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An Open Letter to Secretary Zinke: National Parks Should be Affordable

December 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

North Cascades Institute has joined 15 organizations of great diversity and depth in Washington state to keep entrance fees to Olympic and Mount Rainier affordable and to support a better way to fix the repair needs of the national parks.

This proposal has gathered a lot of attention across the country, and almost every reaction is negative. For more backstory on the proposed changes to entry fees, you can listen to this clip from NPR’s “Takeaway” which ran recently.

Photos of Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park courtesy of the National Park Service

Below is our official group letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke:

Dear Secretary Zinke,

Our organizations represent tens of thousands of outdoor and national park users in Washington state. Two national parks in Washington, Olympic and Mount Rainier, have been proposed for significant new seasonal fee increases which are of great concern to our members and supporters.

We are concerned that the fee hike 1) is too steep and would price people out of parks they own, 2) is coupled with a budget proposal that would undermine additional fee increases, and 3) would not raise revenue of the scale required to adequately address the backlog, so we urge the Administration to support the National Park Service Legacy Act.

» Continue reading An Open Letter to Secretary Zinke: National Parks Should be Affordable

Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

December 17th, 2017 | Posted by in Field Excursions

This post is the first of a 3-part series describing graduate students’ ten-day field excursion to the Methow Valley, as part of their fall Natural History Course. Below is writing by Brendan McGarry, graduate student in the North Cascade Institute’s 17th cohort

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was frost coating the inside of the rainfly. I could hear the crepuscular stirrings of my fellow campers, and gave myself a silent pep talk to get moving despite the chill. This was going to be an exciting day after all, we were here to see raptors. 

My cohort and I were part way through the field section of our Natural History of the North Cascades course when we trundled up to Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch Station. It was only October, but we’d seen the hints of winter coming to the high places. The hawks we hoped to see migrating were another hint that the seasons were changing.

The rugged terrain stretching down toward Lake Chelan; photo courtesy of Brendan McGarry

The Chelan Ridge Hawkwatch station was established in 1998 in a partnership between the Okanogan-Wenatchee District of the US Forest Service and HawkWatch International. The goal was to learn more about the raptors migrating through Washington, down the Pacific Coast Flyway. Here, starting in late August, ending in late October, intrepid biologists scan the skies, and count hawks. With luck, they also lure them into traps to band the birds and release. While we were grumbling about the cold, they were already out doing their jobs.

The first bird, an immature Cooper’s Hawk that zipped by during breakfast, was spotted by Kent Woodruff. This was apt because he was our host. Kent, a retired Forest Service biologist who established the station, was full of stories about the wildlife of the North Cascades. Yet, never was he more animated than when he spoke of the birds overhead.

» Continue reading Natural History Field-Excursion: Migrating Raptors over Chelan Ridge

Plight of the Pollinators

November 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kay Gallagher, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Imagine yourself walking down to the local summer farmer’s market down by the town square. It’s the first warm day and you cannot wait to make a large juicy bowl of fruit salad for lunch. Summer time in the valley is your favorite, all winter you have eagerly anticipated the first fruits of the season. With your list in hand that you scribbled down this morning, juicy red tomatoes, green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash, perfectly round peaches, you set off.


Produce from the local Twisp Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

After a short walk, you arrive at the farmers’ market, ready to fill your basket to the brim. You walk around and notice the usual vendors. The local bakery selling loaves of freshly made artisan bread, the various craftsmen selling their woolen blankets and knit scarves, the goat farmers selling their savory cheeses and assorted dairy products. Then you notice there are no fruit stands. No vegetable stands. There isn’t so much as a rogue berry in sight. Where are the fruits of summer you have been dreaming about since that first warm day of spring? It’s almost as if they have vanished overnight. They’re not there.


The colorful mosaic landscape of Patterson Mountain. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

You leave the farmer’s market quite perplexed, and decide to hike your favorite summer trail instead. On your drive to the trailhead you can picture the lush mountain sides and vast fields full of a colorful array of wildflowers from last summer, you can visualize the river coursing its way through the landscape in the valley below, with animal life whirring and scattered about. You arrive at the trailhead, and hop out of the car, eager for your adventure in the colorful mosaic. As you begin to hike, you notice that things aren’t as colorful as they used to be. There aren’t nearly as many wildflowers, the earth seems dry and crumbly with serious signs of erosion along the river bank below. The landscape is made up of various shades of brown. The air is noticeably quieter, without the hums and whizzing of winged insects flying about. The chatter of birds is absent, and the silence seems a little eerie. It’s a little too quiet. Something is missing, and then you realize …” Where have all the pollinators gone?”

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Animals in the City: Encouraging Children to Get to Know Their Nonhuman Neighbors

September 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Sarah Clement, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Transference is a concept that often comes up in discussion among environmental educators. How do we, as educators, help our students make connections between their experiences with us in “nature” and their daily lives? We teach out students about the North Cascades ecosystem, but we want them to make connections between what they learn about the mountains to what they already know about their homes. We want them to understand that an ecosystem functions in the North Cascades in the same way that ecosystems in and around their home communities function. Above all, we want our students to understand that even though they traveled hours to reach Mountain School, they don’t have to do so to find the importance and wonder of natural spaces.

