From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

2014 Program Calendar



Red Moons, Meteors and Mars! Oh My!

April 17th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Kaci Darsow

By one thirty in the morning, my beer was empty, my hands were numb and the dimly lit but distinctively red moon was sinking fast into the trees, making it difficult to view from my porch. Though the astronomical show would go until 2:30 am and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon had only played halfway through, I decided to call it a night. The others had made that decision nearly an hour ago. Maybe I should try to get at least some sleep this week. Goodnight, strange moon.

A full lunar eclipse is a wonderful production. First, the penumbra casts darkness across the face of the full bright moon. Within an hour, before your eyes the moon wanes from full to crescent. Then the umbra creeps in, staining the moon red. Paradoxically, this vibrant hue occurs while the moon is in the deepest part of Earth’s shadow. Light from the sun is refracted around the Earth through the atmosphere. The longest rays of visible light, which our eyes register as red, illuminate the moon in a mesmerizing shade of rust. Once again the penumbra slides across the moon, darkening the deep red and making it difficult to see. Eventually, the Earth’s shadow will move on, revealing a waxing crescent of bright yellow. Then, like a time-elapsed film, two weeks of moon phases will wax back to a full silvery orb in an hour. The whole show takes just under four hours.

If you missed Monday night’s performance, don’t worry. The entire process will happen again on October 8, 2014, and then twice more in 2015. You’ll have a total of three chances between now and September of next year to catch it.

How the full lunar eclipse works. Illustration by Greg Dindermann, courtesy of Sky and Telescope.

Full lunar eclipses are rare. The last once occurred in December of 2011. The elliptical planar orbit of the Earth must line up precisely with the position of the moon, and this must happen during a full moon in order for the full lunar eclipse to occur. These things must align on a clear night, making Pacific Northwest full lunar eclipses especially rare.

The night started very cloudy. There had been talk of midnight lunar-eclipse canoeing, but by 9:30 any plans for a late night paddle had been scrapped. Most folks surrendered to sleep, defeated by the promise of no visibility. But ten minutes into the show, the cloud curtain opened to share the performance. Just shy of midnight, I politely knocked on windows and doors, inviting a few night-owl friends to join me in watching the celestial spectacle. Everyone who had a light on got a knock.

Five nature nerds ventured into the cold, gusty night to stand and stare and wonder. As I watched the moon wane away before my eyes, I felt I simultaneously understood the moon as an object in space while also being completely baffled by it. It is depictions of scientific principles such as these that are both clear and exciting, but that I often struggle to explain. Scale makes it difficult to comprehend the position and movement of the sun, the moon and the Earth, but watching the lunar eclipse gave me a solid sense of those relationships. Watching the moon disappear was a bit unsettling, however. The time elapsed movie of moon phases did not compute in the contexts of sky with a background of stars. It was all very perplexing. It didn’t seem real. I felt like I could just pick it right out of the sky, like a rock off the beach. My brain kept trying to “fix” what I was seeing, filling back in the disappearing parts of the moon, later trying to blink away the strange hue that began to filter over the moon.

As we stood in the middle of the night, gazing into space, we tried to describe what we were seeing. First, came the naturalist jargon. Words like refraction, waxing and waning moon phases, planar orbit and umbra were tossed around with ease. But as the sight of the moon became more bizarre, our descriptions became more imaginative.

“Whoa, it looks like a huge floating eye. See the cornea and all the blood vessels?”

“The Eye of Sauron.”

“It looks like a cheese puff!”

“It looks like a giant popcorn kernel waiting to be popped!”

“The color is more like popcorn covered in nutritional yeast.”

“No, it’s darker than that.”

“Popcorn with nutritional yeast and Braggs?”

“Yeah, that’s it! It’s definitely the color of ultimate hippie popcorn.”

“You guys, the moon totally is the ultimate hippie popcorn.”

Although we had all gotten out of bed, taken a break from last minute taxes or put aside homework to come out and watch the eclipse, the moon was far from the only celestial body on display. A bright red object shone in the sky above and to the right of the moon. Could it be Mars? It almost seemed to big and bright to be our neighboring planet, but it certainly was not a star. None of us knew for sure. A quick Internet search revealed that we were not only right about this mysterious orb being the red planet, we were also inadvertently observing Mars from the nearest view we get from Earth: “at opposition”. This means the Earth is about to reach its farthest distance from the sun, while Mars is about to reach its closest, bringing our planets within 57 million miles of each other. mars-earth-comparison

From L to R: Our home, the Earth, compared to our neighboring planet, Mars. Photo courtesy of NASA.

So there we were, mesmerized by the moon’s best Mars impression, while the actual Mars was slowly creeping closer and closer, when suddenly…


One of the longest lasting meteors I’ve ever seen streaked across the sky, right down the middle of the whole scene. I mean, this meteor was so bright and lasted long enough for us to jump up and down, pointing and shouting, “Look! Look! A meteor,” before it dove below the horizon. The next time you see a shooting star, try getting six syllables out before its gone, and you’ll get a sense of just how epic this meteor was. More research revealed that mind-blowing meteor was a precursor to an annual meteor shower called the Lyrids. This shower will begin April 17th and intensify over the next few days, peaking on the 22nd (Earth Day!) when the rate of meteors will be around a dozen an hour. Look to the eastern sky in the predawn hours for your best chance to catch the show.

Red moons, meteors and Mars. All such celestial happenings are reminders for us Earthlings to look up, go outside in the night and stay out past our bedtimes every once in awhile. That we are not just part of the Earth — fight for and use it as we may — but of the entire unfathomable Cosmos. Lucky aliens, zooming through space. I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon. Cheers!

lyrid-meteor-shower-2014-1Now’s the time, the time is now! Stay up late, go outside, look up, have your mind blown! Photo courtesy of Logan Brumm Photography.
Leading photo: The “blood moon”. This is what a total lunar eclipse looks like. Catch the next on on October 8, 2014. Photo by Richard Tresch Fienberg, courtesy of Sky and Telescope.

Kaci Darsow is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Most nights Kaci can be found on their porch enjoying a good porter or stout and listening to Dark Side of the Moon, regardless of lunar activity.


Milwakee ticket Kim Hall

Tales from a Greyhound Bus: From Goodbyes to New Beginnings

April 14th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

By Kimberly Hall

March 28th, 2014

10:38 am

Somewhere in South Seattle

We n’de ya ho

We n’de ya ho

Win de yah

Win de yah ho ho ho ho

He ya ho he ya ho

Ya ya ya

This was my absolute favorite song to share with students as they prepared to head home after their experience at Mountain School. We n’de ya ho is a traditional Cherokee song used to greet the morning, a song about new beginnings. So why, you ask, would I choose to sing about commencement with Mountain School students as they wrap up their time in the North Cascades?

