When I moved to Yakima, I fell in love with the scenic trails, the landscapes and the wide-open spaces. Coming from the west side of the mountains, sagebrush, shrub-steppe, and treeless views were a new kind of beauty to me — and the trails of Cowiche Canyon Conservancy not only became my new adventure playground, they helped me feel that this was a place I could put down roots. CCC Executive Director Celisa Hopkins says the beauty of the trails is what first drew her in as well.

“Before coming to work here, I loved the shrub-steppe, found beauty in the muted palette of colors, the rocky outcrops covered in sage. ... I am always learning new things about the landscape and all the organisms that inhabit it, how all of the different parts of the ecosystem work in tandem.”Although Hopkins grew up in Yakima, her sights weren’t always set on putting down roots here. “I graduated from Eisenhower High School, spent the following year in Brazil as a Rotary Exchange student, and then went off to college at University of Washington where I majored in political science and minored in geography,” she said. “I was intrigued by how people and communities impact the landscape around them and how a place impacts the lives of those who inhabit it.” 

Her plan was simple: move to a foreign country and do service work for people in need. So after college, while working at a drop-in center for youth in Seattle, she joined the Peace Corps. But before she headed off on her grand adventure, she decided to move back to Yakima to spend time with her family. That’s when her plans changed.

“When I came back to Yakima in 1998, I thought my stay would be temporary, but I found there was plenty of important and meaningful work here,” she said. “I fell in love with Yakima in a way I hadn’t expected to. Growing up here, it felt small, but as my roots grew deeper, I found comfort in the interconnectedness of the community, and realized, it wasn’t so small after all. The beauty about a community the size of Yakima is that it’s big enough for lots of opportunity, but also small enough to feel like you can make a positive impact.”

After working for several area nonprofits, all focused on community health, she took the position of development director at CCC in the spring of 2014. She managed fundraising and community outreach efforts until January of 2018, when she was promoted to executive director. She is now involved in all aspects of the CCC, including conservation, recreation, fundraising, and education.

“One of my favorite things is our education program and exposing young people to this landscape,” she said. “Many kids that come out on field trips have never taken a hike before. As they learn about what inhabits these lands and the web of life that connects organisms to one another, they become more curious.”

Having children of her own, Hopkins knows the importance of educating young people early because those “kids” may someday dictate the future of the CCC and its lands.

“We at the CCC are committed to teaching young people about the importance of the shrub-steppe,” she said. “We have to raise the next generation of stewards of this land so future generations can continue to enjoy them as we do today.”

She has some ambitious plans for the CCC.

“There is less than 50 percent of Washington’s shrub-steppe remaining,” Hopkins said. “My goal is to continue to look for opportunities to protect what’s left, to keep working lands working, and to create connectivity between existing landscapes, both for wildlife, and people. It’s important that we don’t just grow our land base, but that we also grow the number of people intrigued by this landscape that are committed to protecting the shrub-steppe while there is still time.”