Willow Bend Executive Director Moran Henn and Jim David at Willow Bend Center

It all began with a pond…and a school teacher. In 1975, Jim David, an enthusiastic biology teacher, saw the potential of a muddy, trash filled wash next to Flagstaff Middle School, and set out to restore this small portion of the Rio de Flag as an outdoor classroom for his students. The school received assistance for the Pond Project from the Coconino National Forest, the County Soil Conservation Service (SLS), now the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Coconino Natural Resource Conservation District (CNRCD). Jim Alam, SLS district conservationist, saw the value of an outdoor classroom and not only agreed to help, but became a dedicated partner.

David and Alam were active with the CNRCD and discussed their ideas for an environmental education center with other board members. The CNRCD voted to establish an environmental education program. This was the first NRCD-sponsored environmental education program in Arizona.

The project took over three years to complete, but eventually led to the enhancement of the pond as an outdoor classroom and the establishment of the Resource Center for Environmental Education (CRCEE).  In 1980 it became a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and later changed its name to Willow Bend Environmental Education Center.

In 1986, Veit Cabin, a pioneer log home, was moved to the Pond and became a physical structure for environmental education classes and curriculum and material storage. During the late 80’s and 90’s the Education Center moved from location to location, from one office to another until it found a permanent home through a collaborative partnership with the County. In 2000 CNRCD signed an agreement with the County for a 20-year lease on the land in Sawmill Park for the Education Center.

In 2001 the cornerstone for the building was placed and construction of a sustainable, straw bale building began. In March, 2002, Willow Bend celebrated the Grand Opening of Willow Bend’s permanent center. That is also when the name was officially changed from the Resource Center for Environmental Education to Willow Bend Environmental Education Center.

Curious about the rest of our journey? Dive into our blog and annual reports for the full story.