For me, the three-day Mountain School experience is not resigned to this one isolated event. Instead, it is the beginning of something bigger, the start of a new phase in life. I hope that, with this experience, many of our students can now see the world with fresh eyes, with a fresh start, one overflowing with hope and opportunity.

It is this song that has been running through my head all day. I stare out a plate glass window on an east-bound Greyhound bus heading from Seattle, Washington to Louisville, Kentucky, humming Win-de-ya-ho.

I just finished up my two-year graduate program at Western Washington University with a year-long residency at the North Cascades Institute and spent the past few days tearfully saying goodbye to this place that has become my home and the people who have become my family. Like the song says, while I close one chapter of my life and am departing from the North Cascades, I am embarking on a new adventure full of amazing people that I have yet to meet and amazing adventures that are sure to be had. Within a week, I will be starting a job as program coordinator for a non-profit in Ithaca, New York.

But before I can even consider accepting my new beginning and this next season of my life, I need time, time to say goodbye, to come to terms with what I am leaving behind in order to truly embrace the road ahead. And what better way to give myself ample time and plenty of opportunities to process and reflect than to undertake a 60-plus hour Greyhound bus ride across the country?

So here I find myself, preparing for the physical and mental journey ahead of me with a poster of the North Cascades mountain range in one hand and a bag full of peanut butter sandwiches in the other. My trip begins with my eyes glued to the window. I watch as the tireless rain permeates the entire city. I watch as Seattle disappears from view. I watch as my home is slowly enveloped by rain, fog and a pair of misty eyes. All I can do is sit here, staring out the Greyhound bus window, and watch as everything I love grows farther and farther away.

snow 2 greyhound Kim HallGreyhound-ing through the weather: The wet landscape through teary eyes and a bus window. Photo by author.

March 28th, 2014

6:24 pm

Northern Idaho

We just whizzed past Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho. It’s amazing how many beautiful spots I have already seen along the road thus far. I am beginning to realize that I may have eyes for more than my North Cascades abode. As we round each bend along Interstate 90, white patches of snow grow steadily from my window frame and now the trees are blanketed in winter’s persistence. I feel myself slowly letting go of my sadness in departing from the Pacific Northwest with each southeastern rotation of the tire. The cloud that has been hanging over my head over the past week is beginning to break up, although the rain continues to pitter-patter down my window, lulling me to sleep…


March 29th, 2014

4:05 pm

Near Oacoma, South Dakota

The mountains have long since disappeared from the bus’ rear-view mirror. Wyoming and Montana were breathtaking. We climbed up and over mountain ranges as I stared out as the snow, and rain, and occasional ray of sun light attempted to penetrate my bus window.

All morning, my heavy eyelids and the rocking of the bus have coaxed me to sleep more times than I can count. Every half hour or so, I awake to picturesque views of mountains, lakes and valleys. “I could live here,” I murmur as I drift off to sleep once again.

Montana greyhound kim hallMontana! Photo by author.

The majority of last night was spent tossing and turning in my seat as the bus rolled onward through Montana. A few random travelers behind me, who met on the bus in Idaho, fell madly in love across eastern Montana. Thus, I had the privilege of spending most of the night conducting an anthropological study of the social behavior of the pair of bus-riding human specimens.

Cupid coaxed them to drink heavily despite the constant reminder of Greyhound rules over the bus’ loudspeaker. I soon realized that I may have been a little too close to the lovebirds to safely conduct my observational study. By Butte, Montana, the extremely intoxicated female had attempted to give me a foot massage four times, and halfway to Billings, I awoke to her shadowy figure hunched over me. “Dude. Do you need something?” I barked, the words slurring out of my half-awake mouth. Apparently, the combination of new love and half of a bottle of whiskey left her speechless, and her partner had to pull her back to her seat. My study ended abruptly as I grabbed my pillow and resolved to find another spot to rest my head for a few hours, away from the star-crossed lovers.

Albeit groggy, I am on my 36th hour on the road and the flatness of South Dakota is beginning to make me truly feel the length of this trip. Why did I want to do this again? I sink further down into my seat. Yet, even as I say that, I know, without a doubt, I am doing the right thing. While exhausted, undoubtedly pungent and still missing my mountain home, I feel that this adventure has already been quite therapeutic for me. I am beginning to accept my new lot in life and am almost feeling a twinge of excitement for my new job in upstate New York and my life down the road. Who knows what lies ahead for me on the rest of this trip? I am sure plenty of adventures are yet to be had as we whiz through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana…


March 30th, 2014


Just outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

It is now hour 51 of my journey, and I can officially say that I have mastered the art of riding the Greyhound. So far, I have transferred onto six different buses across seven states, and I have found that the single most important piece of advice to give fellow riders is to claim your territory. If you know me at all, you must be aware that I am not one to push my way to the front of the line. I am more often found in the back, content with a slow and steady pace. But Greyhound Kim has learned that bus life is a dog eat dog world (pardon the pun). In order to ensure your comfort and ability to catch a few winks of sleep, you must acquire a pair of seats. The way to do so is to think strategically and become a little ruthless.

The first step is to directly get in line to load the bus immediately after disembarking. It may be tempting to visit the luxurious bathrooms at the bus station where water flows freely and the toilet bowl does not slosh around beneath you, but this would be a rookie mistake. Doing so will cost you your spot in line, a comfortable seat and often a full night’s sleep. Instead, you must remain steadfast, standing your ground and place in line.

Once you are on the bus, you must scramble to find an open two-seater and set-up your area. This requires strewing your stuff all around the seat, like you have been living in that spot for about four months. I found that the crazier your area looks, the more likely you are to get to keep it to yourself. Fortunately for me, I brought along a wooden stick that I acquired during my time in Senegal, West Africa. I simply place the stick over the seat where it slightly pokes out into the aisle, deterring passerbys from attempting to sit next to the crazy stick lady.

The final and most crucial step is to play dead. As soon as you have successfully built your nest, you must sit in the seat closest to the aisle and lay across all of your stuff into the other seat. At this stage, you must remain motionless and appear fast asleep, dead or somewhere in between. Eyes must be closed at all times as any eye contact between other passengers is seen as invitation for a seat partner. Do not move until the bus is on the road once again.

isle greyhound kim hallBeware the crazy stick lady. Consecutive hours on the Greyhound bus may lead to rapid behavioral adaptations in mammals. Photo by author.

