoyed learning from so many experts on this year’s theme “Creating Virtual Programming that is compelling and makes audiences want to visit”. We’re here to share those highlights with you today.

We started off the workshop with an engaging keynote speaker, Kevin Damstra, from East Bay Regional Parks in California. His program “A Sense of Place and a Virtual Space” gracefully introduced us to the idea that virtual programing can be a powerful tool to build and maintain strong connections through passion and ingenuity. His experiences facilitating virtual programming during California’s shelter in place in 2020 lead his team to discover many digital learning arenas that catered to current needs.  

With pre-recorded videos, virtual live public programs, a YouTube presence, Tic Toc, OBS, Kahoot quiz games, virtual reality experiences, school lessons and virtual field trips (wow, that’s a mouthful)- he reminded his team not to freak out- virtual programing is just another interpretive tool! The positive spin during these uncertain times? With the virtual world you can make connections that are nearly impossible to make in person. It’s as simple as selecting the tool that works best for the situation. The biggest highlight? In many virtual circumstances, you have the adaptability to control the narrative. Pre-recorded content allows you to make things happen- go find the critter/scene/special moment- and bring it to your audience. Because these programs are reviewed before release, it provides flexibility. They also discovered a larger following online than in-person, tripling their attendance in some cases. 

As the California Regional Parks team continued creating content, a reminder was sent their way- virtual programming is not going away! In many ways it has become the solution, the answer, to unsolved problems that were never fully addressed. The affordability and accessibility for audiences- a definite plus, and if teachers were set up to make this happen it should continue being a tool! The pandemic also gave them a moment to pause and reflect- to evaluate and identify the stories they told and start telling the stories that were often overlooked and needed to be shared. This included voices from underrepresented communities and parts of history that had been left out. Stories their public lands addressed did not highlight the full history- and the sudden time they found themselves with allowed them to showcase these overlooked features in their parks- through video. Using these mediums to tell these stories made their team realize they weren’t telling them in visitor centers and museums. Now, this was possible and so much more- because of the virtual world they are now a part of. 

They have closed captions in all their programs, social media content for those with short attention-spans, Spanish language videos for non-English speakers, and virtual like-experiences for folks with impaired mobility. The virtual world connects audiences even further- and after a year of experiment and growth their team is making/trying many new things. Kevin invited each of us to do the same! His parting question: With hybrid programming on the horizon- a combination of in person and virtual attendance- what will be the new balance? How do we best interconnect events in multiple ways to provide the most accessibility and outlet for engagement? 

After the keynote, we zipped into the regional business meeting. We met our new leadership team members (check them out on our webpage under the “contact us” section), discussed upcoming opportunities and deadlines (scholarships, and awards), and learned about national updates from Executive Director Milward Simpson, and Jay Miller and Tom Mullen from the Board.

After lunch we spent the remaining workshop participating in three virtual program samples. Brian Janson with the BLM Campbell Creek Science Center in Alaska demonstrated a virtual nature journaling program for adults and families he’s been offering. He walked us through elements of the program and highlight several techniques he designed to help audiences stop, listen, and simply be more present in the world around them. From experiencing this first hand- it truly worked! Through a series of imbedded video-clips we were serenaded with peacefully falling snow and wilderness scenes, as well as the sound of rushing rivers. Brian captured an emotional and intellectual connection in each of us, inviting us to step into Alaska through reflective questioning; “I notice, I wonder, reminds me of…..”. By the end of the program his original promise was met- we were soon all craving this personal time with nature, becoming relaxed and in-tune with our surroundings.

Next up was Gina Roberti with the Mount St. Helens Institute in Washington. She invited us into her world at an active volcano- taking us on several virtual field trips to field sites around the mountain. Off we went to the Toutle River, the pumice plain, the crater rim, and newly vegetated plots. She described the process her team took to create these virtual field trips from capturing 360 footage in the field, as well as the software they used to create the virtual space. She led us through several scenarios students would find themselves in, using a series of questions imbedded into the experience to guide their journey. The Institute’s goal of making the materials participatory and engaging for students was highlighted as we put on the “student” hat and gave it a try. 

