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Highway reopened, students safely back home!

March 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

UPDATE March 13, 4 pm: After WSDOT successfully reopened one lane of Highway 20 today, the Henry M. Jackson high school students, teachers and parent chaperones were able to leave the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center to return home!

More updates later, but for now we want to say thank you to the great students, teachers and parents, to WSDOT and to our Environmental Learning Center staff for keeping everyone safe and sane with educational activities, community building and fun through this unexpected long weekend of Mountain School!

Avalanche closes Hwy 20, students and staff get unexpected weekend at the Learning Center

March 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

On Friday morning, March 10, the Washington State Department of Transportation closed Highway 20 seven miles west of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center due to a large avalanche across the road. This incident blocked the school buses that were due to pick up students from Henry M Jackson High School in Mill Creek, WA, who were participating in our Mountain School residential environmental education program. Forty-two students, seven teachers and parent chaperones and 21 Institute staff and graduate students are currently at the ELC until WSDOT crews can reopen the road; they are doing an assessment on Monday.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is a modern facility with 92 beds in three comfortable lodges, a dining hall, classrooms and other amenities, and we have plenty of food and supplies to get through the weekend. Everyone on site is safe, warm, well-fed and in good spirits. The Environmental Learning Center was deliberately sited away from avalanche paths and is not at risk for avalanches. We have two Emergency Medical Technicians on staff and our instructors are trained Wilderness First Responders. We are in close contact with our partners in the National Park Service and Seattle City Light and have contingency plans if any emergencies arise. Extreme weather conditions are a part of life in the mountains and North Cascades Institute has established procedures and risk management training to get through incidents like this.

Mountain School is a nationally-recognized residential environmental education program offered in cooperation with North Cascades National Park that brings local students to the North Cascades to learn about the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains. Mountain School was recently profiled by National Geographic and The Seattle Times calls it ” a national model for wilderness education on public lands.”

Report from KING 5 NEWS

LINK: www.king5.com/news/local/mill-creek-students-stuck-in-north-cascades-after-snow-slide/421620399

Contact WSDOT for more information about the road closure at (360) 707-5055 or visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/trafficalerts. We will post updates to our website at www.ncascades.org/roadclosure, on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ncascades and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ncascadeswa.


North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Call of the wild: can America’s national parks survive?
America’s national parks are facing multiple threats, despite being central to the frontier nation’s sense of itself
by Lucy Rock
published January 14, 2017

Autumn in the North Cascades National Park and soggy clouds cling to the peaks of the mountains that inspired the musings of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg 60 years ago. Sitting on a carpet of pine needles in the forest below, protected from the rain by a canopy of vine maple leaves, is a group of 10-year-olds listening to a naturalist hoping to spark a similar love of the outdoors in a new generation.

This is one of 59 national parks which range across the United States, from the depths of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the turrets of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All – plus hundreds of monuments and historic sites – are run by the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centenary last year. The parks were created so that America’s natural wonders would be accessible to everyone, rather than sold off to the highest bidder. Writer Wallace Stegner called them America’s best idea: “Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

It’s easy to agree. Nicknamed America’s Alps, Washington State’s North Cascades is an area of soaring beauty, a wilderness of fire and ice thanks to hundreds of glaciers and dense forest where trees burn in summer blazes. The Pacific Crest Trail – made famous by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon – runs through the park. Walking along Thunder Creek one midweek morning, the only sound is rushing water and birdsong. The view is a nature-layered cake of teal water, forested mountain slopes and snowy summits. But it is here that you can also observe the threats facing the parks in their next 100 years. They are fighting a war on three fronts: severe underfunding, climate change and a lack of diversity and youth among their visitors.

Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades surrounded by silence and rocky spires, far from the drink, drugs and distractions of his San Francisco life. He drew on his Cascades experiences in Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler and Desolation Angels, in which he wrote: “Those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snow-covered rock all around…” Those views look different today. Climate change is causing the glaciers to melt: their square footage shrank by 20% between 1959 and 2009.

Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute, an environmental educational organization, said that the difference between photos from September – when the seasonal snow is gone – in the 1950s and today was, “Incredibly dramatic. Snow is melting back more and more and now you see a lot more rock when you look at the mountains.”

