Large woody debris provides a buffer to the backshore at Keystone Spit. Photo: Pedersen
Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer of the Year

Karis Barnes - 2021 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Karis Barnes is no ordinary volunteer. As the youngest volunteer to be awarded the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year award, she is an inspiration to us all.

This award, presented by the Island County Marine Resources Committee, Sound Water Stewards, and WSU Extension - Island County, is given every year to an outstanding volunteer whose efforts contribute to the protection and restoration of the Island County marine ecosystem and coastal resources.

The award is named to honor the memory of Jan Holmes, an exemplary marine scientist, educator, and champion for stewardship of the marine environment. Karis indeed exemplifies the spirit of Jan Holmes, with her passion for working in the field, and for sharing her love of the marine environment by helping others learn about it and encouraging them to explore it for themselves.

This past summer, staff at Deception Pass State Park found themselves facing an increase in park visitation with limited resources to meet the growing need to provide education about tide pool ecosystems and appropriate viewing practices. Karis stepped up to meet this need in her volunteer work as a Beach Naturalist Intern.

Karis went above and beyond in her volunteer work, always arriving early to prepare for the day, and regularly volunteering for additional shifts and to cover holiday weekends. Not only did she volunteer over 186 hours this summer, but she did so with an openhearted personality and positive attitude. Her educational efforts and stewardship messaging helped reach over 20,000 visitors, leaving them with positive memories and nuggets of information about tide pool ecosystems.

Despite the challenges of volunteering during a global pandemic, Karis worked diligently to make the experience inviting, engaging, and accessible to all, helping kids and adults alike find wonder in the natural environment.

Karis spoke about the ways that the youngest visitors would often inspire her. In one instance, a young student impressed Karis with her knowledge of marine creatures. "It was one of many days where a child inspired hope in me, and reminded me why I'm going into this field," Karis remembered.

We are honored to acknowledge Karis's volunteer efforts through this award. She has inspired many through her dedication, welcoming personality, and infectious enthusiasm for the marine environment. Karis, you inspire us.


The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is named to honor the memory of Jan Holmes, an Island County resident and WSU Island County Beach Watcher who was an exemplary marine scientist, educator and champion for stewardship of the marine environment.

In recognition of the continuing need for volunteers to carry on this important cause, the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually to one individual engaged in service, science or outreach relating to the health of Island County’s marine environment and whose work adds to knowledge about and/or protection of county marine waters and coastal resources.

Nominations are open to anyone, regardless of organization or affiliation. The intent of the award is to encourage and recognize the achievements of volunteers who work to understand, protect and restore the marine waters and coastal resources of Island County.

The award is sponsored by the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), Sound Water Stewards (SWS), and Washington State University (WSU) Island County Extension. A committee representing the three sponsoring organizations selects one winner. The award is presented during the opening ceremonies of Sound Waters, an annual one-day university held on the first Saturday in February.


Every year, hundreds of volunteers contribute thousands of hours of service, science and outreach in support of Island County's marine environment. They do so as members of various organizations and, in some cases, as citizens unaffiliated with any group. In September 2010, the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers partnered to establish an award to recognize this contribution of volunteer service and leadership. They created the annual Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award, open to any citizen of Island County regardless of affiliation.

To identify the winner, a joint committee of the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers review nominations submitted by the public. One individual is chosen and the award is presented in February before an audience of some 600 people attending the annual Sound Waters University.

No one better embodied the spirit of such service in Island County than Jan Holmes, a long-time WSU Beach Watcher and early member of the MRC. Her death in December of 2011 was a great loss to members, friends and volunteers in both organizations. In recognition of her leadership, the MRC voted unanimously in January 2012 to rename the award in her honor, The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year.

Holmes and her husband, Steve, moved to Whidbey Island after completing careers in the airline industry. In 1990, Holmes received training as a WSU Beach Watcher. She found such joy and wonder in the nearshore environment that she went back to school at Western Washington University and obtained a degree in marine science. She became a leader in the Beach Watcher organization, inspiring fellow volunteers, adults and children with her infectious enthusiasm as a teacher and mentor.

As a scientist Holmes set high standards, developing rigorous protocols for the Beach Watchers intertidal monitoring program and later creating an innovative eelgrass research project that has revolutionized the gathering of eelgrass data by citizen volunteers at a fraction of the traditional cost. She collaborated closely with the MRC while attracting talented volunteers to the project.

In 2010, Holmes was honored for her community service with the prestigious Cox Conserves Heroes Award for Western Washington, in competition with volunteers from other areas of the state. The award is given by KIRO TV and The Trust for Public Land.

Nicole Luce: 2020
Craig and Joy Johnson: 2019
Sandy Dubpernell: 2018
Connie Clark: 2017
Bob Gentz: 2016
Ken Urstad: 2015
Jill Hein: 2014
Phyllis Kind: 2013
Sammye Kempbell: 2012
Barbara Brock: 2011
Volunteer of the Year