Islands in the Sound

Award-winning educator, Gregario "Nick" Teague, joins us from the BLM's most unique islands to chat about recreation, community, and inspiring today's youth to explore the outdoors!"

story by Cheyne Rossbach
photos by Doug McCutchen and Richard Bailey

For five years, Nick Teague, an Outdoor Recreation Planner for the BLM's Spokane District, has lived and worked in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago off the coast of northwest Washington State in the heart of the Salish Sea.

This fall Nick was awarded the BLM's 2009 Silver Award for Excellence in Interpretation or Environmental Education.

Every year a review panel comprised of both BLM staff and representatives from its partner organizations - to include the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) - identifies three individuals who demonstrate "Excellence" as interpreters and educators. This panel recognizes talented individuals who foster partnerships and work to enhance public appreciation and knowledge for our natural and cultural resources.

Nick was highly praised for "fostering cohesive, citizen-based stewardship in the San Juan Islands." And he received further accolades for his integral part in the development of the San Juan Islands Experiential Education Outdoor Classroom for island youth.

So in honor of Nick's well-deserved Silver Award, we spoke with him to learn more about his work with the island community. And in talking with us, Nick communicated his firm belief that "The Public is out there waiting. Introduce yourself and manifest something beautiful!"

Northwest Passage (NWP): How long have you worked in the San Juan Islands?

Nick Teague (NT): Five incredible years. I left the Salem District in September 2004 to perform a one-month assignment. I felt like I was taking a very huge "leap of faith," leaving my full time position, friends, and family in the hopes that the Spokane District would support a new approach to how they were represented and engaged with the local communities of the San Juan Islands.

Islands in the Sound
Nick Gregario teaches an outdoor
class on the San Juan Islands

NWP: What has local community support been like - both in the past and as it stands today?

NT: In the past, the community support has been pretty localized specifically with Lopez Island. The Lopez community has and continues to be highly supportive of the BLM. More recently, other communities have demonstrated their support and endorsement of the BLM as a neighbor and important partner regarding the bigger picture of this ecoregion. I believe what has changed most is our Spokane District's approach to how we directly engage with these communities.

NWP: What are some of the unique resources the BLM is responsible for managing in the San Juan Islands?

NT: This really has to be one of my favorite questions. There are many unique resources the BLM is responsible for managing in the San Juan Islands: a distinguished historic lighthouse, rich cultural areas, rare plant communities, diverse recreation opportunities, and it just keeps going. Yet, what really sets the San Juan's apart from all other areas is this archipelago ecosystem found nowhere else in the Pacific Ocean. Nowhere in the BLM do we have rocks, islands, and resources that match this level of intrigue, character, and special attributes.

NWP: What are some of the local organizations and their specific interests? How have you bridged those varying interests in your work?

NT: Outside of the Federal, state and county agencies, the non-profit sector makes up a strong percentage of the partner participation effort. We work closely with Keepers of the Patos Light, Washington Lightkeepers Association, and the Turn Point Lighthouse Preservation Society. These folks, as you can probably already tell, share a deep appreciation for the Maritime History and Culture of the area. Each of these Lighthouse groups is 501(c)3 non-profits. And on Lopez Island, we work very closely with the Lopez Island Conservation Corps, a non-profit organization connecting local youth with the outdoors in a service-oriented, educational, skill training program. This past summer the Lopez Island Conservation Corps received the Take Pride In America National Award in the Youth Group Division.

NWP: Speaking of awards, how does it feel to receive the Silver Award for Excellence in Interpretation or Environmental Education?

Islands in the Sound
photo by Richard Bailey

NT: While I was on stage listening to Bob Abbey, Director of the BLM, describing accomplishments in the San Juan Islands, I was filled with an immense amount of pride to represent the whole Spokane District and as an ambassador for the BLM. I was mostly inspired to work even harder continuing to share with others the wonders of the natural world and the BLM mission and story.

NWP: What is the San Juan Island Experiential Education Outdoor Classroom? How did it come about?

NT: The San Juan Islands Experiential Education Outdoor Classroom came about through the request of partners including local schools seeking a creative outlet and place for outdoor learning. Experiential education is a foundational component of the classroom with activities designed to engage folks with their surroundings. Working with established partners, the San Juan Islands Experiential Education Outdoor Classroom provides the setting and facilitates self-discovery and fosters a broader understanding of natural world systems and interconnected relationships

NWP: Looking to the future, what would you like to see happen in the San Juan Islands as far as public lands are concerned?

NT: I would like to see folks connected to the land in a way that fosters stewardship, participation, and direct engagement. I would like to see more "ah-ha moments" when folks deeply connect to the wonders of the natural world. I would also like to see the work of the BLM here in the San Juan Islands demonstrate leadership, empowerment, and begin the foundation for a legacy of significance and contributions which even our seventh generation children will enjoy and be proud of.

NWP: What advice would you give to other resource specialists looking to foster and develop community-based partnerships and public involvement?

NT: My advice to other resource specialists would be this: be open, honest, and sincere. Partnerships are relationships. Relationships are about sharing, communicating, trust, and respect. Often the biggest thing which I believe holds us, the Feds, back is our inability to give up a little control. They are out there waiting. Introduce yourself and manifest something beautiful.

NWP: Describe yourself in five words or less.

NT: Motivated, inspired, dreamer, believer, and artist.

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