» Continue reading North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

Grizzly reintroduction in the North Cascades: Make your voice heard!

January 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Public Invited to Open Houses on Proposed Alternatives for Grizzly Bear Restoration in North Cascades Ecosystem
Public comment period open through March 14, 2017

The National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) invite the public to participate in a series of informational open houses regarding the proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem. The alternatives are described in the draft Grizzly Bear Restoration Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (draft EIS), released today by the two agencies. The meetings are one part of the public’s opportunity to comment on the draft EIS.

The purpose of the EIS is to determine what actions, if any, should be taken to restore the grizzly bear to the North Cascades Ecosystem. Although there are six populations of grizzly bears in North America, the last-known siting of grizzlies in the United States portion of the North Cascades Ecosystem is 1996. The goal of the public comment period is to gather comments regarding the draft EIS; public comments received on the draft EIS will be evaluated and considered in the identification of the preferred alternative, which will be published in the Final EIS. The full draft EIS is available at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis.

The alternatives analyzed in this draft EIS include a “no-action” alternative, plus three action alternatives that would seek to restore a reproducing population of approximately 200 bears through the capture and release of grizzly bears into the North Cascades Ecosystem. The alternatives were developed by a planning team with input from the public, local, state and federal agencies, and the scientific community.

In addition to the open houses, the public also is invited to submit written comments at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis. Comments may also be submitted through March 14, 2017 via regular mail or hand delivery at: Superintendent’s Office, North Cascades National Park Service Complex, 810 State Route 20, Sedro Woolley, WA 98284

In order to maximize opportunities for public input, webinars are scheduled for Tuesday, February 14 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Pacific Time and Sunday, February 26 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. Pacific Time. For more information about the open houses and to register for the webinars, visit: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/grizzlydeis and click on the “Meetings” link.
The public open houses will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the following locations:

Cle Elum – February 13 at the Putnam Centennial Center
Cashmere – February 14 at the Riverside Center
Winthrop – February 15 at the Red Barn
Omak – February 16 at the Annex Facility at Okanogan County Fairgrounds
Bellingham – February 21 at the Oxford Suites
Darrington – February 22 at the Darrington Community Center
Sultan – February 23 at the Sultan High School
Renton – February 24 at the Renton Community Center

» Continue reading Grizzly reintroduction in the North Cascades: Make your voice heard!

Mtn School Nat Geo Oct 2016

Mountain School in National Geographic magazine

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled to have been included in Tim Egan’s cover story for the October 2016 issue of National Geographic!

“In early fall I went to North Cascades National Park — the American Alps, chock-full of glaciers containing the frozen memories of wet winters past. A bundle of high peaks in Washington State, the park is one of the most remote places in the contiguous 48 states and also one of the least visited parks. But here, deep in the forested embrace of the upper Skagit River Valley, you can find the next two generations of Americans getting to know a national park. I heard hooting like owls and howling like wolves, coming from a circle of fifth graders and their wilderness instructors. The kids were from Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham, Washington, a school where almost half the students are nonwhite and most had never been in a national park. They were there for Mountain School, three days in outdoor immersion run by the North Cascades Institute. Their guides—staff naturalists, park rangers, graduate students—were all millennials. Without exception, the instructors thought the concern about their generation’s attachment to the land was valid, but overstated.

“It’s not like all of a sudden people are going to stop loving nature,” said Emma Ewert, who had gone to Mountain School and returned as an instructor. “But you do need the exposure, the fun of playing in the woods.” For that, perhaps, we should look to today’s parents, those afraid to let their children wander a little bit on their own.

The institute’s co-founder and executive director, Saul Weisberg, is a self-described Jewish kid from New York by way of Cleveland. He’s 62 now, wiry, with a bounce to his step. He learned to love the parks from his family, camping in a tent not unlike the one my folks used. He became a seasonal ranger at North Cascades and noticed a troubling pattern among visitors. “I don’t think I ever saw a person of color in the backcountry,” he said. He started Mountain School in 1990, partnering with the Park Service. About 3,000 students a year go through the program.

Though these kids lived only two hours or so away, this park was a strange new world for them. Many said it was the first time they’d been off the electronic leash of a family smartphone. “They have a very short attention span,” Ewert said.

