Background of the Methow Valley Interpretive Center and Methow Field Institute
The Methow Field Institute (MFI) began in 1995 as a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to cultivate a greater understanding and respect for the natural world through direct hands-on experience offering educational programs in the sciences, arts and humanities using the Methow Valley and surrounding region as our outdoor classroom. In July of 2012 the MFI elected to officially move into the Methow Valley Interpretive Center building. The MVIC began its existence in 2011 under the auspices of the Okanogan County Historical Society. After the building was completed the OCHS ceased to be our non-profit sponsor. Today the programs inside and outside the building are generated and overseen by the Methow Field Institute Board.
A BIT OF HISTORY
In 2010, a group of people, with interests as varied as the Valley itself, banded together to put together a center that would lie at the heart of the valley, located in Twisp, addressing the need to educate ourselves and others about the valley we live in. How did it all start?
Many years ago, Glenn and Carolyn Schmekel, had sought out and worked with several Methow Tribal people as well as other Colville Tribal members to re-connect the original inhabitants of the Methow Valley with the current residents. (This story is told in a documentary DVD called “Two Rivers” which has been shown on PBS affiliates over the past few years.) For seven years the “Heart of the Methow Traditional Powwow” has been held in the Twisp Park, and a team of tribal members together with non-tribal folks have hosted 300+ people for feasting and dancing on an August weekend.
One Methow elder, Spencer Martin, has spoken with great sorrow about how the young people of their band have no idea where their families come from or how they used to live. He said “They don’t know who they are.” That loss of family and tribal identity has left a hole, and this elder felt that young people could be helped by regaining that sense of connection to a past that is rich. As newer residents of this lovely valley, the Schmekel’s looked for ways to give the descendents of the Methow Tribe a place where they could bring their children and say “here is our story, here was where we lived.” There was also a need to safeguard their history in a permanent place and share it with the more recent arrivals in the Valley.
The idea of creating an interpretive center as a solution came in response to a casual visit to Ocean Shores, WA, when Glenn and Carolyn visited their local interpretive center. There was a feast to be had in a very small area. The center featured geological history, rocks, shells, bird life, plant life, native history, a fascinating history of shipwrecks, the life cycle of the razor clam and how to dig them, and much more. The better part of an hour was spent with the exhibits curator, Gene Woodwick, who explained how the center began and how it was organized and funded. Here was the perfect prototype for what could happen in the Methow Valley. Our small valley had so much to offer, but no central place that educates and awes about the natural beauty all around. The Schmekels returned with a bigger vision…to tell a full spectrum story from how the valley was created from glaciers, what plants and animals are native to the area, weather, water and a place to share the stories of the indigenous Methow people and show how they lived.
Months later we presented the idea for a Methow Valley Interpretive Center to the Twisp Public Development Authorty Board. Another presenter, Jim Brennan, was also in attendance wanting to propose a Native American cultural section for the PDA campus. A happy coincidence! With the PDA (TwispWorks) acceptance of us as a partner and later, the Okanogan County Historical Society bringing us into the fold under their 501c3, the Methow Valley Interpretive Center became a reality.
Renovating our building for the the Methow Valley Interpretive Center in 2012 is chronicled below.
The Interpretive Center is located on the TwispWorks campus, located on the former U.S. Forest Service complex in Twisp. The TwispWorks campus is a vibrant center for art, agriculture, innovative technology and education.