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A Recipe for the Future: A visitor reflects on Youth Leadership Adventures

August 20th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sioux Towner

I had the privilege to witness, for the second year running, Youth Leadership Adventures in action. North Cascade Institute really knows how to navigate the tremulous water of teens in America, all kinds of teens: The diversity of the group I listened to today demonstrated to me that the strength of our country lies in its variation. After five days of wilderness hiking, team building, mentoring and “public speaking” (within the group twice a day or more), the ups and downs of North Cascades National Park along Diablo Lake did its magic once again.

It’s called “Visitor Day”; what that means is that each participant shares challenges, accomplishments, thoughts and dreams with an eclectic group of interested people who could be donors, teachers, park employees, national forest employees, alumni from former leadership trainings. It is a melange of adults often as diverse as the participants. What happens during this day, in my experience, is nothing short of perfect. It is filled with a kind of authenticity that can only blossom in a safe and caring environment. How that environment gets made was my personal quest today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParticipants transport themselves and their gear through a combination of backpacking and canoeing.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStewardship along the trails is an integral part of the Youth Leadership Adventures experience. The teens pack/canoe all their tools into the backcountry themselves.

I came up with several ideas based on what I heard from the group dubbed the  “Tree Huggers” (a name they gave themselves). The recipe goes something like this:

1.) Combine a group of total strangers — the more diverse, the better

2.) Provide for all their basic needs and no more

3.) Marinate in an atmosphere of wilderness and experienced staff

4.) Structure the days with meaningful work, challenges (nature usually takes care of most of that with rugged topography, weather, insects, wind, etc.) and the opportunity to talk to someone and be heard by all

Out of this relatively simple yet refined formula comes the most heartwarming stories of companionship, confidence, and insight — a backcountry utopia really. So many times we heard about some transformation that was incubating or starting to fledge. There were tears and laughter, questions and surprising answers. The unpredictability of the speeches was as refreshing as the environment, clean and pure — leaders in the making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProtecting wildlife, protecting their food! Participants become experts at hanging their food and any other scented items, an important responsibility in the backcountry.
Leading photo: Youth Leadership Adventures participants harnessing the ancient power of fire.
 
All photos by Carolyn Waters, Youth Leadership Adventures instructor.
 

Chattermarks gives a huge “thank you” to Sioux Towner, both for heading out to experience the backcountry with the student-participants and for being inspired to write her reflections.

 

 

 

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Prometheus in Paradise: Fires in the Methow Valley bring loss but reveal a committed community

August 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

The East side is burning. A certain degree of compartmentalization is required to brush away images of treasured places in flames, wildlife fleeing for their lives, and homes transformed into piles of blackened ash. At 270,312 acres as of this post, the Carlton Complex fire is the largest in Washington history. Over 2,000 firefighters representing 43 crews from all over the northwest have descended on the Methow Valley and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. The firefighting resources of the West are being taxed by at least 16 major fires burning in both Washington and Oregon.

These events are enormous in scope. Mine is smaller story. Heavy smoke, closed roads, and fear are diverting visitors from the summer paradise of the Methow Valley and pummeling the small local businesses that depend on the short season for the bulk of their annual revenue. Restaurants, hotels, outfitters, and farmers are watching the summer slip by, waiting for the people to come.

Undeterred by smoke or fire, I planned a weekend visit to my beloved Methow Valley to drop as much of my scant play money on the local vendors as possible. My journey East began with a hike around Maple Pass Loop, a local favorite for stunning alpine vistas with only moderate exertion. The smoke was heavy, obscuring the grander scene of Glacier Peak and the numerous towering spires of the North Cascades. It filtered the sunlight a red-gold and put the color riot of summer foliage in soft focus. With the greater peaks and crags masked in filmy sheets, my attention was drawn to sights in shorter view. I found myself lingering in the cool sinks of sparkling snowmelt cascades where monkey-flower (Mimulus Lewisii) and false hellebore (Veratrum viride) gathered. I was rapt by the myriad of butterflies and fuzzy bumble bees sipping from pollen cups.

