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Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report: Skagit Valley College

April 27th, 2017 | 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. Ambassadors will contribute blog posts and photographs that highlight their adventures throughout the year here on Chattermarks.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks are Jonathon Martinez and Tobi Kepper, who share their experience visiting Skagit Valley College in Mt. Vernon. 

Youth Leadership Ambassador: Jonathon Martinez

On March 19, the students of the Youth Leadership Ambassadors program took a trip to Skagit Valley College. This college is a community college located in Mount Vernon. The Youth Leadership Ambassadors were sent to Skagit Valley College so that we could learn more about the school and know that getting into a college is always an option for us.

We specifically went to Skagit Valley College because we are comparing community colleges and state universities to see the differences between them. At the end of April, we will be heading to Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Getting ready to start our adventure at Skagit Valley College! Photo by Tobi Kepper

While being at the college we got to experience new things as a group. We started off by collecting a water sample from a pond located in the school. We used that water for an experiment that determined the amount of phosphorous in the pond. We learned that too much phosphorous causes foam on the water that absorbs oxygen particles, killing any aquatic life nearby. We calculated how much phosphorous was in the water by using a photometer. The photometer measures the light intensity of a solution. To get our measurements, we added tablets to our water samples, allowing the phosphorous to become visible to the photometer.

Our second lab looked at how scientists created models of the land before having phones and computers. We used a special tool and a few pictures of a specific location to get a three-dimensional look of the area, seeing the different elevations there.

In the final lab we looked at the different layers found in soil and determined what material was in each layer based on texture and color.

Testing soil quality. Photo by Tobi Kepper

Once we finished in the lab, we discussed the areas that are important to look at when picking a college. We learned about the quality of Skagit Valley College, the tuition, class size, what each degree is meant for, etc. A few Skagit Valley College students who were either in their first or second year, shared their experience and told us why they enjoyed the school. They explained why it was worth it and how they also had a lot of fun.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report: Skagit Valley College

Youth Leadership Ambassador Trip Report: Skagit Flats and Padilla Bay

March 3rd, 2017 | 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. Ambassadors will contribute blog posts covering their adventures throughout the year here on Chattermarks.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks are Celeste Guzman and Ana Lopez, who share their field trip to the Skagit Flats and Padilla Bay. 

Youth Leadership Ambassador: Celeste Guzman

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors day was filled with birding at the Skagit Flats and checking out Padilla Bay with Park Ranger Jason Bordelon.

The group listening to Park Ranger Jason. Photo by Celeste Guzman

The group started out at the Skagit Flats where Park Ranger Jason taught us some cool birding lingo. For example, “hand me the bennys” actually means, “hand me the binoculars.” With our binoculars we saw many eagles, snow geese and swans.

After our lesson, the group had lunch outside where it was very windy and cold. After we finished our lunch the group drove to the Wiley Slough where we learned about Padilla Bay and how it’s an estuary at the saltwater edge of the large delta of the Skagit River in the Salish Sea. The group then walked down to Padilla Bay so we could check it out for ourselves. We all had time to think alone while others were skipping rocks.

Fellow Youth Leadership Ambassador, Aaron, walking along the shore. Photo by Celeste Guzman

Later in the day, the group came together and we talked about what we had learned and liked about the day. It was fun being outdoors even though it was windy and cold. It was also exciting to grow closer to other ambassadors during this trip.

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Youth Leadership Ambassador: Ana Lopez

Our second field trip with the Youth Leadership Ambassadors was on February 11th 2017. We started off at the Skagit Valley Wildlife Reservation where we did some bird watching and saw many eagles. It was amazing! We learned some ways to tell the difference between birds, such as their size, the shape of their wings and the sound they make. After that, we went to Padilla Bay and learned about why they were protecting it. Since it is an estuary, which is surrounded by buildings and roads that can contaminate the water from oil, they decided they would build a place where they can teach others about how they can take care of the environment.

While bird watching we spotted two eagles in their nest! Photo by Ana Lopez

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Ambassador Trip Report: Skagit Flats and Padilla Bay

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Ecological Design: The Blue House Project

October 30th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

Guest post by Faren Worthington and Oliver Osnoss. Faren and Oliver were participants of the North Cascades Institute Creative Residency program. Their residency lasted six weeks and in that time, they worked closely with the NCI community to create an ecological development plan for the Blue House property in Marblemount.

We came to NCI from Massachusetts where we both recently graduated from The Conway School, a graduate program in ecological design and planning. This creative residency was an opportunity for us to practice our craft in collaboration with an organization whose educational mission is well-aligned with our work. By working on an ecological landscape design, we learned about the region’s ecology and communities in a unique and powerful way.

