From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram


Bellingham Life: the Experiences of Cohort 16 in the City

March 15th, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

This post is a compilation of voices from graduate students in the 16th Cohort at the North Cascades Institute. In it they describe what the second year of the M.Ed Residency Program is like at the Western Washington University campus in Bellingham, WA. Next week they will present their capstone projects at the Environmental Learning Center, and then the week after, they graduate! Isn’t that exciting? With that said, we hope you enjoy the insights and musings about life in the city!

To start things off right, Kay Gallagher has a few words to share on behalf of Cohort 16:

“Last year we spent 13 months living and learning at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. We gained valuable experience teaching, coordinating, learning logistics, and risk management in a remote environment… and a whole lot about community living. In the summer we took to the trails of Sauk Mountain, parts of the Pacific Crest Trail, Stehekin, and the Okanogan National Forest, where we learned about natural history, geology, botany, and native peoples.


In the fall we taught Mountain School and began our work study positions. In the winter we transitioned to two classes, Nonprofit Administration and Curriculum Design. And finally, in the summer we all spread out to begin our Leadership Tracks positions and work with partner organizations.


Now, the cohort is wrapping up our time at Western, and have gained a lot of insight into this portion of the program through many courses. Courses included Program Evaluation and Assessment, Foundations of Pedagogical Theory, Social Justice in Education, and Professional Writing and Presentation.”


Who are you?

My name is Kay Gallagher.

Where are you now? 

» Continue reading Bellingham Life: the Experiences of Cohort 16 in the City

Weekly Photo Roundup: March 12 2018

March 11th, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Every weekend I will post photos collected from various North Cascades Institute graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

This week marks the beginning of the spring Mountain School season! Graduate students and other naturalist instructors paired up to teach fifth graders with Clear Lake Elementary and the Bellingham Family Partnership Program. Lucky for us, there were some glorious days of sunshine up at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, along with the typical rainy moments.

Below is the final photo from our first session of the week. Don’t you just love the energy of Mountain School media?

Graduate student Liz Grewal led a short lesson on compost during the opening ceremony of Mountain School. After the kids ate lunch, they walked to the front of the amphitheater to sort their leftovers into the landfill, compost, or recycling bins – an action related to our Foodshed Initiative.

Later in the day, the trail group Amy Sanchez and I led named themselves the Wild Wolverines. Every time we shouted “Wolverines, wolverines!” the kids would reply “Rawr, rawr!” and hold their hands up like claws. It was a cute way to regain our group’s energetic attention, and an avenue of community pride for the kiddos.

This week Tanner Johnson and other instructors utilized the Wild Ginger Library to read stories to the trail groups. It is definitely a cozy space for learning, and we’re all excited to incorporate it into our routine with the kids.

Fifth graders Alexis and Rose painted and drew pictures of a forest during a break inside from the cold rain. I was surprised by how much the children enjoyed our “naturalist art time.” The energy was very calm.

Caitlyn drew her best impression of a young Douglas fir outside the window. We looked through field guides for trees to identify its various features.

And Mikita drew a picture of the North Cascades mountain range, featuring a wild wolverine! Isn’t this great?

On the last day of Mountain School, Zoe Wadkins guided our combined trail groups in a closing ceremony along the shores of Diablo Lake. I always enjoy hearing kids describe how they will bring their Mountain School experience to back home to their communities.

Photo of Diablo and buds by Gina Roberti

During our rare free time, graduate students explored the landscape surrounding the Learning Center campus. Everywhere around us plants are beginning to bud, and some are even breaking buds!

Photo of Nate Trachte in a canoe by Marissa Bluestein

After some canoe training, a few students took a trip out onto Diablo, too. It is exciting to think about all of the recreational opportunities warmer, sunnier days will bring to our place upriver, as well as Mountain School. Fingers crossed there will be brighter days ahead as we gain an hour of daylight and inch closer to springtime!

Panoramic photo of Diablo by Marissa Bluestein

Click here to see previous Photo Roundups!

(Top photo) Graduate student Amy Sanchez poses with the Wild Wolverines with teacher Mrs. Walker

You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

March 6th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

This post is a guest contribution by Anders Rodin, a cartographer and participant in The Art of Drawing Maps class at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. For the weekend of February 23 – 26th, he learned more about map drawing with the talented artist Jocelyn Curry. You can view a gallery of past artful maps produced in Jocelyn’s class here.

