History

In 1999, IslandWood Founder, Debbi Brainerd, had a bold vision. She suggested to her husband, Paul, that they build an environmental learning center for children without access to outdoor educational programs. Debbi believed that in order for children to become emotionally connected to and stewards of their world, they needed to have access to and understand it. Debbi's vision came from seeing an untouched piece of land on the south end of Bainbridge Island slated for development. As she and her husband walked the land, exploring the raw beauty of the place, Debbi reflected—on nature, its power, and its past role in her life. Debbi was moved to create a place where students from urban environments could explore the natural world, experience the joy of learning outdoors, and discover their own capacity to change the world around them. A visionary idea that answered Washington’s call for environmental education opportunities within reach of all students.

The official groundbreaking began in the summer of 2000. To prepare, IslandWood looked to its most valuable resources: its community. University of Washington landscape architecture students worked with over 250 children in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades to understand their thoughts on design. A suspension bridge. A floating classroom. And, of course, a tree house. From there, Mithun architects and The Berger Partnership designed the educational structures, trail systems, and outdoor field structures. In 2002, with construction nearly complete, pilot programs began testing the water—and the trees, the forest floor, the bog, the lessons. With overwhelming response, IslandWood realized they were onto something.

In the nearly two decades since, IslandWood has grown to become a leader in innovative and inclusive environmental education with educational programs on our Bainbridge Island campus, in Seattle schools and neighborhoods, and at the Brightwater Center in Woodinville; as well as, two graduate programs: a certificate program in culturally-responsive, experiential education in partnership with the University of Washington and a ground-breaking Urban Environmental Education Master's program with Antioch University Seattle.