From North Cascades Institute

Search Chattermarks

North Cascades on Instagram



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 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 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.



Learning to Love the Rain

June 4th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

It only takes a few days in Forks, Washington, to be dead sure that the town is the rainiest place in the lower forty-eight. And that is exactly where we were headed for our Spring Graduate Retreat. To quell any suspicions that we were visiting for the purposes of Twilight histeria, let me say that while the prospect of vampires and warewolves may have been an exciting addition to our adventure for some, their anticipated sighting was far removed from our journey’s intent.

One of my fellow cohort 11 members aptly described the rejuvenating effects of our recent spring retreat as: “How I stopped worrying and learned to love the rain.” An elementary recollection perhaps, but one ripe with meaning for the 14 graduate students at North Cascades Institute who spent four days camped near the rainy coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. The purpose of our retreat was three-fold: to offer us a respite from a busy spring of teaching Mountain School, planning curriculum, and working on Natural History topics, to provide an opportunity for continued exploration of the natural world and, perhaps most importantly, to deepen our connections with each other and have fun together.

After nearly a year of crowding  under trees as we drip water from our noses and our fingertips, we have all learned to stretch our definitions of fun. On this particular retreat, fun was found in many forms. How fun, to sketch the ocean’s horizon line as droplets of water hit our journal pages; how fun, to play touch football on the beach as wet granules of sand stick to our feet; how fun, to cook dinner under the jankity cover of a tarp as the rain whittles away at the woven plastic overhead; how fun, to huddle around a campfire and laugh together as water drips down our backs; how fun, to fall asleep to the sound of rain on tent surfaces; how fun, to wake up surrounded by a puddle built of last night’s downpour; how fun, to watch a sucker hole widen just long enough to warrant the happy shedding of rain gear; how fun, to recognize the urgency of rainfall as the requisite of life found in the wild diversity of the Olympics.

Beads of rain caught poetically in the intricate web left by a spider. Photo by Colby Mitchell.

Our adventure began with a ferry ride to Port Townsend. It wasn’t but a few minutes blithely spent on the windy deck of the boat before we were shouting out the names of shorebirds spotted through binoculars – rhinoceros auklets, pelagic cormorants, and the famed marbled murrelet! Our naturalizing was already off to a great start. After disembarking from the ferry and heading along the north coast of the Olympics for a time, we stopped at Tongue Point to do some tide pooling. Being a naturalist of the mountain variety, I, for one, was giddy to be spending the afternoon exploring life below the water with others of my cohort who were far more knowledgeable about marine wildlife than I: California mussels, chiten, sea anenomes, hermit crabs, periwingle mollusks, gooseneck barnacles, kelps, and sea weeds – to name just a few of the myraid of species we discovered. It was deep breathing interjected with wild explanations of excitement as we examined the intricacies of tidal life while looking out across a great expanse of blue.

» Continue reading Learning to Love the Rain

David Douglas: Collector, Naturalist, Explorer

May 22nd, 2012 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

While spring is busy blooming and blossoming at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, there is still time during quiet evenings to curl up and read a good book. For those of you interested in expanding your understanding of the early days of natural history exploration in the Northwest region, The Collector by Washingtonian writer, teacher, and naturalist Jack Nisbet is the perfect read for you.

The Collector recounts in wonderful detail the life and influence of Scottish naturalist David Douglas and his forays throughout the Pacific Northwest in the name of science and the London Horticultural Society. Between 1824 and 1834, Douglas traveled by foot, canoe, and horseback, exploring the uncharted and vast landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Along the way he gathered, identified, and catalogued everything from mineral and bird to wolverine and desert lomatium. Douglas also built relationships with countless fur traders and native tribes, and Nisbet explores excerpts from his journals that candidly portray both the erosion of indigenous culture and the beginnings of conflict in the New World as a result of early European settlement.

» Continue reading David Douglas: Collector, Naturalist, Explorer

Spring Printmaking Workshop at the Learning Center

May 15th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

During the last weekend in April, Seattle artist and North Cascades Institute friend and instructor Molly Hashimoto led a wonderful and inspiring 3-day Adult Seminar on Printmaking with Ink and Watercolor at the Environmental Learning Center. Each day, Molly shared basic printmaking techniques that helped to build tangible skills and deepen each artist’s unique and creative talents. Molly and her students spent time in and around the Environmental Learning Center, finding inspiration in the newly emergent spring growth, towering peaks, blue waters, and rich colors of the North Cascades. After learning the basic elements of black and white contrast, participants spent time designing, carving, and proofing their block prints, later developing color palettes to enhance their work. So engrossed in their art were the 15 dedicated participants and staff of this workshop that they had to be reminded to take breaks in order to taste the delicious meals prepared by the chefs, or to enjoy a quick walk along the sunny shores of Diablo Lake! Below is a painted story highlighting the beautiful prints of the workshop’s participants. A big thank you to Molly and to all who attended!

Check out Molly Hashimoto’s blog for a full recounting of her experience while teaching printmaking at the Environmental Learning Center.

» Continue reading Spring Printmaking Workshop at the Learning Center

Institute Celebrations of Spring

May 7th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

I think it may be safe to say that life is coming back to the North Cascades as of today, and yesterday, and even a few weeks ago! At first the change was so subtle it was barely recognizable, and we here at the North Cascades Institute were still clinging to the warmth of our down jackets even as the first shoots of palmate coltsfoot were pushing their way stubbornly through the matted duff of winter. Then the first familiar calls and presence of returning migratory birds were heard – the throngs of robins, the vibrant rush and resonate tapping of the red-breasted sapsuckers, the two-toned trill of the varied thrush, yellow warblers, and most recently the whir and brilliance of the rufous hummingbird. And now, with the warming and lengthening days, spring has truly taken off. Life is bursting everywhere from canopy to forest floor and an expanding color palette hints at more to come. Emergent alder leaves catch the growing sunlight and reflect it at new angles throughout the understory, delicate yellow violets line the edges of pathways, a few brave lady slipper orchids hide behind rocks, fiddleheads unfurl their fronds, and a solitary patch of bleeding hearts open their petals.