“I sense that humans have an urge to map–and that this mapping instinct, like our opposable thumbs, is part of what makes us human.” – Katherine Harmon

I was driving East on the North Cascades Highway Friday morning through the snow, when I suddenly realized I was further up the road than I had ever been. A sense of excitement came over me. I was exploring, I was on new terrain, seeing things I had only ever seen on maps with my very own eyes. Winding up the road past the rushing Skagit River I finally came to the turnoff for the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center a few miles from the end of the road, and made my way slowly across the Diablo Dam.

Crossing the frozen Diablo Dam; photo by Anders Rodin

Several months before, I had seen a postcard in the Skagit Land Trust office from the North Cascades Institute with a list of the classes and workshops they were offering in the upcoming year. A friend leaned over my shoulder and said, “Look! A map class! You have to take it.” And so I signed up.

The Art of Drawing Maps was a chance for me to spend a weekend in the mountains, focus on creative work, and crank out some maps I had been thinking about making. It turned out to be so much more than I was expecting. Not only did I have the chance to work in a studio with a dozen other incredibly inspiring people, I also had the chance to meet several staff, enthusiastic Base Camp program participants, and resident graduate students on campus. I was happily surprised at the dining hall and the incredible food prepared by the amazing kitchen staff. And I briefly met Elvis, the residential Raven, who laughed at us once we became stranded at the Institute due to an avalanche four miles down the road. I think some of us were a little too adamant about tempting the avalanche as the snow piled up and the avalanche became a real possibility…did we forget to knock on wood?

Art supplies in Sundew; photo by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You Are Here : A Weekend of Maps at the North Cascades Institute

From Crinoids to Concrete: Sundew Collections Serves as a Window into the Geologic Past

February 28th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, we have an impressive natural history collection on display in our Sundew building. Named after a carnivorous plant that looks like a monster’s toothy mouth, Sundew serves as place for staff, students, and guests to explore the North Cascades Ecosystem through tangible specimens and displays. This year, graduate student Gina Roberti, is acting as the Natural History Collections Assistant for her Work Study position. Her job is to maintain the Learning Center’s Natural History Collection, and to create relevant displays and provide access to collections / trainings for the education team. So far, she has done a wonderful job promoting this valuable resource, and has brought her passion for rocks and geology to the position as well.

Now, in her own words, here is what Gina finds most exciting about the Sundew Collections:

Come explore the Sundew Collections at the Environmental Learning Center to catch a glimpse of life 330 million years ago! Our collections contain an impressive breadth of rock samples formed in a variety of environments representative of the geologic diversity of the North Cascades. This region hosts rocks that were once ancient seafloors, volcanic islands, swampy marshes and underground magma chambers. Here, they have been juxtaposed together, sliced apart, intruded by more magma, and translated hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles along faults in the Earth’s crust. Many of these rocks are also metamorphosed (or “cooked”) under extreme pressures and temperatures, providing evidence for changes in plate tectonic motions in this region in the past. The Sundew Geology Collection provides a window into understanding how this part of North America has changed over time.

Chilliwack Limestone Crinoid Fossils in Sundew Collections

My goal today is to highlight a heavy block of rust-colored rock known as limestone, pictured above. A closer look at this rock reveals tens of tiny screw-shaped features. These are the fossilized remains of ancient ocean organisms called crinoids! Crinoids are commonly called “sea-lilies,” though they are animals, not plants. The most commonly preserved part of a crinoid is its stem. See below a picture of how large crinoids can grow. This fossil along the San Juan River in southeastern Utah was measured approximately five feet long!

Graduate M.Ed. candidate Gina Roberti poses by a large crinoid stem outcropping in the Hermosa Formation limestones, accessible by white water rafting in the upper San Juan River canyon (formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument).

» Continue reading From Crinoids to Concrete: Sundew Collections Serves as a Window into the Geologic Past

Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

February 25th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland

February is the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – the transition from winter into spring, and then spring into summer.

This winter I am finding myself drawn to the lowland forests and deciduous banks of the Skagit River. My time upriver has been the most wintery winter I’ve endured; I am now accustomed to the semi-regular process of scraping ice and snow off my windshield, and wearing microspikes as I walk down the icy road of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. However, a walk in the forest feels like a visit with an old friend. It reminds me of my island home at the other side of the watershed, Deception Pass. Everywhere in the forest, signs of familiar companions are appearing and talking and that makes my heart feel much warmer, though my toes and hands are just as cold.

These interactions have also filled my journal with many, flowery ramblings. In between classes, and now Mountain School trainings, I try to take a walk outside and note changes in my environment. February is especially a time of rapid change – one day it can be cool and damp out, and the next day there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and slush in my boots. Below, I’ve noted some of the changes witnessed within my little sphere of the world this past week. What have you noted, too?