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Smoke obscures the greater mountain views, but draws attention to the smaller things.

This phenomenon of closer examination extended as I dipped down into Winthrop. After checking in at the North Cascades Mountain Hostel, I strolled to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for dinner and a pint. The atmosphere was quite altered from my previous visits; there was no music on a Friday night, and families and fun-seekers were replaced by tanned and sooty folk in Carharts and T-shirts. Firefighters and Forest Service employees leaned on the bar, sipping well-earned cold beers at the end of a long shift. After a subdued meal, I strolled down to the banks of the Chewuch River. I passed a fire command post in an office building where people were busy on phones and radios, inspecting large maps tacked to the wall with silver push-pins. It was over 85 degrees at 8:30 PM with a thick grey sky. I wandered down to the irrigation canal and waded in up to my knees in the cold water. A cloud of tadpoles swam around my shins. A red squirrel scolded me endlessly as I invaded his watering hole.

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A Red Cross Disaster Relief volunteer purchases goods at the Methow Valley Farmers Market in Twisp, WA.

» Continue reading Prometheus in Paradise: Fires in the Methow Valley bring loss but reveal a committed community

Three trails to Maple Pass Viewpoint.SHale

Summertime Stewardship on Maple Pass — Join Us!

August 5th, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Washington is an amazing place. From the tide pools on the West Coast to the mountains in the heart of the state to the river gorges in the east, over one third of Washington is protected in one way or another. We have three National Parks, four National Recreation Areas and a mix of National Historic Sites, Parks, Reserves, Scenic Areas and Trails. We also have nine National Forests and a variety of capital-W Wilderness areas. One could say that the people of Washington treasure their land.

Of this protected land, 4.4% belongs to the realms of subalpine and alpine habitat. Normally, alpine habitats can be found at 10,000 feet or above; but in high latitudes like the North Cascades, alpine habitats start a little lower, between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. As visitors, we see alpine habitats as flower-filled, snow-ridden reaches that are the perfect spot for a day trip. But don’t let the beauty fool you: Alpine life is hard. The winters are long, summers are short and snowfall and wind levels are high. There is twice as much ultraviolet radiation and twenty-five percent more light than at sea level. Air at high elevations is thin and cold with temperatures ranging from -20°F in winter to 90°F in summer. With an average annual temperature of 37.5° F, alpine areas are ranked similarly to polar climates in that no month has a mean temperature higher than 50° F. In many alpine communities in the North Cascades, snow can be found on peaks year round, with some popular hikes not melting out until August. Come autumn, it will start snowing again before long, covering up the ground for another nine months. Weather can change very quickly and, since there are almost no places to hide, storms can be incredibly dangerous.

pasqueflowerkrenzImagine being a plant in the alpine. What adaptations would you need to the harsh conditions? Pictured here is a favorite species of the subalpine: Western pasqueflower (Anemone occidentalis), before it develops into its frizzled-haired fruit. Photo by Katherine Renz.

Now, imagine being a plant in the alpine. Rarely, if ever, does it rain, so you get your moisture from the long lasting snow packs. If the soil has not already blown away, it is nutrient-poor and makes it difficult to grow roots. The sun is hot and will burn new, tender leaves if you don’t figure out a way to adapt. The snow lasts quite a while, so you could only have two months to produce flowers and become pollinated before you are covered up by the white blanket again. Long lasting snow can be heavy and push you down; yet if you grow too tall, avalanches can knock you over. If you are lucky enough to survive all of that, you still have to avoid being eaten by an alpine herbivore.

Luckily, for alpine plants, they have a series of adaptions to help them survive such difficult life. Waxy, hair covered leaves help retain moisture. Long, strong taproots burrow deep into the rocky soil in search of hard to find nutrients. Anthocyanin, a reddish pigment acts to speed up photosynthesis and as a sunblock from the harsh sun. Instead of rushing through the reproductive season, plants extend the flower production and blooming process out over a few years to best maximize their short time uncovered by snow. Taproots and a short cushion-like shape help keep plants anchored to the ground in high winds and avalanches. It would seem as if alpine plants have it figured out. However, they still must contend with the challenges we humans rarely fail to offer.

