February 2020 marks the 50-year anniversary for the creation of the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association (ESIA) and its partnership with the Inyo National Forest, which began on February 20, 1970. ESIA is the first independent organization in the United States offering interpretation to operate under a Participating Agreement with the U.S. Forest Service for education purposes.

As one of the oldest nonprofits in the region, ESIA was established in 1970 by visionary citizens interested in helping the U.S. Forest Service provide interpretive education relevant to the unique surrounding landscape, sharing with the public the importance of the Sierra public lands. According to archived historic documents written by ESIA’s founder, Rocky Rockwell, “The organizers of ESIA were primarily from the Chalfant Press, here in Bishop.” ESIA began cooperating “with the U.S. Forest Service in the sale and distribution of books, maps, and other media directly related to the Natural and Human History of the Inyo National Forest.” To start, ESIA “had no funds and Chalfant was able to use its credit to obtain books from publishers and they provided funds to obtain the initial stock of topographical maps.”

Today, ESIA’s ongoing agency partnerships include the Inyo National Forest, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Tahoe National Forest, Death Valley National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, Manzanar National Historic Site, and the Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office. In addition to these agency partnerships, ESIA continues to work closely with many local organizations to help enhance the visitor experiences to our Federal lands.

For 50 years, ESIA’s mission has remained the same: to educate and inspire people about Sierra Nevada public lands. Since its founding, ESIA has successfully grown a robust offering of interpretive programs and events throughout the year, installed several exhibits along the Sierra Nevada, and expanded its collection of interpretive products to 17 locations.

“The planning started back in March 1969, when the then Chief of the Forest Service, Edward P. Cliff, sent a memorandum to the National Forest Supervisors amending the Forest Service Manual giving instructions regarding cooperative activities with interpretive associations,” said Jeff Gabriel, Executive Director of ESIA. “From the signing of the first Participating Agreement on February 20, 1970, ESIA has never looked back. We are so proud and honored to be working side-by-side with our agency partner, the Inyo National Forest, for the last 50 years creating a memorable visitor experience.”

“ESIA has been a partner for the Inyo National Forest for half a century,” said Tammy Randall-Parker, Forest Supervisor for the Inyo National Forest. “Their role in educating forest visitors about natural history and human history as well as responsible stewardship in the Eastern Sierra is invaluable, especially as recreation uses and demands shift. We are deeply grateful for all they do.”

ESIA will be celebrating its Golden Anniversary throughout all of 2020. There will be more celebration announcements to come.