Lastly, we heard from Glenn Hart with the National Park Service as he described the accommodations made at The Alaska Public Lands Information Center. He began his bit by describing the pandemic-world his team suddenly found themselves in- and how they quickly accommodated their site. Glenn took us all on a live field-trip to the museum, turning the Zoom screen into a walk through all the exhibits. His primary focus was sharing how they refocused and retooled the museum to continue the mission of providing outreach and education to students using Virtual Visitations. Again, we were given the opportunity to step into the role of “student”, doing our best to answer his ranger questions through a virtual scavenger hunt. 

Overall, the workshop was a fun success- and there were even some winners at the end of the day! Our virtual Bingo game was thoroughly enjoyed as folks caught each other forgetting to un-mute themselves, spinning in their chairs, and yes- even picking their noses! Both Dianna Harvey and Katie Akers were awarded Acorn Naturalist gift cards for their attention to detail! A huge Thank You to our participants, donors presenters for a non-stop full day! We made $415 in proceeds (rec’d from registrations) towards the region’s scholarship funds. Bravo! We can’t wait to see you next spring and at virtual gatherings and partnership events in-between! 


Spring has sprung in the Upper Cowlitz Area parks in Southwest Washington. With days of rain followed by days of sun, it’s no surprise many plants are blossoming in full-force. The first indication spring had arrived were the lovely Western Trillium flowers (Trillium ovatum) appearing along the edge of our hiking trails. At first the three bracts (leaves) in whorl formation popped up, hosting a pedicel and closed bud.

Photo by Alysa Adams

I was so pleased to see this “wake robin”- spring harbinger that I knew it was only a matter of days before the iconic flowers followed suite. Sure enough, within the week the three matching white petals took their place on center stage- and seemed to draw the light towards them! Our forest is always alive, continuously replenishing itself through a cycle of death, decomposition and birth- but this week the fresh green vibrancy was spectacular! Other plants took their place within the woodland theater- the red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) displayed tiny buds on the tip of every wiry-thin branch.

Photo by Alysa Adams

The succulent stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) peeked up from their piles of detritus and the salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) punctuated the brown branches with splashes of purple- incredible bright purple! Wrinkly tissue-paper style blossoms, so delicate to the eye yet hearty enough to transform into tasty bitter berries later in the season. And we can’t forget about the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), odoriferous as it’s name implies yet a striking bright beauty amidst marshy terrain. The fertile earth brought forth many flora delights this week- and we can’t wait to see more!

Alysa Adams
Parks Interpretive Specialist 2

Upper Cowlitz Area|Washington State Parks


Slip sliding away, part two

Visitor Access to Rapidly Retreating Mendenhall Glacier Proposed by U.S. Forest Service 

Mendenhall Glacier,1926.  
Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Library

According to a recent report by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Alaska is among the fastest warming regions on Earth. In fact, 2019 was the hottest summer ever recorded in Alaska. I can attest to that as 2019 was the first of my five summers in Juneau that heat exhaustion was a concern.

In the winter editionof this newsletter I wrote how Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacieris receding. Its rapid retreat concerns Juneau’s city leaders and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) administrators because about a million tourists visited the center in 2019. 

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is within the Mendenhall Recreation Area of the Tongass National Forest. USFS administrators anticipate the glacier will recede out of sight from the visitor center by 2050. Now, this is a problem. Those million visitors, they support Juneau’s tourism industry as well as the Tongass National Forest.

Mendenhall Glacier, 2019 
Photo by Aleta Walther

Anticipating the negative economicand sociological impact of the glacier disappearing from sight, the USFS has a plan to ensure visitorswill be “able to touch the ice” in years to come. But, the glacier’s recession is not the only issue facing the visitor center. Overcrowding, traffic congestion, vehicle exhaust, insufficient visitor facilities and more are degrading the visitor experience. 