 -1One of the many beautiful views from the Maple Loop trail with bountiful white and pink heather (Cassiope mertensiana and Phyllodoce empetriformis). Photo by author.

We come in with our heavy boots, sharp trekking poles and large numbers. We mean no harm, but to an alpine plant, too much tramping is the difference between life and death. I’ve been told that 12 steps on an alpine plant will kill it. Lush meadows and heather patches that once guarded the entrances to the alpine world now stand bare, opening up the precious soil to the elements. Social trails, campsites, lunch spots and viewpoints are all leading to the further degradation of alpine habitats.

So, this summer, my Leadership Track (a position I hold as part of my Graduate studies) is focused on working towards restoring alpine and subalpine habitats. We will be closing some social trails, rerouting the trail at some points, posting educational signs, and collecting seed and plant clippings. With those seeds and clippings we hope to grow them at the Marblemount Greenhouse to be planted at a later date. We collect them on site in order to preserve the genetic identity of the plants at Maple Pass, as well as to best support these plants in their bid to grow at high elevations.

MaplePassS.HaleLake Ann, as seen from the Maple Loop trail in between Heather and Maple Pass. Photo by author.

The work I am participating in will take place along the Maple Pass Loop. Thanks to its easy access and astounding beauty, it is one of the most heavily traveled trails along Highway 20. I’m sure many of you have hiked this trail, but if you haven’t, move it up higher on your ‘To Hike’ list this summer. Splitting off from the Rainy Lake trailhead, the trail ascends quickly through fir, spruce and hemlock stands. Huckleberry bushes fill in the understory and soon enough the wildflowers start to show their pretty blooms. At 1.3 miles you hit the trail for Lake Ann. Continuing on the loop, the subalpine world of heathers and low shrubs quickly come into view, as do the peaks and a view of Lake Ann. Depending on the time of year, snowfields will come into view at around 2.5 miles, soon after the split to Heather Pass. With the snowfields come more wildflowers; glacier lilies, paintbrush, penstemon and lupine among them. As you walk the rim and look down into Lake Ann, Maple Pass shows itself in the distance. At 3.5 miles and 6,600’ of elevation, you are at the pass itself. This is where I will be spending a good portion of my time and energy for the rest of the summer.

I am working in tandem with the Methow Valley Ranger District of the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest and the North Cascades National Park on a project called the Maple Pass Restoration Plan. This plan, funded in part by the National Forest Foundation, falls under the larger “Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences” Project. The goal of “Treasured Landscapes” is to ‘revitalize our forests and strengthen our natural connection’ through stewardship, restoration, building better community bonds to the natural world and education.

hiker.SHaleBecause even just our well-intentioned footsteps as we commune with nature can leave a big, destructive trace. Photo by author.

The Maple Pass Plan is not the only National Forest Funded restoration project in Washington. A group of projects, collectively called the ‘Majestic Methow’ are working towards goals of ecological restoration, aquatic habitat restoration, wildlife habitat restoration and better connections between science and action within our greater community. Many of these areas are considered backcountry and some even lie in Wilderness areas. A few however, like Maple Pass, are easily accessible, with trailheads located right off Highway 20.

This summer marks the first effort of this multi-year project. My job is to help coordinate our different visits to the site, advertise the work to the general public and bring in volunteers to assist with our work. We have over an acre of trails to replant, 2,000 feet of social trails to close and almost a mile of trail to reconstruct. My work in this project will end before the job is done, however. The restoration process, notably plant propagation, will continue for a few years. After the initial trail closings and plantings, the site will be monitored for a few years to assist with plant regrowth.

