Nature Programming Expanded in County Parks


SAN JOSE – The Board of Supervisors has approved an agreement with the Youth Science Institute (YSI) to provide science and nature programming at Sanborn and Vasona Lake County parks over the next five years.

The agreement will enable YSI, a nonprofit organization specializing in science education, to continue delivering programs related to environmental education and recreational experiences within the two County parks, as well as operate a staffed visitor center.

County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who earlier this year attended the grand re-opening of YSI’s Nature Center at Vasona Lake County Park, extolled the benefits of the County’s partnership with YSI.

“For decades, YSI has been giving County Park visitors and school-age kids who attend YSI’s programs an engaging and interactive experience,” Simitian said. “I’m delighted we can support YSI in inspiring enthusiasm for science, nature, and a lifelong love of learning. Their hands-on, nature-based, science education makes learning fun for kids, families, and the public. It’s a great asset to have right here in our County parks.”

The new five-year agreement with YSI went into effect on October 1.  The County provides facilities, and in lieu of rent YSI offers some of its programs free of cost to children and families at both Vasona Lake County Park and Sanborn County Park.  

Under the new agreement, the County Parks and Recreation Department will be able to tap into YSI’s staff experience through joint use of the YSI Nature Center, which will double as a Park Visitor Center. YSI will continue to occupy space in the building and receive County funding for its programs.

At Sanborn County Park, YSI and the County have agreed to some new provisions and shared use of the historic Dyer House. YSI will use the Dyer House for its programs when it is not being used by County Parks for programming.

“YSI is grateful for the County’s support in approving our contract and funding extension with Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation,” said YSI’s Executive Director Erika Buck. “This will allow YSI to continue our mission of inspiring enthusiasm for science and a love of learning and to ensure that children from all communities have access to our programs.”

YSI has been offering hands-on nature and science education to children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade since its founding in 1953. The County’s partnership with YSI began in 1979 when it invited the organization to provide natural science interpretation at Vasona Lake County Park. YSI has operated a Discovery Center at Vasona for many years. In subsequent years, the County invited YSI to occupy the Dyer House at Sanborn County Park and expand its interpretive offerings to Sanborn.

YSI’s educational programs are designed to interpret science and technology, and to inspire an appreciation for, and understanding of, the native natural environment. YSI provides these programs through school and group programs, summer science camps, science safaris, and free community events. The organization conducted hundreds of programs last year, including events targeting youth with unmet needs. The programs were attended by more than 6,000 children, and the Science and Nature Center and free events were attended by about 900 people.

On the Board of Supervisors, Simitian is a consistent supporter of environmental education programs, specifically those targeting youth. At his urging, Santa Clara County has supported broader access to environmental education programs offered by local non-profits such as Environmental Volunteers, Deer Hollow Farm, and the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. With County support, schools that might not be able to fund these programs in their existing budgets are able to provide their students with the valuable programming these organizations offer.

Simitian also pushed for County support for Grassroots Ecology, a local environmental nonprofit dedicated to caring for public lands and waters across Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. And he recently championed County support for Acterra, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet, to offer their “You(th) Be the Change” education program to middle school students in Santa Clara County.  

To learn more about YSI, visit


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