Now, these strategies may seem a little heartless, desperate and one move shy of “seat’s taken”, but this has literally been the key to maintaining my sanity on the road. And it works as a sort of self-selecting system, separating the men from the boys. It is the newbies on the bus who have yet to learn the tricks of the trade that end up with seat partners. They sit wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, smiling at passengers as they board the bus, quickly losing their open seat. I know, for I used to be one of them, but was hardened to the Greyhound way of life somewhere outside of Spokane. It is the veterans who have been on route for days, are desperate for space and sleep, and will go to great lengths to claim their spot. Thus, bus homeostasis is found and the natural order of the Greyhound hierarchy reigns supreme.


March 30th, 2014


So close to Louisville, Kentucky

I am more than ready to be off this bus. My back hurts. I smell like a giant foot. My hair is greasy to the point of embarrassment. My ankles are swollen. And I am steadily beginning to lose my mind.

But fortunately for my sanity and hygiene, I am almost home! Twenty more minutes, and I will be off this bus where my momma will scoop me up in a puddle and sweep me away in her personal vehicle equipped with ample leg room. We will head off into the sunset together and, in less than an hour, I will be in my hometown with a bowl of chili in my hands, watching the 2nd half of the UK vs. Michigan Elite Eight game. GO CATS!

As ready as I am to be home, I am so thankful to have had this time with nowhere to go and nothing to do, except to process these past two years.

I now feel ready to close this chapter in my life and say goodbye. Goodbye to North Cascades that I was just beginning to explore, to the Learning Center that always made me instantly feel at home, and most of all, to the people that have made the past two years so important, to the people who accepted me with all of my quirks and flaws, to the people who are now my family. As I prepare to disembark, I am ready to leave my tears and pangs of sadness behind on this Greyhound bus, but I will carry the memories of the Pacific Northwest in my heart forever.

Thank you to everyone who made it so incredibly hard to leave that I was forced to spend three days on a Greyhound bus to find a way to finally say goodbye.

First morning greyhound Kim HallLooking east into the sunrise from another Greyhound morning. What happens to time when one is traveling cross-country for three continuous days? Photo by author.


Leading photo: We ain’t in the Pacific Northwest no more….A window shot of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by author.

Kimberly Hall recently graduated from North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is ready to rock “We n’de ya ho” with a new flock of little students in the Northeast.

Ed. note: Kudos to Kim for taking the time to see an entire stretch of our nation, getting to know her neighbors (despite playing dead at times) and choosing the less comfortable but far more ecologically intelligent travel option. We will miss you a ton here at the Environmental Learning Center, but are excited for your next phase in life!





Special Event: Poet Holly J. Hughes Reading, Bellingham 4/12

April 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Sailing by Ravens
A reading by Holly J. Hughes
April 12, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham

This Saturday evening, former Alaskan salmon gillnetter, mariner, editor and naturalist Holly J. Hughes shares her latest book of poetry, Sailing by Ravens (University of Alaska Press, 2014) as part of Village Books and North Cascades Institute’s Nature of Writing Series.

Using a variety of poetic forms, Hughes deftly explores how we find our way, at sea, in love and in life. Hughes draws from more than 30 seasons working at sea, offering a lyrical view of the history of navigation, plumbing its metaphorical richness. From the four points of the compass, Hughes navigates “the wavering, certain path” of a woman’s heart, learning to trust a deeper knowledge. This collection offers wisdom culled from direct experience and careful attention, taking us with her in her quest to chart her own course. “How will she learn to ride the swell, let the earth curve her?” This poet’s questions open us to possibilities as vast as the ocean.

Sailing by Ravens is a deeply moving portrait of a sailor and her ocean.  It’s a look back at love and loss and the Alaskan fishing life. It’s a history of sailing and navigation, a study of a dissolving marriage, a gorgeous map of the body and desire. It’s an impressive book of forms and an ingeniously crafted whole. Holly Hughes takes on the familiar metaphor of the ocean, then makes it necessary and new. I’m awestruck.
–Kathleen Flenniken, Washington State Poet Laureate, author of Plume and Famous

Hughes is a recipient of a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship and residencies at Hedgebrook, Centrum and the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including Dancing With Joy: 99 Poems (Random House), The Poet’s Guide to Birds (Anhinga Press), Working the Woods, Working the Sea (Empty Bowl Press), and America Zen: A Gathering of Poets (Bottom Dog Press).

She teaches writing at Edmonds Community College, where she directs the Convergence Writers Series and received the Excellence in Education Award in 2012.  She has also spent over thirty summers working on the water in Alaska in a variety of roles, including commercial fishing for salmon, skippering a 65-foot schooner, and more recently, working as a naturalist on ships.

Some samples from Sailing by Ravens:

Steering by Monarchs 


She forgot the instruments and steered instead

by butterflies knowing nothing human could be that sure.  

~Alison Hawthorne Deming, The Monarchs


Fog thick enough to lick, horizon a blanket,

pearl gleam of sun.  Sure, the sea trips

the mind, conjures creatures but what’s

this dusty heartbeat of wing?

First one.  Then another.  And another.

How to account for this river of wings

flowing south through generations?

She watches the monarchs drift—

cloud of orange and black—

Western mind says discount,

but knows better than to dismiss.

She abandons the instruments,

tracks by dusty heartbeat,

joins the wavering, certain path.

Sailing by Ravens


They have no chart, no sailing directions.

Instead three ravens to find Iceland.

 ~ Islendingabok 


Planks creak, sails shudder in unseen wind.  At the tiller,

Floki faces astern, watches the Faroes diminish


to flat line of horizon.  They ride a barrel stave of latitude,

sight each night with the husonatra the Guiding Star.


On the first day out of sight of the Faroes, Floki released a raven. 

Lifts dark wings into an empty sky, an exclamation point,


wings off, shadows another ship’s wake home.

On the second day another raven is released.  Circles, a question,


lights upon the ship’s mast, an answer.  On the third day,

another raven climbed to a great height, flew off purposefully to the west.


A raven can see land ninety miles away  

Floki could see the raven to a height of 5,000 feet.


What next?  Black V of wings diminishing

to a period, winging toward certainty


in bone, feather.  Floki leans against the tiller,

traces faint calligraphy across the blank slate of sky.

 sailingravensHolly J. Hughes’ most recent book of poetry, from which she’ll be reading this Saturday, April 12 at Village Books. The cover is from a painting by Evon Zerbetz.


Leading photo: Holly Hughes, happy. Photo by Isolde Pierce.
Oso Landslide

Oso Landslide Disaster: condolences, and how to help

April 4th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

On Saturday, March 22, 2014, at 10:37 a.m., a major mudslide occurred 4 miles east of Oso, Washington, in the foothills of the North Cascades. A portion of an unstable hillside collapsed, sending mud and debris across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and onto the adjacent river valley, covering an area of approximately 1 square mile. As of April 2, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office has confirmed that 30 people have died, 27 of whom have been identified, and 15 people remain missing or unaccounted for as a result of the landslide. Excluding landslides caused by volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or dam collapses, this is the deadliest single landslide event in United States history.