 The USFS’s plan to address the above issues shouldensurecurrent and future visitor demands are met. Still in the exploratory stage, the Mendenhall Glacier Master Planis a 25-year development plan within a larger 50-year vision to improve the visitor experience, including: 

1. Improving visitor facilities 

2. Building a new welcome center  

3. Expanding the current visitor center 

4. Improving wildlife viewing access 

These plans are well and good, but what intrigues me is the plan to give visitors the chance to actually touch Mendenhall Glacier. To reach the glacier today requires hiking over gnarly terrain or kayaking about two miles across Mendenhall Lake. 

Concept drawing of the remote visitor center, Mendenhall Glacier Master Plan

Direct access to the Mendenhall Glacier is currently challenging and time consuming,” the plan states.“Visitors want to ‘touch the ice’ and the lack of formal access creates safety concerns… . As the Mendenhall Glacier continues to recede, both visual and physical access to the glacier will become more challenging.” 

The plan proposes building a remote visitor center across the lake from the current visitor center. Boats will transport visitors across the lake to the remote visitor center. 

Concept drawing of a boat dock,Mendenhall Glacier Master Plan

 Creating a water-based glacier access system across Mendenhall Lake will help to meet long-term user needs for safe and efficient access to the glacier from the Visitor Center,” the plan states. “The remote glacier facility will be composed of structures that can be relocated as the glacier recedes.” 

Admittedly, the overwhelming humanity that swarms the visitor center dampens my enthusiasm for leading interpretive programs through the recreation area.Therefore, I look forward to the improvements outlined in the Mendenhall Glacier Master Plan - for future guides. I will be retired long before 2050.   

Aleta Walther, CIG,ATG, CTA  
Naturalist & Outdoor Adventure Tour Guide 
Alaska-focused blog: 


The Northwest Region Internship Award Application is Now OPEN!!!

The Northwest Region of the National Association for Interpretation is pleased to offer the Northwest Region Internship Scholarship to support those interpreters who are striving to gain practical experience by completing internships.  Doing so is often financially difficult, so the NW Region is offering one $600 scholarship to help put food on the table and a roof over the head of a budding interpreter.

The scholarship includes $600 to use as needed to offset living expenses during the internship. The stipend will be awarded in $200 increments. After the first $200 is awarded, a successful applicant will be required to submit a written, photo or video journal of their internship experience each month to continue to receive the stipend. We want to see what you’re learning and doing and how new interpreters are inspiring others! Journal submissions will be shared on the Northwest Region’s Facebook and webpages. 

All applications, including a reference and documentation proving the internship verification are due no later than 11:59pm on Friday, April 30, 2021. Applications will be reviewed as they are received, so the sooner, the better!  A decision will be made no later than May 30, 2021. Direct all questions or requests for further information to NAI Northwest Region Awards Chair at

If you are interested in this award, follow the link below to complete the application.

West Coast Meet up……… Virtually

It’s time again, for our next virtual West and North Coast Roundup – those joint on-line conversations with NAI members all across the West Coast and Canada. These quarterly zoom meetings are held to give us a chance to check in with our colleagues and have an informal chat about current events and happenings – where-ever you are across the West.

Maybe we can hear news about each of the regional workshops which have recently occurred – or at least, talk to folks who aren’t still spending their days shoveling snow…!  (Or maybe we’ll compare notes about the recent flurry of Northern Lights sightings which have been very impressive.)

Photo: Paul Ollig, Denali National Park

Here are the meeting particulars for April:

Date: April 7th, 2021

Time: 7:00-8:00pm PDT

Zoom Registration Link:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Join us if you’re free, and invite your friends and colleagues to come along, too. Many thanks to Blythe Wilson, Erin Gates, and Peter Ostroskie, for their help in coordinating this joint event.

We look forward to seeing you all on April 7th!

John Morris
NW Region Director, NAI
16542 Marcus Street
Eagle River, AK 99577

Our Winter Iconic Salmon Photos

This is my favorite. Ironically, I have never seen this plane in
Juneau, but I have seen it twice at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana,
California. Go figure. Photo by Aleta Walther

Henrietta Lacks Bioscience High School in Vancouver, Washington. Photo by Pat Barry

Signage at Steep Creek within the Mendenhall Recreation Area, Juneau. Photo by Aleta Walther

At the float plane ramp for Taku Lodge south of Juneau. Photo by Aleta Walther