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Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association - A Champion of Supportive Partnerships

By Janine Doyle posted 06-14-2019 10:25


Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association works to educate students about the wildlife and natural landscapes of their communities.

Continued Learning to Strengthen Partnerships

Established in 1970 to help the U.S. Forest Service provide interpretive education about the surrounding environments, the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA) is one of the longest serving nonprofit agency partners. Today, in addition to their work with USFS, they have grown to partner with the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management at the following sites:

  • Inyo National Forest

  • Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest

  • Tahoe National Forest

  • Death Valley National Park

  • Devils Postpile National Monument

  • Manzanar National Historic Site

  • BLM Bishop Field Office

Even after 40+ years of championing strong partnerships, ESIA recognizes the need for continued learning and values the opportunity to network, learn and share expertise at our Annual Convention and Trade Show. For Jeff Gabriel, ESIA Executive Director, “One of the most valuable parts of the convention is just getting to meet new people – it's that interaction of learning from your peers that you normally wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

One of Jeff's highlights from the 2019 PLA Convention in Denver, CO was the educational field trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, which featured a guided tour through the assistance of Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s (RMC) Field Institute program. “The intent of our organization is to be educational,” shared Jeff, “so it was valuable to see RMC’s approach. Now we’re trying to engage our public more in our educational experience, working with elementary schools on nature-based educational programming.”

The Convention experience also strengthens the very relationships nonprofit public lands partners like ESIA are fostering every day with their agency partners. “The more you learn, the stronger your relationship is going to be,” stated Jeff. “The PLA Convention experience gives you an opportunity to talk with people from other organizations and bring that information back to share that success with our partners.”

Learn more about the upcoming PLA 2020 Convention and Trade Show here.

Rocky Mountain Field Trip
2019 Convention and Trade Show attendees at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Supporting Education, Stewardship and Outreach Through Effective Partnerships

For ESIA, serving as a reliable support system is key. “We at ESIA are a support vehicle to our agency partners,” said Allison Hampton, Business Manager. “By educating today’s youth on protecting, appreciating and preserving our resources, we are essentially preserving and protecting the future of our partners.”

After their positive experience with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy at the 2019 Convention, ESIA has begun working with elementary schools on educational programming around the area's watersheds as well as encouraging students to participate in nature-related activities at least once a month. In May 2019, they partnered with the Eastern Sierra Watershed Project to educate 2nd graders about the wildlife and natural landscapes of the Fish Slough area, promoting outdoor education community-wide.

"I think people focus on us being solely a bookstore – that's just one part of it, we want people to learn, it’s interpretive and educational.” - Jeff Gabriel, ESIA Executive Director

In addition to youth education, ESIA's efforts to support public lands take shape in diverse ways, always catered to the specific needs of their various partners. Bernadette Johnson, Superintendent of Manzanar National Historic Site, shared that “having them as a cooperating association is a really good fit – we are dedicated to stewardship and preservation, and ESIA has been a leader in providing related resources to our local community."

Historical and cultural preservation is especially significant to these communities. “One of the critical things that we are trying to preserve at Manzanar is the many experiences and memories of individuals that were incarcerated there during World War II,” said Bernadette. “We’re in this race against time – on a daily basis we’re losing people with those first-hand experiences and memories.”

In recognizing this need, ESIA purchased new equipment that has aided Manzanar in broadening their library and collection of oral histories. “We have become an extension of our agency partners by setting their best interests as our goals,” said Rhonda Hemphill, ESIA's Buyer and Product Development Manager. “They can come to us to help them achieve whatever they may not be able to on their own physically or financially.”

ESIA has also supported the Historic Site on its highest visitor day of the year, the day of the Manzanar Committee’s Annual Pilgrimage. At the 2019 event, the Site experienced over 2,000 visitors and “when you’re trying to provide services to that many people in a short period of time, there are things that can be very taxing on a small staff,” shared Bernadette. ESIA stepped up by overly stocking their store to meet demand as well as donating Manzanar branded reusable water bottles, thus avoiding excessive waste from plastic water bottles and providing a souvenir for visitors to take home. “I think their willingness to do that really shows their commitment," reflected Bernadette. "It’s all those little things that make a difference in how people connect to the Site and make it a special experience for everybody.”

Rei To (Soul Consoling Tower) with Pilgrimage offerings at Manzanar National Historic Site