At Mountain School, the instructors note changes in behavior over the few days the kids spend in the forest. They start to identify types of trees and small animals, and notice distinctions in sounds and smells. “Parents say, ‘What did you do to my child?’ ” said Carolyn Hinshaw, a teacher at Birchwood.

The parks director, Jarvis, is a big fan of Mountain School and similar programs, like Nature Bridge, which brings 30,000 students every year to a half dozen national parks. But he cautions that one visit does not a park lover make. “Something clicks, a light goes on, just by having some exposure,” he said. “I think it takes three touches for someone to change. A great first impression, but no follow-through, is not enough.” What’s needed, he said, is a broad cultural shift—a return, of sorts, to a time when outdoor exposure was a basic nutrient of American life.”

Read the rest of “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?” at www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/10/unplugging-the-selfie-generation-national-parks.

WANTED: GRIZZLY BEARS?

March 17th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Tireless bear activist Chris Morgan Wildlife has shared a new 7-minute video about grizzlies in the North Cascades. WANTED: GRIZZLY BEARS? is an educational short film that captures the beauty of grizzlies and delves into people’s perceptions and misperceptions of these natives to the North Cascades.

Wanted: Grizzly Bears? from ChrisMorganWildlife on Vimeo.

“We interviewed people from all walks of life for this film short…there are a lot of perceptions of grizzly bears out there and they all deserve to be heard. My hope is that the film will trigger curiosity and perhaps help people learn more about these fascinating mammals that are part of the Washington State landscape,” said Morgan, who has hosted TV productions for PBS, National Geographic Television, BBC, Discovery Channel.

You can learn more about grizzly bear ecology in our ongoing series by Mike Rosekrans at www.chattermarks.ncascades.org/tag/grizzly-bear-series.

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Celebrating 30 & 100 Years Birthdays!

March 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

As we ready for our 30th spring and summer of offering outdoor explorations and learning adventures in the North Cascades, we acknowledge another important anniversary too: the Centennial of the National Park Service! On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that created the agency that today stewards 410 units, of which 59 are national parks. We are fortunate in Washington State to have three of the best ones! Learn more at nps.gov/2016 and findyourpark.com.

We’ll be celebrating this important milestone this year by co-presenting Terry Tempest Williams reading from her new book The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks at the Mount Baker Theater on June 15 and hosting a free Anniversary Picnic at the Learning Center on July 17. North Cascades National Park has a slate of special offerings too, including a NatGeo Centennial BioBlitz May 20-21 and a Centennial Photo Scavenger Hunt; learn more on their website.

In other news, we just opened for registration two dozen more Learning Center classes and Field Excursions on our website, including Hart’s Pass Wildflowers, Backpacking for Women, Hawkwatching at Chelan Ridge, Ross Lake Canoe Adventure and several photography and geology classes. We are also signing folks up for Family Getaways, Base Camp (check out our new online calendar of available dates) and Skagit Tours. View the calendar below to see what’s coming up, visit ncascades.org/get_outside or call our friendly registrars at (360) 854-2599 for more information and to sign up.

2016 Learning Adventures: Now Registering!

April 22-24: Ross Lake Revealed: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe
April 29-May 1: Skagit Canoe Adventure
May 7-8: Exploring Yellow and Jones Islands by Boat and Boot
May 8: Snakes and Amphibians of the Methow Valley
May 14-15: Exploring Sucia Island by Boat and Boot
May 20-22: Stewardship Weekend at the Learning Center
May 27-29: Blockprinting and Bookbinding
May 28: Sauk Mountain Wildflowers
June 3-5: Wild Edibles on Lopez Island
June 3-5: Spring Birding East and West of the Cascades
June 10-12: Watercolors in the North Cascades
June 10-12: Adventures NW Photography Workshop
June 18: Geology: Cinder Cones and Crater Lakes of Mt. Baker
June 24-26: The Artful Map
July 1-3: Fourth of July Family Getaway
July 8-10: Best Hikes of the Cascades I
July 8-10: Beaver Ecology in the Methow

Many more classes, pricing and registration at ncascades.org/get_outside >>

Teacher clock hours, scholarships, student and military discounts and academic credit may be available >>