As human population growth continues to explode around the world, more people are migrating to urban areas. Over 80% of the population of the United States already lives in urban areas, and the influx of people to cities continues to grow. Washington State is no exception to these trends. As of 2016, our population has grown to well over seven million people. Most of the increase comes from people migrating from out of state to large urban areas along the Interstate 5 corridor in the western half of the state. With this population growth comes increased urbanization: more land is being converted to urban infrastructure. Wild habitats are being fragmented or drastically altered in the process.

» Continue reading Animals in the City: Encouraging Children to Get to Know Their Nonhuman Neighbors

Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

September 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Written by Master of Education graduate Sasha Savoian

Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop are two of the most heavily-visited trails off Highway 20 in the North Cascades range, offering access to the unique subalpine ecosystem blanketed in blooming heather in the late summer months.

On the eastern flank of the mountains, the trail to Blue Lake winds through engelmann spruce forest singing with golden crowned kinglets and dark-eyed juncos, into a meadow thick with clustered white valerian, dangling meadow rue, purple lupine, and bell-shaped jacob’s-ladder. It then crests above treeline with spectacular views of Liberty Bell Mountain, Cutthroat Peak and Whistler Mountain toward the northwest. As altitude-loving larch trees appear, pink and white mountain heather pierce the edges of rocks along the trail leading to the aptly-named Blue Lake, where mountain goats are often spotted grazing on subalpine foliage 6,200 feet above sea level, a mere 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

Maple Pass in the North Cascades. Photo by Sasha Savoian

Maple-Heather Pass Loop travels 7 miles from the trailhead and back again through a shady forest of subalpine fir and spruce trees. Pacific wrens sing to an open with talus fields catering to furry hoary marmots and peeking pika. Grey crowned rosy finch and clark’s nutcracker songs slide through larch trees above while hearty heather beckons below, filling gaps between rocks among dotted saxifrage, bugle-shaped penstemon, splayed phlox and deep red indian paintbrush atop 6,600-foot rocky Maple Pass–one of the best views of the North Cascades.

But this dynamic alpine ecosystem is fragile! With their woody stems and short growing season, heather is easily crushed. It takes only 50 booted steps to destroy plants that take upwards of 1,000-5,000 years to establish as a successful colony. Heather plants stabilize soil, prevent wind and water erosion, trap nutrients and control temperature in the soil to promote growth of other alpine vegetation.

Restoration projects on Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop began in 2012 when the Methow Valley was chosen as one of 14 designated sites as part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences established to connect people and their communities to their forests and watersheds through community engagement and collaboration.

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Summer Camp Fun… and Learning?

September 11th, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Story and photos by Melissa Biggs, a graduate student in the Institute’s Master of Education program.

For my leadership track this summer, I was the coordinator of Concrete Summer Learning Adventure (CSLA), a summer camp program for Concrete elementary students run in partnership with the Concrete School District, Community Health Outreach Program at United General Hospital, Western Washington University and North Cascades National Park. CSLA was created to decrease summer learning loss over the summer, increase literacy skills and to provide healthy food for students in need in an outdoor setting. North Cascades Institute contributes by helping to coordinate the program, providing environmental education curriculum, and providing breakfast and lunch meals one day per week throughout camp. This year, the program ran for four Chinese Teapots, from July 10th to August 3rd.

Jillian and Cody are working together to measure 2 teaspoons of baking soda for Morning Glory Muffins – yum!

We were fortunate enough to be able to take the children on more than six different field trips, including one to the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center in North Cascades National Park! Most of the children had never been to the Environmental Learning Center and it was a wonderful feeling to see their reactions when arriving there. A few of the activities included: Plant BINGO, how glaciers are changing over time and how they affect Diablo Lake, and hiking Chinese Pu-erh Tea.

The campers are learning about glaciers in North Cascades National Park and how the glaciers are affecting Diablo Lake’s color at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

» Continue reading Summer Camp Fun… and Learning?

Reflections of Diobsud Creek

September 6th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Story and art by Alexei Desmarais, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort.

What is natural history? Why do we engage in this practice? And what can it teach us about the world in which we live? And about our relationship with this world?

These questions prompted the line of inquiry that became my natural history project, sending me deep into the verdant forests of the Diobsud Creek drainage, digging through the literature, and searching the inner reaches of my personal landscape for resonance with this marvelous external landscape. A landscape which shapes and grounds my being.

What follows are a number of small excerpts from my project, the full booklet of which can be found in the Wild Ginger library at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

What is trustworthy in our lives?

Soil, Air, Light, Water.

The world is full. Each individual being exudes its own light. Face to face with rock, strewn with countless varieties of lichen and moss—feathery boa-like strands, cups, lettuce-like leaves—I feel diffuse heavenly light round the globe and spill through void and cloud and tree to reflect back into my retina. To spill over into my visual field. I reflect back out into the world…


Wren by Alexei Desmarais

The song of the white-crowned sparrow is not merely repetition. Not the unconscious manifestation of something encoded deep within the bird’s DNA. Not merely its heritage. Each song is unique. Each is a thing of inexplicable beauty—the spontaneous burgeoning forth of a lyrical expression wholly individual. A moment of immanence, in which sparrow, vibrating air, listeners (vibrating eardrums), and earth are wrapped into one common experience. Curled tightly into a song. This song is each time a unique expression of being in the world—a moment of creation inseparable (though also wholly distinct) from the artist’s grasp of stylus, brush, or bow. Each time an enactment of that mysterious event long ago, from which burst forth this miraculous world we inhabit.

» Continue reading Reflections of Diobsud Creek