Madrona Institute: New era unfolds

Members of Madrona Institute
Members of Madrona Institute's San Juan Island Youth Conservation Corps help with a trail building project on the island's west side.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter

The Madrona Institute is making its mark on San Juan Island.

Started in 2005 by Merle Lefkoff, Roger Morris, Ron Zee and several other islanders, the think tank initially focused on national and international issues. In 2009 and 2010, Madrona sponsored several well-received seminars, including a well-attended symposium at Roche Harbor on the politics of the Gulf Oil disaster.

After that, Morris and Lefkoff moved on to other interests and other places, leaving Zee to restructure the group into more of a community organization with a local environmental and tribal relations involvement.

Reaching out to friends in the environmental community, Zee realized that broad-based membership organizations like the Land Bank and the Stewardship Network filled their niches well, but there might be a role for a smaller group to incubate and run projects like think-tank seminars and lectures, but on topics of local interest.

"Our unique community has great potential, and I have the capacity to manifest new ideas to benefit our future, and a network of relationships to make things happen," Zee said in response to the question "Why?".

Long active in local environmental issues and once a young staffer for Hubert H. Humphrey, Zee and the new board he put together started developing new programs and projects, culminating recently in a five year cooperation agreement with the National Park Service and the San Juan Island National Historical Park.

Right now, that agreement meant pilot funding for the San Juan Island Youth Conservation Corps, Madrona's outdoor action program. A joint venture with the Stewardship Network, the program has recruited 15 local 12-14 year-olds, putting them to work on projects at the Land Bank's Limekiln Preserve, English Camp, and other outdoor settings. To manage the program and direct the project, Madrona hired Sarah Hanson, an experienced outdoor educator specializing in youth leadership development and natural resources service learning.

The institute and the Historical Park have also sponsored a series of lectures about the history of tribal environmental stewardship and current tribal interaction with local communities. In early August, two Cowlitz tribe master weavers will demonstrate and describe their craftwork at English Camp.  A 2013 joint program is now being planned, as is continued operation of the Youth Conservation Corps.

Jerald Weaver, Chief of Resource Management for the San Juan National Historical Park, said he's very happy that NPS is working with  Madrona Institute.  "Our joint agreement on future cooperation fits in well with our mission on San Juan Island," said Weaver, adding "we're trying to connect our resources with the community.  Working together on common interests will benefit everyone, especially young people."

Zee, the institute's President, is equally pleased. "Madrona's partnership with the National Park Service has developed into a very close, mutually-supportive working relationship," he said. "Every staff person at San Juan Island National Historical Park is a pleasure to collaborate with. They care about this community and their role in helping to shape our future is very positive."

Befitting  Zee's long interest in the environment and an active association with San Juan Island community groups, Madrona works closely with the Stewardship Network, Friends of the Lime Kiln Society, the Islands Energy Coalition and Leadership San Juan Islands. More information and program schedules can be found at the website,


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