Print by Linda McPherson

Print by Linda McPherson

North Cascades Institute sends our deepest condolences to everyone who has been effected by this disaster, including the family of Linda McPherson, retired branch manager of the Darrington Library, longtime Darrington School Board member and a frequent student of North Cascades Institute’s art classes with Molly Hashimoto. Here’s a brief remembrance of Linda from Molly: Here is a remembrance of this amazing woman in the Everett Herald

Ways to give directly to the families effected by the slide:

  • In person at any branch of Coastal Community Bank
  • Online at
  • By check mailed to Coastal Community Bank, P.O. Box 90, Darrington, WA 98241 (North Counties Family Services Relief fund acct).
  • By online banking as a deposit to Coastal Community Bank REF account ending in 2246; or to North Counties Family Services Relief Fund account ending in 3038.


Ways to give to organizations that are supporting the local community and families:

  • Darrington Family Support and Resource Center:  PO Box 2629 Darrington WA 98241 (Providing support for families in need from gas money to clothing to assistance finding housing, etc.)
  • Darrington Community Center, PO Box 263 Darrington, WA 98241 (Feeding the volunteers and providing  funeral dinners.)
  • KING 5 is partnering with Red Cross to support the community. Donations can be given to Northwest Response: Landslide Relief at any U.S. Bank Branch or online at


If you know of other ways in which our community can support local relief efforts, please leave ideas and links in the comments.


Elk Xing

April 3rd, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

If you drive on State Route 20 between Sedro-Woolley and Concrete, you can participate in citizen science without even leaving your car.

Researchers at Western Washington University are studying elk crossings along this stretch of two-lane road, and they need your help. Their interest was prompted by the high incidence of collisions between vehicles and the 1,000-pound ungulates. Over 50 elk were reported killed by traffic in this zone in 2012, though it’s only a 20-mile stretch of highway. There were likely more fatalities that went undocumented. A year later, in 2013, reported elk roadkills fell to the low 30s. Since this was only the second year of concerted data collection for scientific study, it is impossible for researchers to discern any pattern.

Yet. Now scientists want to know: Exactly where and when are elk crossing the highway, and where and when are they killed? That’s where commuters, visitors and day-trippers come in. The observations of motorists and residents are an important component of their data gathering, so much so that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed an “App” that makes it easy for people using the Internet or mobile devices to upload their observations. For those of us who hear “app” and get excited about pre-dinner small plates, here’s the simple breakdown: Step one: Download the App. Step 2: Choose your device to open the map. Step 3: Mark your elk sighting on the map, adding to the database and furthering the scientific understanding of elk behavior.

There is also a hotline and email address to report observations. Researchers remind drivers to be safe and not try to use the App while driving – photos and information can be uploaded later upon arriving at one’s destination.

elk haagCan you see the elk? The typical habitat of the lower Skagit Valley, east of Interstate 5, where the North Cascades elk herd tends to hang out, to the chagrin of some and the joy of others. Photo by Jessica Haag.

Other methods being used to track elk movements include using GPS collars and monitoring specific elk trails where they cross the asphalt. The Washington Department of Transportation is installing new elk crossing signs and additional mile markers to make it easier for motorists to identify and report exactly where they see elk cross the highway.

According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the North Cascade elk herd is the smallest of ten herds currently residing throughout the state. The herd was reintroduced in 1946 and 1948 from eastern and western Washington populations. Their numbers reached a peak of around 1,700 animals in 1984, took a nose dive in the late 1990s with only about 300 individuals, then ramped back up to a herd of 1,200 to 1,400 that we see today throughout Skagit and Whatcom counties. This population roller coaster can be attributed to changes in local timber harvest and rates of both legal and illegal elk hunting.

Habitat changes caused by increased timber harvest should have been favorable for elk population growth because young stands of saplings that replace the larger trees and thicker forest provide the open spaces and new growth that elk prefer for forage. Yet increased human access and visibility may have resulted in the mortality in the late 1990s of this elk population. Christopher Danilson, a WDFW biologist for Whatcom and Skagit counties who has been working with the Skagit elk population for over a decade, wrote in an email to Chattermarks that another issue at that time was that the elk were causing significant agricultural damage and WDFW was permitting high levels of elk harvest in these areas. Danilson attributed the population rebound over the past several years to restricted elk hunting, forest road closures and the augmentation of elk from Mount St. Helens in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

But not everyone thinks this robust population is a good thing. In fact, the North Cascades elk herd is rather controversial, so much so that WDFW hired a “wildlife conflict specialist” to mediate between different stakeholders. There are the hunters, the farmers, the conservationists, the tribal subsistence hunters, the motorists and the transportation officials, all with various perspectives, concerns and generally competing interests. This controversy is not new news. In 2002 WDFW released a management plan with ten objectives for managing the herd and solving conflicts, which included goals that some might consider mutually exclusive, such as “minimize elk damage to private property” and “preserve and enhance critical elk use areas”.

Over a decade later, the elk issue remains a tricky one to negotiate, and still unresolved. In June 2013, WDFW moderated a meeting in Sedro-Woolley to gather community input to inform their revision of the elk management plan and discuss the formation of a North Cascades Elk Management Group. Last October, Senator Kirk Pearson (R), Natural Resources and Parks Committee chairman, led a meeting in Mount Vernon attended by 120 people. Thirty-four testimonies were given. This was in the wake of gunners contracted from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service who attempted to cull an elk herd near Sedro-Woolley that had been damaging fences and trampling hay and corn, according to an online article from Northwest Sportsman.

Danilson wrote that these meetings serve to inform what WDFW will outline for the next steps and the longer-term vision for the local elk herd: ”We are in the process of updating that herd plan which WDFW hopes to adopt by the end of this year. This process has involved considerable public input through a forum referred to as the North Cascades Elk Management Work Group, which has met regularly since last August.”

Given the diversity of concerned parties, a collaborative effort is challenging but vital. Public safety is a huge part of this complex puzzle, and that’s where the work of the researchers at Western becomes so relevant to this ongoing issue. Nathan Rice, an Environmental Studies graduate student spearheading the project, started monitoring elk crossings last summer. His research is funded by the Stillaguamish and Tulalip tribes. A number of other tribes and agencies are also involved, including the Upper Skagit tribe, the WDFW, the Washington Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol and the Skagit County Sheriff. Additionally, Rice stressed the importance of motorist and resident participation. “This local knowledge is a great resource,” he said.