There’s a housing shortage in the upper Skagit Valley where North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center is located. NCI tries to provide housing for many of their staff and students. In 2014, they purchased the Blue House in Marblemount to address the need for housing. Since then, the Blue House has been home to staff, students, a vegetable farm, and even some livestock. The 7.7-acre property is located at the confluence of Diobsud Creek and the Skagit River where it is also home to wildlife including osprey, salmon, and black bear. The confluence is a dynamic place that changes as creek and river flows fluctuate. Both people and animals are attracted to it. Strict restrictions on development throughout Skagit County (primarily the moratorium on drilling new wells or changing the use of existing wells) exacerbate the housing shortage in the area. These restrictions are driven in part by a need to conserve natural resources such as salmon habitat.

NCI is currently seeking funding to develop the Blue House property by constructing an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) to house five additional people. They are also considering future construction of a private developed campground for temporary housing. NCI needs a plan for ecological development that is consistent with their mission. The product of our creative residency was a pair of conceptual landscape designs published in a document titled Blue House Site Designs: Conceptual Plans for Ecological Development. The document summarizes the project and is intended to serve as a tool in NCI’s decision-making process. During the project, we gave a series of presentations, facilitated community meetings, and taught an Ecological Design Workshop to share our process and invite feedback on our work. A second, unanticipated outcome of this creative residency has been a community-building process. Many participating members of the NCI community have grown more knowledgeable and engaged in stewarding the development of the property.

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NCI staff and students practiced ecological design in a workshop held at the Blue House. Photo by Joshua Porter

The project started with a goals articulation process in which we met with members of NCI’s leadership to learn about the organization’s needs and interviewed many others about their vision for the future of the property. We distilled three project goals:

  1. Provide additional housing for NCI staff and students.
  2. Create community and educational spaces.
  3. Improve farm and garden workspaces.

» Continue reading Ecological Design: The Blue House Project

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Rarely Spotted : Northern Spotted Owls

September 12th, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Guest post by Leigh Calvez, author of the new book The Secret Lives of Owls. Join us Thursday, Sept 22, at Village Books for a free reading from this great new title from Sasquatch Books, the first event in our Fall 2016 Nature of Writing Speaker Series in Bellingham.

Perhaps the most iconic of all owls in the Pacific Northwest is the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis). I was excited to look for these owls in the wild, in the ancient trees where they live, before they disappear altogether. Sighting one seemed to me to be as epic, and just as improbable, as sighting a unicorn. Yet from all I’d heard from the biologists called “hooters”—for the hooting call that they make either electronically or with their own voices to determine if Spotted Owls are nesting in the area—these owls were still out there. Still, even the experts were finding only one or maybe two nests in their survey areas each year. Tracking them would be more of an adventure than I could yet imagine.

Through the grapevine of owl biologists, I contacted Stan Sovern, a Forest Service biologist who has been monitoring the Spotted Owl population in Washington State, both on the Olympic Peninsula and in Central Washington, for the past twenty-eight years. He invited me out for an afternoon check of one active nest site. I met Stan and Margy Taylor, another longtime Forest Service hooter, at the Cle Elum Ranger Station. Then we drove east along I-90 to the forest edge, where the habitat abruptly turns to shrub-steppe, as if a line had been drawn through the state.

Just before we took the Taneum Creek exit to the interstate, I could see fields full of tall windmills turning in the breeze blowing down from the eastern Cascade slopes. There are spotted owls here? I wondered.

We then turned and headed west into some of the last remaining old-growth forest in Central Washington. It was here that we met William Meyer, a biologist from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, who knew Margy from the days they had counted Spotted Owls together on the Olympic Peninsula. He now specializes in restoring beavers—once an integral part of the landscape—to their natural habitat and reclaiming watersheds that have dried up since beavers were removed from the land.

» Continue reading Rarely Spotted : Northern Spotted Owls

Catching Alaskan salmon for the Learning Center

July 29th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

As part of our Foodshed initiative, North Cascades Institute strives to deliver the highest quality meals for all participants at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center because the food choices we make impact not only our bodies, but our planet too. The methods by which food is grown, processed, transported and prepared has consequences on the air and water that all of life depends on, as well as issues of social justice, local economics and community well-being. That’s why we seek out locally-grown and produced produce, meat, dairy products, grains, herbal tea and seafood, including the amazing Alaskan salmon caught, processed and delivered by Nerka Sea. Here’s a recent report sent to us by Tele Aadsen from the Nerka in southeast Alaska


Greetings from Sitka, Alaska, where Southeasterly winds currently have the good ship Nerka snug in her stall. It’s hard to believe the Nerka is already one-third of the way through her salmon season. We’ve successfully completed two trips, the July king opening and our first coho delivery. Both have been good, very good, with this year’s runs of both species appearing abundant and strong. 

Nerka 2

Joel and I did our best: rising at 3 AM for 19-hour days, hooks shimmying through the Gulf of Alaska’s legendary Fairweather Grounds. I wish you could see the furrows on Cap’n J’s brow through those days, the shadows beneath his eyes as he agonized over every decision, so anxious not to make a wrong call during our limited opportunity. And I wish, too, that you could see the humpbacks breaching alongside us, their breath hanging over the ocean, catching rainbows in the sun, and that you could hear the wolves howling in Lituya Bay, the glacial-walled sanctuary where we rested up before the opening. We didn’t plug the Nerka in those five days, but came back to Sitka with a respectable share of black-mouthed beauties, a good variety of fat-bellied torpedos and long-bodied racers.