Hopefully, this effort will result in a vastly different looking Maple Pass in five years, and a healthier ecosystem overall. For now though, I must think smaller, and focus on re-potting all of the tiny huckleberry and heather that I love so much.

If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering along side of us this summer, please contact me at Samantha_hale@ncascades.org.

marmot.krenzWho knows? You may get lucky enough to see a marmot like this one as you replant baby subalpine heathers. Photo by Katherine Renz.
Leading photo: Three separate trails tri-sect the fragile heather community at the viewpoint to Maple Pass Loop. Braided trails such as these show just how numerous and intricate social trails can be. Over time, these trails lead to large bare dirt patches and soil erosion. Let’s see if we can work this summer to make it a single track.
 

Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Once a self-professed ‘ocean only’ lover she is starting to see the merits of frolicking, Julie Andrews style, amongst alpine plants. You can find her, DSLR in one hand, hand-lens in another, walking the high ridges.

 

 

 

Citizen Science Bioblitzes!

July 30th, 2014 | Posted by in Field Excursions

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Join North Cascades Institute for fun, educational outings to engage in meaningful research in the North Cascades ecosystem. Your participation in our BioBlitzes will provide important contributions towards understanding complex ecosystems and how to best conserve them.

Dragonflies of the North Cascades
AUG 10- AUG 11

Maple Pass Plant Inventory
AUG 17 – AUG 18

Butterflies in the High Cascades
AUG 21- AUG 22

Snakes in North Cascades
SEP 14

Hawkwatching at Chelan Ridge
SEP 20- SEP 21

Information and registration at
www.ncascades.org/citizen-science
or (360) 854-2599

NCI BioBlitz Flier 2014

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We couldn’t do it without our INTERNS!

July 24th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Summer is a burgeoning season at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only does the landscape itself come alive in a very real sense with turquoise waters, wildflowers, butterflies and access to the alpine, our program offerings expand to serve more participants through Youth Leadership Adventures, Skagit Tours and a varied suite of adults and family programs. The Institute’s composition of staff and graduate students multiplies as well. This summer, we are thrilled to include in our up-river community a special group of five individuals from the east and west sides of the country: INTERNS! These fine folks are motivated students enrolled in undergraduate institutions or culinary schools who are here through the North Cascades Institute’s Internship Program. Internship opportunities are focused in different program areas: Mountain School (spring/fall), Adult and Family Programming (summer), Youth Leadership Adventures (summer), and Culinary Arts and Foodshed Education (summer).

These internships offer exciting opportunities for undergraduate students to gain professional experience in environmental education and learning center operations in the heart of the North Cascades. Interns are supervised by program staff and work alongside Naturalists and Graduate Students, all of whom support interns as they gain hands-on, practical experience in teaching, program development, cooking, administration and operations.

The Internship Program is a crucial link that helps the Institute to fulfill one of its strategic goals of providing multiple, scaffolded experiences for young people along the Path for Youth. This summer, four of our five interns are Youth Leadership Adventure alumnae whose powerful learning experiences in the North Cascades have prompted them to return in order to help others engage with this place in similar ways as their own.

Please read on to meet our fabulous Summer 2014 Interns.

Avarie Fitzgerald was inspired to start on a path of ecology and environmental education when she attended North Cascades Institute’s Cascade Climate Challenge in 2010. Since then, she has been studying environmental science as an undergrad at Portland State University, always looking for ways to climb trees, catch frogs and take hikes in the name of college credit. She is ecstatic to be back this summer as an intern for the Youth Leadership Adventures program and hopes to inspire youth as she herself was inspired four years ago. And be warned, as an Astoria, Oregon native, she is required to make at least one reference to The Goonies daily. (Because Goonies never say die).

AvarieAvarie Fitzgerald

Lorah Steichen spent the first few months of her life living at Wind Cave National Park and continued to explore National Parks and wild spaces across the American West throughout her childhood. She grew up where the mountains greet the sea on the Olympic Peninsula, but recently relocated to Eastern Washington to attend Whitman College where she is pursuing a degree in environmental studies and politics. Lorah is interested in examining the reciprocal relations between nature and society and is excited to observe these processes through the lens of environmental education as an intern at North Cascades Institute. Having herself benefited from a range of outdoor and environmental education experiences, Lorah is eager to help facilitate such opportunities for people of all ages visiting the Institute this summer.