To download the App so that you can participate in this study, go to here.

elk 2 haag An elk watering hole near Sedro-Woolley. Photo by Jessica Haag.
Leading photo: Several elk crossing signs, many equipped with flashing amber-colored lights, are common along the stretch of Highway 20 between Sedro-Woolley and Concrete. Photo by author.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Writing this post couldn’t help but prompt the question, “Why did the elk cross the road?”. Talk amongst yourselves.



books Stephanie Burgart

Confessions of a Bibliophile

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

It has been almost two years now since I graduated with my Masters in Education from Western Washington University (WWU) and North Cascades Institute’s unique graduate program. My memories are filled with the laughter of Mountain School students, Professor John Miles’ New “Hampsha” accent and endless views of Diablo Lake. While I miss the sunshine, quiet and darkness up there in the mountains, there are days where I also long for the library, research and studying. It may be shocking to some, but it’s true: we did actually do traditional learning and coursework during the residency. With images of the graduate students gallivanting around snowy peaks, dense forests and playing in the sunshine, it is easy for parents and friends to wonder if we were actually trying to “learn anything” in the program. Of course, it’s a very big “yes”.

We were all there to learn. Sure, Dr. Miles did an excellent job of getting us out into the world we preach about, but there were also the necessary times of studying inside. You can’t read heaps of homework out in the rain, at least not everyday. Deer Creek Shelter, for example, is a wonderful place for respite, but I doubt a LAN cord to connect to the servers will reach that far (though I’ve no doubt Nick Mikula, one of my fellow graduates, tried it at least once). Large portions of curriculum writing, nonprofit work and research for various projects all happen in front of the screen or book, but one of the best parts was the individuality of all this learning.

The amount and types of research varied from student to student. Taken out of context, some of the reading we do as experiential environmental educators could come across as crazy. For me, I’m pretty sure the WWU library has me flagged, and with the recent National Security Agency and “Big Brother” news going on, I wouldn’t blame them. I’m into some pretty amazing stuff.

My reading list started in the summer of 2010 with books about gun rights. For our first presentation we were able to pick a current event topic that interested us, and I chose the rider attached to the Credit Card Holder’s Bill of Rights. This rider made it legal for a citizen of the United States to carry a loaded weapon within National Park and Wildlife Refuge areas so long as they abide by the laws of the state in which the park is located. It is still illegal to fire the weapon, but it no longer needs to be dismantled and stored in the trunk. Coming fresh from South Carolina, this was fascinating to me because I think hunters and other naturalists who don’t fit into the stereotypical “tree hugger” category need to be taken seriously. Wanting to carry a gun used for hunting or personal protection does not mean a person cares less about the environment than one who eats vegan and likes to slack line. It may be more about the mental comfort of the holder to carry a gun within the parks, but I argued that person is coming to enjoy nature as well, and shouldn’t be made to feel inferior by other conservationists. Putting political and cultural differences aside, a love for nature and the understanding of the importance of stewardship is the ultimate common ground, locked and loaded or not.

gun Stephanie BurgartThe author getting ready to go practice at a gun range in South Carolina, just for fun. Librarians should not be alerted! Photo by Peyton Munafo.

I’m sure you, dear reader, can imagine the look on some of my peers’ faces when I presented. “Whoa! Crazy Southerner alert!” which is exactly why I chose the topic.

Fast-forward to our capstones in 2012, which was our final class and culminating project. My book list now took on a new shape. There were articles, websites and books regarding death, decomposition and soil formation. One book was about the different ways epitaphs have changed over the years. Another detailed the biological processes that happen to flesh upon death. Yet another examined the flora and fauna of the soil and what they like to eat. Taken out of context, I’m sure the librarians thought I’d murdered someone and was trying to cover my tracks. Not so! It’s all just in a day’s work of an environmental educator.

You know what? I enjoyed every minute of it. The endless hours of reading were my favorite. Yes, I said it. I love reading and writing. No one can succeed fully in a graduate program without at least some form of enjoyment in these complementary tasks. Volumes of books, papers, articles, bibliographies and more all contribute to a rich, diverse graduate experience. Of course the more actively “fun” parts involved going outside and exploring. But sometimes, in the quiet of the work room, it felt just as fun.

tulips Stephanie BurgartThe plant guide/bible of graduate studies, Pojar and MacKinnon’s Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, as pictured in the lovely graduate apartments at the Environmental Learning Center. Photo by author.
Leading photo: A sampling of books, and bones, from Burgart’s shelf. Photo by author.


Stephanie Burgart is an active reader and traveler. She and her husband currently live in Seattle with their two cats and 23 year old turtle.



C12 graduates haag

A Generosity of Spirit: Cohort 12 Graduates!

March 25th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The twelfth cohort of graduate students earned their Masters in Education degrees through North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University this week. Dr. John Miles, Executive Director Saul Weisberg, Graduate Coordinator Joshua Porter and Program Manager Katie Roloson recalled anecdotes and unique qualities of each of the eight grads, while about 100 friends and family watched in support. “They opened my eyes to gas station junk food,” Roloson laughed, invoking the power of sour gummy worms and experiential education.

Snickers bars and red licorice vines were hardly Cohort 12’s only sweet contribution to the Environmental Learning Center community. As the sky changed from gray to golden to grey again, and everyone sat in the Dining Hall looking west toward Diablo Lake and the future, the speakers described what Porter called “the generosity of spirit” that characterized this small group. Roloson noted they were experts at supporting each other, collaborating and holding council, saying, “They were the first cohort where every decision seemed like a group decision.”

Dr. John Miles, the students’ primary professor throughout both their residency and three quarters at WWU, told several stories from their adventures together over the past seven quarters. The audience was transported to Yellow Aster Butte, where he set up a belay with parachute cord down a steep subalpine slope, and to his and his wife, Susan’s, beautiful Bellingham garden, where they would hold summertime classes. One Kentuckian student, Kim Hall, coming from the Peace Corps in Senegal, would have to wrap herself in a sleeping bag to armor herself against western Washington’s July temperatures.

kim graduating haagKim Hall, sans sleeping bag. Photo by Jessica Haag.
sahara graduating haagSahara Suval laughs with Program Manager Katie Roloson behind a Douglas fir-stump podium. Photo by Jessica Haag.

Dr. Miles called the Environmental Learning Center, and the graduates in particular, “a point of light, shining in the North Cascades.” He said he admired them for their courage in taking on what one scholar dubbed “the world macro problem”, and for their refusal to submit to despondency. “Thank you for the opportunity to learn from you and be inspired by you,” he said.