Nerka 4

Joel and I have always prided ourselves on the care we devote to our catch. All conscientious fishermen do. What differentiates us from others is that it’s just the two of us on board, a pair of boat kids who grew up doing this work, knowing salmon as something far greater than mere product or paycheck. We’ve cleaned salmon side-by-side in the Nerka’s cockpit for ten years now; we have a synchronicity and routine that vessels with fluctuating crew simply can’t achieve. That difference was never more evident to me than at the end of this trip, when I glazed those kings.

Nerka 1

Bundled to withstand three hours in the Nerka’s -40 degree fish hold, individually dipping every fish into the sea water bath that preserves the just-landed quality unique to frozen-at-sea salmon, I personally inspected every king we’d caught. I checked for bloodless veins and spotless collars. I was so proud of those fish, the obvious care they’d received, I couldn’t help choking up a bit. This wasn’t the biggest load of kings we’ve ever delivered, but it was the most beautiful. That was because of you. Forty-five miles offshore, you were with us. It shows. I’m so glad you’ll get to know these fish as we did, as glorious in your hands as they were in life.

Nerka 5

Words and images © Tele Aadsen.

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Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

July 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Guest post by Imara White, Apprentice Instructor for Youth Leadership Adventures

Youth Leadership Adventures is a North Cascades Institute program that takes high school youth out in the North Cascades backcountry to backpack or canoe, complete service projects, and develop outdoor leadership, field science, public speaking, and communication skills. The program works to inspire a conservation ethic in the next generation of leaders all while developing a love and connection to the North Cascades landscape. Our first session of three crews hit the trail on June 28 and returned after 8 days in the wilderness.  

One of these amazing groups was an all-female group. When they first arrived for their trip, they were bundle of nerves and excitement since almost all of the girls were new to canoeing, backpacking and camping.

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» Continue reading Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

andy porter baker ice

Integral Ice : A Creative Residency reflection

June 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Manasseh Franklin

For much of the lower 48 states, it’s easy to consider glaciers as distant, sometimes extraordinarily so. A great deal of my research and writing focuses on closing this distance in order to give access to the beauty, vitality and total importance of ice on the decline throughout North America. To do this, I rely on intimate first hand experiences, scientific counsel and the compelling narrative of the landscapes themselves.

I came to the North Cascades Institute to write about ice. Fittingly, this region is home to the largest concentration of glaciers remaining in the lower 48. What I didn’t realize prior to arrival, however, is just how much that ice is integral to the livelihoods of people in this region, and how accessible that makes it on a day-to-day basis, both on the ice itself, but primarily off.

Being stationed at Diablo Lake provided the perfect starting point: glacial waters flowing through hydro-electric dams that power neighboring cities. Waters that, without glaciers, would not be able to provide the growing capacity of electricity needed in those places.

Through conversations at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I was able to see the bigger picture not only of water and electricity but also glacial melt and how both its temperature and flow are integral to salmon runs. Glacial melt and its contribution to irrigation for orchards that supply fruit to the entire country. Glacial melt and the incredible milky emerald hue Lake Diablo took on during the final weeks of my stay in early June.

Not only did the landscape provide access to these integrated systems, but my encounters with the Environmental Learning Center did also, both for me and for the many groups of children and adults who were stationed there when I was. I found the mission of the center to resonate with my own mission in writing: using intimate and educated experiences in the outdoors to inspire conservation (and appreciation) of diminishing resources.

Of course, the landscape provided that connectivity as well. Evidence of ice resounds in the countless waterfalls, hanging valleys, and the glaciers themselves—roughly 300 in the park alone—perched in high valleys and cirques. They, like glaciers throughout the world, are diminishing, but still very physically present in the lush landscapes of the North Cascades.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciated my time at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only was I able to be physically proximate to actual ice, but I was also able to integrate in a community of people passionate about sharing the intricacies of this incredibly diverse and inspiring ecosystem with others.

* * * * *

Top photo of Mount Baker by Skagit photographer Andy Porter, available for purchase on his website at www.andyporterimages.com

Manasseh Franklin was a Creative Resident at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in the Spring of 2016. She is a writer, mountain guide, educator and adventurer who seeks big, hearty landscapes, and then writes about the experience of them. Franklin graduated from the University of Wyoming with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and Environment and Natural Resources and seeks to bridge the gap between science and experiential narrative. Her words have appeared in AFAR, Rock and Ice, Trail Runner, Western Confluence, Aspen Sojourner, Yoga International and Suburban Life River Towns magazines, in addition to several newspapers, blogs and websites. Learn more about her work at http://glaciersinmotion.wordpress.com and http://manassehfrass.wordpress.com.