Moran State Park: not just a playground!

  • Sat May 11th, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by Kwiaht.

Have you seen a giant water bug hunting for newts in a shallow lake? A Douglas squirrel’s winter cache of fragrant pine mushrooms? Native mistletoe flowering on windswept pines? Or watched mouse-eared Yuma bats skim the moonlit waters of a lake for floating bugs? All of these discoveries and more are possible for Orcas children, their families and teachers in Moran State Park. It’s not just for tourists.

Mount Constitution, its viewpoints and its lakes are unquestionably the best-known and most frequently visited scenic attractions in San Juan County. It is less widely known that Mount Constitution is a unique biodiversity hotspot in the islands due to its elevation and Mediterranean microclimate. More than half of San Juan County’s rare native plant species are found mainly or exclusively on Mount Constitution. Many plant communities (combinations of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants) on Mount Constitution exist nowhere else. An exceptional diversity of small native animals make use of this habitat diversity, from bats, beetles and butterflies to squirrels, snakes and salamanders.

A new consortium of scientific and educational nonprofits is working with state parks to make better educational use of the extraordinary biodiversity of Moran State Park. They include Friends of Moran, the Lopez-based conservation laboratory Kwiaht (long involved in science and education at Indian Island), Orcas Island Library, Camp Orkila and The Funhouse. As researchers and teachers, all agree that Moran State Park can be the premier outdoor classroom in San Juan County, and play a critical role in the education of young islanders. “At the same time, we believe that young islanders can play a critical role in protecting the biodiversity of the park,” says Kwiaht director Russel Barsh, “by working with public land managers and helping educating visitors.”

Friends of Moran plan to kick off the new initiative with 22 summer naturalist talks this summer season. Kwiaht and the library plan a “bird-blitz” for kids Aug. 12, to be followed by other bio-blitzes in fall and spring with Camp Orkila and The Funhouse. Kwiaht will also issue new illustrated pocket guides to trees and wildflowers of Moran State Park, and ID cards for reptiles and amphibians. In consultation with state parks staff, new technologies such as electronic sound recorders and motion-activated cameras may be used to seek out evidence of rare, shy nocturnal animal species, all with the direct involvement of local students. “Think of all the amazing science fair projects that could come from observations made in the park—like mapping newt migrations and using acoustics to track birds and frogs,” says Barsh.

You can support this new program by going online to and finding the entry for Kwiaht. Donations made by May 17 may make the Moran State Park educational consortium eligible for additional support by Orcas Island Community Foundation and its Partners in Philanthropy!

For more information on donating and participating, email