Saul Weisberg, who started the North Cascades Institute almost 30 years ago and, with Miles, initiated the graduate program in 2003, distinguished Cohort 12 for their willingness to continually challenge the habits of their discipline. “More than any other cohort,” he said, “you’ve worked on building bridges outside the bubble of environmental education.” For example, graduate Cait McHugh helped start the Concrete Summer Learning Adventure with the Concrete School District, United General Hospital and the National Parks Service. Several students’ culminating research involved how to reach out and make connections with diverse communities who have values that are largely at odds with the prevailing environmentalist worldview.

Weisberg read a poem, “The Spirit of the Practice” by Robert Aitken, from the book Zen Master Raven (2002):

The Spirit of the Practice 

Relaxing with the others after zazen one evening, Owl asked,

“What is the spirit of the practice?”

Raven said, “Inquiry.”

Owl cocked his head and asked.

“What do I inquire about?”

Raven said, “Good start.”

Lindsay graduating

Lindsay Walker beams big. Photo by Jessica Haag.


liza with degree haag
Liza Dadiomov shows off a pile of degrees and certificates. Photo by Jessica Haag.


hillary and John haagHillary Schwirtlich and Dr. John Miles share a big hug. Photo by Jessica Haag.

For the two days before Thursday’s celebratory and peaceful ceremony, the graduates’ families trickled in to the Environmental Learning Center from all across the country, just in time to witness the first springtime cracking of Ribes leaf buds and fat, rusty-breasted robins brightening the campus forest. These days were filled with watching the “Capstones”, the exploration and presentation of “a topic that has intrigued [the students] throughout their graduate school experience, connecting their experiences within environmental education, natural history, sense of place and the future of education” (quoted from All of the capstones were a balanced combination of lecture and discussion, projected visuals, and interactive audience participation. All showcased the diverse directions to which a degree in environmental education can lead. And like any good scientific or artistic endeavor, in the spirit of a raven-inspired inquiry, all encouraged more questions than definitive answers.

A list of Cohort 12 Capstone Presentations, in order of appearance:


“Motley Crews and Odd Couples: Unconventional Partnerships in Environmental Education” by Cait McHugh


“Greening the Bluegrass: What International Development Can Teach Us About Environmental Education in the South” by Kim Hall


“Learning to Listen: Using Value-Based Messaging to Reframe Environmentalism” by Sahara Suval


“A Sound Sense of Place: Fining Home in the Salish Sea” by Andrea Reiter


“Down to Earth: The Environmental Education of a Recovering Space Cadet” by Lindsay Walker


“Is Wildness the Preservation of the World?” by Hillary Schwirtlich


“Peeling the Educational Onion: The Environment is in Here Somewhere” by Liza Dadiomov


“In the Shadow of Sourdough: Stories of Place and Reflection” by Ryan Weisberg

The capstones reflected the interdisciplinary nature of their education. Through this graduate program, students earn a Masters in Education, as well as a Certificate in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration and a Northwest Naturalist Certification. A traditional cap ‘n’ gown ceremony was held at WWU on Saturday.

more C12 graduating haag

Cohort 12, triumphant! The audience (the other half are not pictured) applauds them, looking forward to supporting them further in making their mark within the world. (This graduation was brought to you by….Organic Tea!) Photo by Jessica Haag.

So what’s next? Saul Weisberg assured all the parents in the audience that jobs, and good ones at that, indeed exist in the environmental education field. The graduates will be putting their new leadership and teaching skills to work everywhere from India to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to the depths of the Salish Sea. Some are already working at local non-profit organizations, including the American Alpine Institute and the Skagit Conservation District, while others are moving to various corners of the country to pursue their educational passions.

Congratulations C12! Go do what you love, with the mountains and the ravens cheering you on.

C12 WWU graduation Gabby Suval

Cohort 12 graduates from Western Washington University, showing off their stylish footwear and admiration for beloved professor Dr. John Miles. Photo by Gabby Suval.


Leading photo: Cohort 12, smiles of success. From L to R: Kim Hall, Sahara Suval, Hillary Schwirtlich, Liza Dadiomov, Cait McHugh, Ryan Weisberg, Andrea Reiter, Lindsay Walker. Photo by Jessica Haag.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She sends out a hearty thank you to C12 for paving the way and looks forward to being in their shoes in one short year, writing a bevy of blog posts in the meantime.




Gorging the Senses on Gorge Lake

March 21st, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Though I moved to the Environmental Learning Center last August, I had visited many times before during my first summer while living in Bellingham as a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Each time I drove by Gorge Lake, I marveled at the huge sand banks with gigantic tree trunks, remnants from before the dam was constructed and the gorge was flooded. One of three manmade reservoirs on the Skagit River, Gorge Lake is part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Built in 1921, it makes up one third of a three-part system that helps power the city of Seattle. The two other parts of that system are Diablo and Ross Dams, with their consequent lakes.

During the warmer summer and fall seasons, the utility company, Seattle City Light, keeps the Gorge Lake water level relatively low, making the lake bed look like a vast expanse on a foreign planet. Not long after I moved up to the Environmental Learning Center in September, Seattle City Light raised the water level in Gorge Lake. The Skagit River in winter, without the addition of glacial flour scoured from the mountains above, is a dark emerald green that begs for exploration.

tylerdrygorgelake.HaleGraduate student Tyler Chisholm explored the cracked surface of the de-watered Gorge Lake last fall, looking for signs of a moose who some encountered visiting the town of Diablo. Photo by author.

I recently had the opportunity to canoe the lake with some friends, and though it was a drizzly day, the company was warm and light. We started in the town of Diablo, close to the bottom of the Diablo Dam. Two in our company, Dylan and Max, were advanced paddlers, which made for an easy learning experience for the rest of us who all came with varying degrees of canoeing know-how. Starting close to the dam was a wonderful idea as it gave us a new perspective of the small, company town as we floated by. The Diablo Power House, built into the rock wall, seemed so much more impressive on water than it did on land.