Recent Naturalist Notes: 

On February 16 – I heard a Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) sing outside of my partner’s cabin in Marblemount, while branches cracked from the weight of freshly fallen snow.

February 17 – During a rainy walk in Rockport State Park, I found Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), or osoberry, breaking leaf buds all along the Suak-Springs trail.

Also spotted were young buds on the Vine maple (Acer circinatum), leafy buds of the Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), and two of my favorite edibles popping up along the forest floor: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytona sibirica). It’s only a matter of time until I can make a batch of nettle pesto!

And there were signs of moss reproduction everywhere, with the stalk-like shoots of the sporophyte popping up. The spore capsules are about ready to release spores that will grow into new moss. Next time, I will take my hand lens with me to get an even closer look.

On the drive home, I stopped at mileposts 100 and 101 to stand by the Skagit River. I saw three Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at 101 and noticed the snow line on the mountains and grey clouds. It felt good to stand close to the talking river and listen to the eagles.

» Continue reading Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

Youth Ambassadors Trip Report: Old Growth Forest and Salmon

February 21st, 2018 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors program is an extension of our Youth Leadership Adventures summer program. The goal of the program is to further develop leadership and outdoor skills, facilitate service and stewardship in our local communities and ecosystems, and provide college preparedness support to high school students from Skagit and Whatcom County. While serving as Ambassadors, students will participate in work parties, attend field trip and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks is Youth Ambassador Stepheny Lopez, a student at Mount Vernon High School. In this post she shares her experience of learning about old growth forest at Rockport State Park and eagle watching in Marblemount. Enjoy! 

On the early morning of January 6, 2018, nine dedicated North Cascade Institute Ambassadors attended their first Youth Ambassadors field trip of the year. Ellie and Amy, our group’s mentors, took us eagle watching in Marblemount. Many of us in the group were given the opportunity to try and learn new things; we also gained awareness about job and career opportunities that can help our success, and inform others about our environment.

Ellie Price posing as an eagle at Rockport State Park; artwork by Don Smith

Our first stop was to Rockport State Park, thirty minutes east on Highway 20 from the North Cascade Visitor Center in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. While at Rockport, the first thing we did was gear up with warm clothing. For many of us, we did not know how much clothing to wear, due to it being our first time hiking in cold weather, but it was all definitely worth the experience. Emily Jankowski then joined us during our arrival to help chaperone the field trip. She is an AmeriCorps volunteer from Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group. Then Rockport State Park’s Interpretive Specialist, Amos Almy, guided us on a half-mile walk around the park, and informed us of the area’s natural history throughout our time on the trail.

» Continue reading Youth Ambassadors Trip Report: Old Growth Forest and Salmon

An Overview of the Winter Natural History Field Seminar of 2018

February 17th, 2018 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This post is the first in a three-part series describing graduate students’ ten-day field seminar to the Methow Valley, as an extension of their Natural History Course

This week graduate students in the M.Ed Residency Program returned from their 10-day Natural History Field Seminar to the Methow Valley. After spending several sunny days in eastern Washington, we drove back to the cold, damp weather of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, ready to dive into Mountain School Training.

It was a highly anticipated trip among graduate students in the 17th cohort. After weeks of finishing up our Nonprofit Administration and Curriculum Design courses, it felt wonderful to “disconnect” in a remote location, spend time outside in the sunshine, and to refocus our attention on community connections. Last fall, we stayed at the Skalitude Retreat Center in Carlton, Washington during our Fall Natural History Field-Excursion (click here to read all three posts).

Because of this, we all felt immediately at home, and fell back into the routine of doing our best to meet and exceed group roles. It was nice to step into “field mode” again, and learn about a place through our experiences.

Below are photos from some of our adventures on the East side:

Graduate students finished up their Curriculum Design course through a synthesis day with Lindsey MacDonald at Skalitude Retreat.

We also met with Sarah Mounsey at the Independent Learning Center, an alternative high school, in Twisp. She and three high school students shared about their experiences in the individualized, self-paced program.

Joshua Porter, the Graduate Program Director, provided great insight into why we participated in this type of learning. In his own words:

[Through our Field Seminar] We continue to engage with community and place-based educators to explore the intersections of social and environmental dimensions in education and human development. Visiting schools and working with independent educators also informs opportunities for where students may go professionally with an M.Ed.


By spending a day in a printmaking studio, we then engage with aesthetic, artistic aspects of natural history through creating bock prints. We also continue to learn about the cultural landscape, and some of the history and sovereignty of the Methow tribe and what was the Moses Columbia reservation.

» Continue reading An Overview of the Winter Natural History Field Seminar of 2018