Lorah
Lorah Steichen

Raised in zip-off pants and flannel shirts in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Emily Petrovski cultivated a love for, and fascination with, nature early on. As a North Cascades Institute program alum, Emily jumped at the chance to intern with North Cascades Institute for the summer. She’s excited to be back in the breath-taking North Cascades, helping others to have the same wonderful experience she herself did. Emily will graduate from Western Washington University in August with a degree in Environmental Science Journalism. She loves exploring in the outdoors, taking photos, learning about almost anything science or nature related, and has a mild obsession with dogs.

Emily
Emily Petrovski

Kassandra Barnedt has grown up in the North Cascades enjoying the outdoors from childhood. She was often found running through mud puddles and building forts in the woods with her brother and sister. Six years ago her experience on an Youth Leadership Adventure course sparked her interest  in a career in the outdoors. Currently she is studying environmental education at Western Washington University where she is a senior. The most exciting place she has traveled was Denali, Alaska where she worked on a trail crew for the National Park Service. Currently she is excited to return to North Cascades Institute not as a student but as an intern, leading the same trips that inspired her.

kassyKassandra Barnedt

Donald Young loves exploring the forest. He developed an early love of nature by spending his summers exploring the forests of New England and attending summer camp in Maine. He assumed everything was bigger in Texas until he saw the trees, waterfalls and hydro electric dams in North Cascades National Park! Having spent the last seven years as an environmental educator working with young people, he is here this summer as part of the Farm to Table Culinary Internship and is excited by the challenges of cooking for large groups. Donald thinks that working with wonderful people and using organic fruits and vegetables from local farms are the two best things going on in the North Cascades Institute kitchen. Enthusiastic about American history and regional cuisine, he is looking forward to cooking up traditional American summer dishes. Shaker cuisine and culture are very great inspirations. It’s a gift to be simple! His goal is to create some Shaker inspired dishes in the kitchen this summer.

DonaldDonald Young

Thank you, interns!

Additional reporting by Aneka Singlaub, Youth Leadership Coordinator

Leading photo: Two of the North Cascade Institute’s interns are spending the summer on backpacking and canoeing excursions on Youth Leadership Adventures. Epic sunsets not guaranteed, but encouraged.
 
 

 

 

North Cascades Grizzly

Searching for the elusive North Cascades grizzly bears, August 17-23

July 21st, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

North Cascades Institute is very excited to be partnering with the Wenatchee River Institute and Dr. Bill Gaines — the foremost authority on grizzly bears in the North Cascades — for “Ghost Bears: Searching for the Elusive North Cascades Grizzly Bears” August 17-23. Spend a week in the wild alongside Gaines’ team of wildlife biologists assisting in the scientific quest to secure credible evidence that grizzly bears, the ”Ghost Bear” of the North Cascades, still roam these mountains. Info and registration at www.wenatcheeriverinstitute.org.

WRI_Grizzly Poster

Top photo: This October 2010 photo provided by Joe Sebille shows a grizzly bear in the North Cascades. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a hiker’s photo confirms a sighting of a grizzly bear in the North Cascades for the first time in perhaps half a century. (AP Photo/Joe Sebille)
susmitaEmilyPetrovski

Youth Leaders Take on the World in the North Cascades

July 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Emily Petrovski

On a non-surprisingly gorgeous North Cascades day, donors and North Cascades Institute staff ventured out onto Ross Lake to visit Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA) participants. After enthusiastic choruses of “teamwork makes the dream work” from the YLA team, we boarded The Mule, put on our PFDs and were off across the beautiful turquoise lake. Participants chatted with each other and with visitors and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Several participants got to take turns steering The Mule under the careful guidance of Ranger Mike Brondi. When the front gate of the boat was put down, they climbed on to take pictures and feel the spray of the water.

mule.RossLake.EmilyPetrovski  Visitors and participants chatted on the Ross Lake Mule.

