Local advocate touts compassion and collaboration as keys to providing children with easy access to the outdoors

Prescott Woman Magazine chatted with Ellen Bashor, M.Ed., a Park Ranger and Outdoor Advocate, to find out what makes her enjoy Prescott and everything it has to offer.

PWM: How long have you lived in Prescott?

Ellen: Twelve years! It’s close to half of my life at this point. I moved here when I was just a wee 18 years old.

PWM: Why did you choose Prescott as your home?

Ellen: When I was 17, I went on a road trip with my father to visit colleges out west. After a childhood of backpacking, camping, and canoeing across the western United States, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go. And after 17 years in snow-covered, corn-flat southern Minnesota, I ended up choosing the college and community that had the least snow and the most access to diverse terrain, ecosystems, and adventures. I did get stuck in a prickly pear on my first visit here though. I’m glad that didn’t scare me off!

PWM: What’s your occupation?

Ellen: I don’t know if I think of what I do as an “occupation” in the sense that it occupies my day. Rather, I think of it in terms of Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation: “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I am lucky to have a job I helped build so that each day I love what I do and do what I love. Officially, I am the Outdoor Learning Coordinator for Prescott Unified School District and a City of Prescott Park Ranger, co-funded by the district and our recreation department. I direct several initiatives including the Community Nature Center, PUSD Outdoors, and Nature Niños Prescott. I also serve as the President of the Arizona Association for Environmental Education and Board Member of the Greater Prescott Outdoors Fund, which I consider important parts of my professional life. Before this, I was a professor of Environmental Education. Basically, if it involves improving children’s health, development, and learning through equitable access to nature and outdoor time, I’m in!

PWM: Do you have any kids?

Ellen: Several thousand, actually! However, I get to teach, learn, and explore the world with them rather than raise them. To all the incredible hard-working caregivers out there, thank you. I know that sometimes just getting little shoes on the right feet in the morning is an ordeal. And that’s actually why I started Nature Niños Prescott; there were no free, family-centered, come-as-you-are, outdoor play and learning opportunities for caregivers with infants, toddlers, and young children in our area. Now we see 100–200 children and caregivers at every event! I also have an old dingo dog named The Dude, and he’s the real baby of my household.

PWM: What is your favorite thing about living in the Prescott area?

Ellen: That’s a hard question; I have to choose two. One, access to world-class nature and adventure in every direction. I am an avid rock climber, birder, bug-watcher, rockhound, plant ID-er, and dog fosterer, and I can explore so many different geological formations and ecosystems year-round! Two, community members and leaders that really care: Prescott is home to some of the most kind and generous people I have ever met. Everything I have achieved with outdoor learning, our district, our city, and our numerous community and agency partners is due to this community’s shared commitment to improving the lives of others and the world around us.

PWM: How do you think Prescott enhances your occupation and hobbies?

Ellen: It makes the impossible possible! Growing up in the Midwest farmlands, I never dreamed I could live somewhere I could just drive south to warm weather in the winter, and north to cool weather in the summer. All my hobbies (exploring and admiring the world) are available year-round! This is also the wonder of Prescott I try to share with children. Despite growing up here, many of the children I work with have never been to the Granite Dells, the Bradshaw Mountains, the National Forest, or even our city parks. Although Prescott is surrounded by incredible nature, with limited sidewalks, transportation, and greenspaces within the city itself, accessing these wonders is not always easy for young folks. The natural biodiversity in our backyards and wilderness areas makes it easy to teach and learn why Prescott is a place worth protecting.

PWM: Are you working on anything new or exciting for the upcoming year?

Ellen: Always! I am expanding our PUSD Outdoor Learning and Community Nature Center programs to include even more public school students and am working on integrating outdoor learning opportunities into the District Instructional Guides (DIGs) to ensure all PUSD students have access to regular, healthy, standards-based outdoor learning. We are also expanding Nature Niños Prescott! We are currently seeking more community organization partners and volunteers as our monthly program has grown from 50 children and caregivers to almost 200 every single time! I am working with the U of A faculty also to publish a Nature Niños Toolkit because other counties and cities have expressed interest in creating their own. I am also seeking more grants for infrastructure improvements. Recently, we were able to pave the Community Nature Center parking area, Prairie Loop Trail, and more, doubling the amount of ADA-compliant wheelchair-accessible hiking trails in the city. Yet, that’s still less than one percent of our trails. I’ve also installed several nature play areas at different parks and open spaces and will continue to add more. We just launched our Junior Ranger program this year too, so I hope to have our first annual meet-up of all the Prescott Junior Rangers to celebrate them! I’m growing our partnership with the National League of Cities: Cities Connecting Children to Nature, which invited Prescott to its city cohort in 2021. Our team just finished a $10,000 grant, GIS mapping nature access and quality throughout the city in relation to age, income, transportation, and more. This year I hope to take this data and support decision-making and prioritization about future parks, open spaces, and trail investments. This is just the beginning.

PWM: If you could contribute to anything in the Prescott area, what would it be and why?

Ellen: I would love for every child in Prescott to live within a 10-minute walk (or roll) along safe sidewalks to a beautiful park to play in, and access to free outdoor learning experiences at every stage of their life, helping them grow into the strong, healthy, confident, and caring leaders our world needs. This is a reality in many other cities across the nation, so I know we can make it happen! However, growing the future takes more than that. I also would want to ensure affordable housing and medical care, local equitable food security, fully funded schools, safe communities, and clean air and water for generations to come. Long-lasting systems change takes all of us, but I’ve seen our community overcome challenges and do amazing things before, and I think that through compassion and collaboration, anything is possible.

Contact Ellen at [email protected] or 928.717.3253 ext. 74502. On Instagram, check out @communitynaturecenter, @natureniñosprescott, and @prescottearthday. On Facebook: Prescott Community Nature Center, Nature Niños Prescott, Greater Prescott Outdoors Fund, and Arizona Association for Environmental Education. Learn more about City of Prescott initiatives at www.prescott-az.gov/recreation-events/programs-special-events/programs/nature-ninos; PUSD Outdoors at sites.google.com/prescottschools.com/pusd-outdoors; the Community Nature Center at https://www.prescottcommunitynaturecenter.org; and Prescott Earth Day at www.prescottearthday.org.