Each day, new anticipations. Each day, burgeoning new colors. Each day, returning signs of life to marvel at and explore.

Here at the Institute we each notice and experience these springtime harbingers in different ways. For some, spring’s arrival is primarily an auditory sensation captured in birdsong and flowing creeks, for others a visual experience of color, and for others still a feeling that sneaks up on them slowly or startles them into wonder at a particular moment – a waterfall swelling with snowmelt, sulfur butterflies basking in the sun on muddy trails, or the first black bear spotted as it munches feverishly on new shoots of grass and greens. Together, our collective celebrations paint a rich narrative of springtime in this place where we live, work, and play.

The dappled hues of green cast by sunlight on emerging alder leaves. Photo by Katie Tozier.

» Continue reading Institute Celebrations of Spring

Entering the Ethereal Forest

April 12th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

UPDATE MARCH 2014: Join us the weekend of March 28-30 for a brand new Field Excursion: “Ross Lake: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe” with Institute naturalists and North Cascades National Park geologist Jon Reidel! This class will explore the geologic history of the Ross Lake area during the annual drawdown, a period when the lake is lowered by Seattle City Light and vast new terrain becomes exposed. This unique landscape has been shaped by glaciers, the Skagit River and the Skagit Hydroelectric Project, and a wealth of natural history phenomena emerge every spring when the hidden landscape is revealed.

Info and registration at or 360-854-2599. Sign up today to guarantee your spot!

*     *    *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     *     *    *    *    *    *     

This past weekend dawned sunny and warm in the North Cascades, an unexpected delight for those of us electing to live out the winter in the solitude of the snow-capped peaks and hushed forests around the Environmental Learning Center. Although spring has reportedly been blooming down along the Skagit Valley, our world has remained snowy, rainy, and cold. And if by chance we forget, the closure of Highway 20 just a few miles to our east reminds us it is so. Eager to take advantage of the sun and rare blue skies, a group of 6 of us – staff, grads, and friends – decided to canoe up into the big drawdown of Ross Lake and spend a night under the stars.

We began our 22 mile canoe trip first in the wind-chopped waters of Diablo Lake, some of us (myself included) wondering what we were getting ourselves into. After an hour of paddling, we reached the boat dock at the end of Gorge Canyon, and hitched our canoes to a few wobbly, old, and very janky wheel gurneys in order to portage our boats up and over 540 ft tall Ross Dam to Ross Lake. It was a haul to say the least, and a huffing and puffing adventure at that. On the other side we were greeted by a stunning view of Jack Mountain, and chose to have lunch at the water’s edge, mesmerized by the beauty mountains in every direction.

Kai Girard portaging one of our canoes up the service road between Diablo and Ross Lakes. Photo by the author.

Surprisingly, the wind died down on Ross Lake, and our group paddled along in excited anticipation for every new peak and vantage awaiting us around each corner. It wasn’t long before Ruby Mountain came into view, a delight for me after months of barely glimpsing the tip of it, concealed as we are so far below along Diablo Lake. The water was glass, and each canoe of two spread out along its width as if responding to the naturalness of its quiet and its calm. It felt good to be out on water, moving ourselves by the strength and consistency of our paddles.

» Continue reading Entering the Ethereal Forest

Woodpecker Print: A Step-by-Step Demonstration

April 9th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

Contributed and written by talented Seattle-based artist and longtime North Cascades Institute Adult Seminar Instructor, Molly Hashimoto.

[Please join North Cascades Institute this April 27th – April 29th for an exciting weekend workshop on Printmaking with Ink and Watercolor with Molly HashimotoIn addition to exploring the wild landscape around the Environmental Learning Center as a source of inspiration, Molly will lead participants in a discussion about design and the power of black and white contrast. Participants will also learn how to transfer drawings to a block of Safety Kut, carve the blocks, ink them up with both water-soluble and waterproof inks, print them without a press on proof paper and fine printmaking paper, and finally tint them with watercolor. No printmaking experience is required for this fun weekend of art, nature, good food, and community — this workshop can serve as an introduction for the beginner as well as deepen more experienced printmakers’ understanding of this dynamic medium. 

Please join North Cascades Institute staff next month for this exciting printmaking workshop with Molly Hashimoto

Read below as Molly walks participants and readers through a step-by-step process of printmaking beginning with an original conception inspired by the natural world to the finished product, a beautiful block print.]

Step 1. Up at the Environmental Learning Center last June I woke up early, decided to get a cup of tea from the dining hall, and take a stroll. Walking on the Peninsula Trail, I heard a tell-tale tap-tap-tap  and looked up to see this Hairy Woodpecker on a dead lodgepole pine tree. Always ready with my camera, I put down my teacup and snapped several photos — this gave the best view of the powerful black and white contrast of the bird.

Step 2. I did a drawing using a dark pencil, and added the view of Diablo Lake and the lower slopes of Colonial Peak. I thought the work would be more dramatic if I put the woodpecker in the context of its wider world.

Step 3. Before proceeding any further, I decided to do a color thumbnail using a black marker pen and watercolor on a heavyweight card stock paper, just to try out the color palette.

» Continue reading Woodpecker Print: A Step-by-Step Demonstration