As we floated down lake, we came to a small section of white water where Stettatle Creek meets with the mighty Skagit. My canoe partner, Max, gave me a few quick pointers before we entered the waves and we floated down easily without much duress, bumping and tossing as the flow pushed us here and there. As we shot out the other end, Max and I let out a WHOOP! It was a short bit of rapids, enough to keep us on our toes and to be a ton of fun. We watched as Dylan, Annabel and Kristi expertly navigated the waves before paddling on toward where Highway 20 crosses the lake. On the other side of the massive bridge, we slowed down and meandered through stumps and sandbars that momentarily sit above the water line. We could see far through the deep green water, with visibility at ten or so feet. The sand bars above and below the water line had deep cracks in them, presumably due to the shifting level of the lake. The remainders of the stumps that we could see were old, large and teeming with new life. It is remarkable how quickly nature reclaims that which has been disturbed.

powerhouse.KristiKlinestekerGraduate student Samantha Hale and Seasonal Naturalist Max Thomas paddle past the Diablo Power House. Despite its grey, concrete exterior, the inside is quite fancy, complete with marble and granite flooring, an art deco water fountain, and a tiled goldfish pool. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.
submergedtree.KristiKlinestekerStumps of old trees poke through the green waters of Gorge Lake, like 100-year-old ghosts lending paddlers an idea of what the landscape looked like before the dam and reservoir were constructed. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

As we continued on our journey, we stopped here and there to explore the many waterfalls that feed into the lake. By this point, the drizzle had turned to full-blown rain, swelling the cascades around us, giving an even better idea at the amount of water coming off the land. No wonder they call this place the North Cascades. To make the occasion all the more special, it was Kristi’s birthday weekend, so we took our time meandering around some lakeside caves and waterfalls of all sizes and shapes. We continued on much farther than we had originally planned, finally coming to rest at the point where the Gorge Falls meets its namesake lake. The falls are impressive from the roadside, and even more so from the base. Climb as we did, it was too damp to get higher for a full view of the falls. However, there were many waterfalls closer to the lake that were equally as impressive and easier to access.

canoeinggorgelake.KristiKlinestekerChasing waterfalls: Thomas and Hale canoe past one cascade after another, meandering toward Gorge Dam up ahead. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

After a bit of playing in the snow and taking a plethora of pictures and “selfies”, we were on the water again. Before heading up lake we stopped to touch the massive 300 foot dam on our way back. I can now say I have seen and touched all three dams on the Skagit. On our return journey we hugged close to the opposite shore, investigating an equal number of waterfalls as well as avalanches and rock slides. Rain or shine, the day was exquisite, and I can’t wait to return to the Gorge Falls on a sunnier day. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone, but would suggest going when the water level is higher as it makes for a more relaxed journey.

Enjoy your weekends and get out exploring, my friends!


We made it to the Gorge Falls!  From L to R: Kristi & Dylan Klinesteker, Samantha Hale, Annabel Connelly, and Max Thomas. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.
Leading photo: The trip began in the shadow of Diablo Dam. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.


Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She has a background in marine mammal research and is ever in search, via canoe, of Diablo Lake’s elusive porca.



Nearing completion

March 17th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The M.Ed program through Western Washington University and North Cascades Institute has several different parts to it. Though it evolves and changes every year, the general format for the past eight years has been to spend part of the summer in the Bellingham area tromping around the mountains and Puget Sound, living in North Cascades National Park at the Environmental Learning Center for a full year, then move back to Bellingham and take classes at Western for the final two quarters.

Right now I’m ending my final quarter of the graduate program. And I’ve finally gotten an idea of what a traditional graduate program looks like.

Being a Back-in-Bellingham Grad Student

We have five required classes these last two quarters, plus an elective. In the fall we took courses about the psychology behind practicing conservation and a conservation mindset, reviewing and reflecting on the foundations of environmental education, and environmental discourse. Winter quarter we took a class on assessment and evaluation, and one to help us prepare for our capstones—our big final presentations that take place in the week before graduation. For my elective, I’m doing an independent study that complements my capstone project.

Moving back to Bellingham has been a big change from going to school up at the Learning Center. Some of it has been challenging for me—not having mountains literally in my backyard, being around so many people, city noises and distractions. But there are also some really great things that I missed while I was in the mountains. I love being able to ride the bus and walk everywhere. I love the farmer’s market. And, even coming from a shy introvert like me, it’s nice to be able to meet new people and make new friends.

Most of our classes these final two quarters have folks other than just the cohort. It’s a nice reminder that there are other people out there with other experiences, who haven’t been living in a tiny bubble for a whole year.

Leaves2Andrea, Cait, Lindsay, and Liza playing with a pile of leaves on Western’s campus after class.

What’s Next?

Along with all the school stuff, most of us are also looking ahead to what comes after school. Re-entering the job market after spending nearly two years playing in the mountains and spending a lot of time just learning can be intimidating at times. When I’m able to calm my brain down a little, though, it’s also really exciting. I’m looking at job descriptions for education and program coordinator positions and realizing that I have all those skills. These are jobs I’ve looked at in the past and felt I wasn’t qualified for. It’s such a validating feeling to know there are so many possibilities. But with broadening possibilities comes the question, “Where do I start?”

Well, I like to start small and get my bearings before jumping to deep into something new. I’ll be hanging out in Bellingham for the spring and then moving to Boulder, Colorado for the summer. I’ll be teaching kindergarteners and fifth/sixth graders for a nonprofit at the base of the Rocky Mountains. A brand new ecosystem for me to sink my teeth into!

Leading photo: Cohort 12 goofing off at a fall potluck.

Ryan Weisberg is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Ryan grew up here in Washington, exploring the natural areas around Bellingham and in the Cascades. Passionate about writing since childhood, Ryan served as Chattermarks editor during their year-long residency at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Ryan continues to enjoy writing for the blog.



it's done!

Non-Profit Ninjas Slay the Behemoth

March 12th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

In the wintertime interim between teaching Mountain School in the fall and teaching Mountain School in the spring, graduate students in the North Cascades Institute Masters in Education program are skiing Mt. Baker’s slopes, exploring glassy blue glaciers, and visiting their old summertime haunts in Bellingham.

When, that is, they’re not hard at work on their non-profit project, something that tends to be, well, relatively rare.

The opportunity to design a non-profit organization is one that attracts several of the graduate students to this unique program. Earning this degree is not just about becoming a better naturalist, honing one’s teaching skills and developing intriguing curriculum. It is also a way to learn about designing a mission-driven business.

This winter, the eight members of graduate Cohort 13 created three non-profit models. Though these are a hypothetical practice, they can also be intended for the “real world” post-graduation. Several current non-profit organizations, such as Bellingham’s Wild Whatcom, started out as graduate student assignments; this year, Sarah Stephens created the Bellingham Adaptive Recreation Coalition with her sister, a graduate of Western. Though still “just” hypothetical, their project has been intended from the start to become a viable local non-profit business.

Half of the C13 Foundation: Saul Weisberg offers feedback to the graduate students while Dr. John Miles and Jason Ruvelson (Finance Director of North Cascades Institute) look on. Photo by Katherine Renz.

At the end of our two months learning, drafting, revising and compiling our projects, we present a grant proposal to the “C13 Foundation”. This body is a hypothetical foundation dedicated to “improving the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest” through focusing on education about the environment through interdisciplinary, community-based projects. It is composed of our teachers, Saul Weisberg, the Executive Director of North Cascade Institute; Dr. John Miles, professor and former Chair of the Department of Environmental Studies at Huxley College; and various members of the North Cascades Institute staff. Each non-profit group has their “final” — an hour-long interview to assess how well their grant proposal aligns with the Foundation’s mission.

