A Kittitas and Yakima County coalition on Thursday received nearly $800,000 in federal funding for an interpretive center to highlight the Yakima River Canyon.
The center will be established at the Helen McCabe State Park, just south of Ellensburg on State Route 821.
The highway, once the main connection between Yakima and Ellensburg before Interstate 82 was opened, was listed in 1968 as the state’s first scenic byway.
The funding for the interpretive center was awarded through the National Scenic Byway Program, part of the Federal Highway Administration.
Jill Scheffer, who wrote the grant application, said the interpretive center could become an anchor in an effort to capitalize on the canyon as a tourism and environmental attraction. Scheffer has been involved for more than a decade in planning to establish a learning center that would highlight the shrub steppe and other environmental features of the canyon area.
It was the largest of the five grants for projects in Washington.
The grant application was coordinated by Forterra, the former Cascade Land Conservancy, and the Kittitas Environmental Education Network. Scheffer said the overall byway project is backed by a 30-member coalition, made up of public and private agencies, community groups and individuals. Their goal is to improve visibility of the canyon through the interpretive center and other improvements to the 18-mile byway route within Kittitas and Yakima Counties. John Cooper of the Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau serves on the local byway committee.
The interpretive center will be about 3,000 square feet and may be ready to open in about a year. Supporters still must raise a 20 percent match to complete the project funding. The 64-acre park is being managed by Forterra, which is in the process of seeking to transfer ownership from the state to Kittitas County.
From a story written by By Mark Morey, Yakima Herald-Republic 8-3-12