We stopped briefly for lunch and ate in small groups. We got to hear about the participants’ experiences and adventures in the backcountry. They had varying levels of previous experience in the outdoors, many having never canoed before this trip. Smiles and laughter were not in short supply. Though we were on the water, the sun was hot and we traveled to Devil’s Creek, a sheltered river canyon on Ross Lake.

The air immediately cooled as we turned into the creek, passing under a bridge. Trees and flowers grew out of rocky cliffs and water gently lapped onto the sides. A hush came over the group as they admired the reflection of the water dancing on the rocks. The entire place was a cool refuge on this otherwise hot day. Mike Brondi stopped The Mule and the students began their presentations.

YLA3Visitors and participants arrive in the sheltered Devil’s Creek.

They talked about what had brought them to the North Cascades and how their experiences here had affected them. Nearly all of them talked about wanting to share this place with everyone they knew and anyone who would listen.

Isaiah said he never imagined the trip would be as fun as it was. He thought they would be hiking or canoeing non-stop. But they had time to relax and enjoy the beauty around them. The group loved swimming, even though the lake is incredibly cold. After one particularly long day, they jumped into the frigid lake together and stayed in for a full 13 minutes. He said they must have set a world record with that.

Michelle said that with the friends she made on this trip, “I feel like I could take on the world.” She said she often felt like this experience was a dream she would wake up from. “But my imagination couldn’t come up with people as great as you,” Michelle said, pointing at her new friends.

Logan said his goal for coming on the trip was to gain a better respect for nature. “I like to see what others can’t,” he said.

David talked to us about how proud he was of the drains he built during restoration work on Big Beaver Trail. He felt a personal responsibility for them and didn’t want to work on anything else.

Miriel also told us how much she enjoyed doing the trail restoration with Ranger Lacey. “The natural world offers so much for me to learn and observe,” Miriel said.

JJ spoke about how nature was an escape for his sadness when he was bullied. “It just puts me at peace,” he said. He said the trip taught him how to be more confident. He told us how he enjoyed canoe racing Susmita and Matt, one of the trip leaders. JJ said he will take home confidence and leadership skills and more direction for his path to becoming a renewable resources engineer.

YLAkidsEmilyPetrovskiAssociate Director Jeff Giesen chats with participants Hayden and JJ.

Hayden, whose father works for the National Park Service, said this trip finally made him understand why people love places like this. “I learned why we need to preserve places like this and why people need to experience this,” Hayden said. During one night at Big Beaver campground, Hayden said he was able to relax, calm down and let everything go. He said he was entirely content and at peace in that moment, and never wanted it to end.

Beth talked about how she started to lose a sense of nature and self as she grew older. This experience has helped her regain that. “It’s just been the perfect experience to get out of my head,” she said. Beth said that being here makes you realize you’re part of something bigger.

YLA.Ross.EmilyPetrovskiTeam “BNT” poses for a photo on The Mule during visitor day.

Susmita, who moved to the United States from Nepal three years ago, canoed for the first time on her Youth Leadership Adventures trip. It was also her first time working on trail restoration. She said that while making the trail, she realized how strong she is.

After student presentations and questions from the visitors, we headed back out onto the lake. Visitors and participants continued to chat and admire the scenery around them. The YLA group was dropped off at their campsite at Green Point. As the sun glittered on the water, we waved goodbye to these young people who had grown to love the North Cascades just like we had.

teamBNTEmilyPetrovskiTeam BNT waves goodbye as visitors depart.

All photos by author.

Leading photo: Susmita laughs during introductory games on visitor day.
 

Emily Petrovski is the Environmental Learning Center intern this summer. She loves photography, dogs, pikas and the great outdoors. When not working she can be found exploring in the mountains or taking accidental naps.