Curious as to what our recent missions, visions and strategies are? The following is a brief description of our three projects. –Katherine Renz

The Bellingham Adaptive Recreation Coalition (BARC)

The Bellingham Adaptive Recreation Coalition works with outdoor leisure organizations and other interested community businesses to facilitate recreational opportunities for people with disabilities. BARC’s mission is to promote empowerment for individuals with disabilities, creating a sense of community for all. Our vision is an inclusive community that promotes access to outdoor recreation for all bodies and all abilities. 

BARC by Sarah Stephens

About 13% of the Whatcom County population identifies as having a disability. This computes to 25,815 people. According to a University of Washington study on disabilities in the state, 55% of people with disabilities reported that they are less likely to participate in community activities, including outdoor recreation, as compared to only 7% of people who do not have a disability. Many people with disabilities are often excluded from community interaction, stigmatized and need additional support. Individuals with chronic, or recently acquired disabilities often have to pave their own path to when it comes to involvement in recreational opportunities.

The Bellingham Adapted Recreation Coalition (BARC) aims to be a community resource that will partner with disability and health organizations, other recreational programs, universities and local businesses to create a truly integrated recreational community. Our flagship program, ‘Piping Sailors’, advocates for individuals and groups in their pursuit of recreation experiences by helping them adapt sailing to their ability level.

Adaptive sailing builds self-confidence that helps participants overcome other daily challenges. It promotes a more positive outlook on life, increases teamwork and leadership skills and benefits the physical condition of participant. Sailboats can be adapted for people with any level of ability. Through BARC’s partnership with Bellingham Parks and Recreation and the Community Boating Center, ‘Piping Sailors’ provides people a welcoming and inclusive environment to become community boaters. In addition, creating a welcoming and inclusive community means distilling the negative perspectives of people with disabilities amongst the general public. BARC’s DisAbility Awareness Campaign community outreach initiatives serve to reframe how people perceive what it means to be disabled. This program builds a supportive community that will further BARC’s mission and vision to provide recreation for every body. Designed by Sarah and Katie Stephens. Post written by Sarah Stephens.

BARKGraduate student Sarah Stephens with her sister, Western Washington University alumni and sailing teacher, Katie Stephens, are hoping to put their Bellingham Adaptive Recreation Coalition project into practice.

 nonprofit love

Interview day! Though all three groups compete for funding from the same hypothetical grant foundation, we support each other –  unhypothetically! Photo by Katherine Renz.

Adventure Bus

Learn! Serve! Play!

Adventure Bus strengthens communities by connecting teens with their peers and place through education, public service, and outdoor excursions.

High school incompletion is an epidemic. Last year, over 2,800 students dropped out of the Tacoma School District alone. Each of those students is now 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated in their lifetime. On average, they will each earn $10,000 less than their diploma-holding classmates every year.  Academic retention is not the only struggle this community faces. In the three high schools we are serving, 77% of students receive free or reduced meals.  Adventure Bus’s integrated approach of experiential learning, community involvement and outdoor recreation can help remedy these epidemics.

Our organization allows participants the opportunity to discover and develop leadership skills and works to help them understand their value and worth to the community as a whole.  We use mentorship to create a positive atmosphere for teens and provides a network of support from peers and mentors.  By offering hands-on, engaging opportunities for participants to learn about the world around them, we will show that education can come in many forms.  We also support our students by providing them with a balanced lunch and two healthy snacks every day to address issues of food insecurity.

Adventure Connections, our inaugural program is a ten week, 50-day course that provides teens with the opportunity to spend their summer learning, serving and playing throughout Pierce County. The Adventure Connections curriculum follows weekly themes that approach each topic from an educational, service-learning, and recreational perspective.  Learning activities focus on natural and ecological processes to promote deeper understanding of the local environment.  Our service projects focus on strengthening the Tacoma community by addressing issues of identified need, ecological restoration and neighborhood connectivity.Recreational activities help teens foster a sense of place exciting them about the natural world.  Connecting teens to their peers and place will motivate and empower participants to make Pierce County a better place, in turn building a supportive, inclusive community from the ground up. Designed by Kaci Darsow, Katie Komorowski, and Samantha Hale. Post written by Hale.

Adventure BusGraduate students Samantha Hale, Katie Komorowski and Kaci Darsow get ready to go adventure with some Tacoma teens. Photo by Debra Brodie.
Playlandia!The C13 Foundation reviews each non-profit’s grant and looks over their bound, final projects, which are composed of dozens of documents including case statements, strategic plans and board biographies. Photo by Katherine Renz.


Learn the way nature intended

Do you remember your favorite outdoor place to play when you were little? Maybe it was a secret fort, a vacant lot of tall grasses and red-winged blackbirds, or a simple suburban backyard transformed through a child’s eyes into a magical realm. Today, life is different for most modern children, and the problems they face are only increasing, including hours devoted to sitting behind a screen, rising obesity levels, and over-scheduling of structured activities and lessons. Stranger danger, ubiquitous liability concerns, and towns designed for cars, not people, all contribute to fewer opportunities for the free exploration of nature, and of themselves.

Playlandia!, a five acre nature playground located in the heart of Mount Vernon, WA, exists to alleviate these pressures. Our mission is to connect children, teens, and adults to the natural world and their community through providing a safe, imaginative playscape with opportunities for stewardship, experiential education, and youth leadership. In lieu of swing sets and plastic slides, Playlandia! has trees to climb, mud in which to squish, tools and tree branches with which to build forts, a small butterfly and food garden, and natural features such as winding pathways, a froggy pond, and boulders and logs to hide behind.

In addition to offering a “free play” membership, we have several programs, from Tierra for Toddlers and the high school-based EcoLeaders to our flagship After School Adventures for 3rd-5th graders. With trained naturalists on site and leading activities, children are encouraged to ask questions about the natural world if they choose, and/or they can participate in self-directed adventure and learn the way nature intended – through experience, exploration, and FUN! Get outside and play! Designed by Tyler Chisholm, Elissa Kobrin, Annabel Connelly, and Katherine Renz. Post written by Renz.

nonprofit adviceGraduate student and Adventure Bus Executive Director Kaci Darsow offers their anxious fellow grads some worthy advice pre-interview. Basically, look good and talk loud. Photo by Katherine Renz.
Leading photo: (from L to R): Professor John Miles, Saul Weisberg, Susan Morgan, Sam Hale, Katie Komorowski, Kaci Darsow, Sarah Stephens, Katie Stephens, Katherine Renz, Tyler Chisholm, Annabel Connelly. Not pictured is Elissa Kobrin. Big smiles signify a quarter-long project, bound and completed!