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Ash Kulshan Creek 7

S’more Knowledge, S’more Fun: Kulshan Creek at Lyman Slough

December 5th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program is a year-round educational program that engages young people ages 5 to 18 from two Skagit Valley neighborhoods in a series of monthly field trips to explore the outdoors and learn about our local watersheds. 

The weather is ominous. Big, gray rain clouds, wind and chilly temps definitely impacted the number of students that turned out, but the smaller number does not diminish the palpable excitement.

A big yellow school bus sitting in the parking lot is the backdrop for our greeting. As we approach the kids standing around it, they come running, big grins plastered on their faces and brimming with excitement and energy. Their enthusiasm is contagious and Kay and myself find ourselves just as giddy! After initial introductions we all eat lunch together, but instead of sitting down, we have to dance around the shelter in order to stay warm. There is nothing better than bonding through dance!

Before we head down to Lyman Slough, Ben led a rousing round of the Starfish warm-up! Shake it out!

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We walk a short distance from the park down to the slough where we get to learn a little bit about what a slough is and what the Skagit Land Trust does in this area with restoration and land management.

Then we get to play!

When learning about a watershed, one of the most important concepts to understand is the water cycle.

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Kay brought GIANT dice for us to make the water cycle happen, plus we also got to make a super cool bracelet.  Each student starts at a location where water is stored in nature – clouds, ocean, rivers, lakes, groundwater, plants, animals, soil. There is a dice at each of these locations with at least one side representing that location, and all the other sides representing all the different places the water could travel to, based on the process of the water cycle. At each of these locations there is also a colored bead. The kids collect a bead at each location and roll the dice to see where they get to go next and collect the next bead. At the end they had a unique bracelet as well as a visual representation of all the places that they, as a water molecule, had traveled.

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It was incredible to watch these kids experience the water cycle and have a tangible take-away from the lesson, rather than simply lecturing and giving them the facts and basics of the process.

» Continue reading S’more Knowledge, S’more Fun: Kulshan Creek at Lyman Slough

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A Look Back At Our Summer in the North Cascades

November 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

It seems a little strange to write about summer as we step into winter but there has to be a start to every story and the story of C16 begins with our arrival to the Environmental Learning Center on a warm July day. We were to begin the first course of our year long residency, ‘Place Based Learning In The North Cascades’. For the following seven weeks, we traversed the North Cascades National Park, Okanogan/Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie/Wenatchee National Forests, state and county public lands, private lands, the Methow Valley, and Puget Sound under the guidance of our fearless leaders, Joshua Porter and Lindsey McDonald. The goals of the course were to give us a better understanding of the greater North Cascades ecosystems, learn the natural and cultural history of the region and examine the foundational ideas of place-based environmental education.

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Graduate Program Director, Joshua Porter and Graduate Program Coordinator, Lindsey McDonald.

A great distance was covered that summer. We spoke with geologists, naturalists, farmers, historians and writers; each person adding richness and depth to the stories of the land. We moved from the Methow Valley in the east, up and over the glaciated peaks of the North Cascades, following the Skagit River as it flows into the Salish Sea.

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Just a few of the places our course took us over the summer. Photo – Google Maps

It seemed a monumental task to try and fit all the moments, people, and places into one post so I have instead highlighted some of my favorite memories from the summer to share with you.

Meeting C15

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Photo 1: C15 and C16 together at NCI. Photo 2: A little friendly competition, a moo-off between C15 and C16. Photo 3: A delicious dinner at Skalitude Retreat.

Before we officially met C15 (Cohort 15), they had graciously welcomed us to the North Cascades Institute family through an open letter posted here on Chattermarks a month prior to our arrival. Our first C31 (C15+C16) gathering happened in the Methow Valley mid summer. C15 patiently answered all our questions, offered advice and shared their stories. There was some friendly competition, a contra dance, and delicious meals shared. Though they have continued on to the campus portion of our program in Bellingham, they continue to be mentors, friends and gracious hosts when we’re feeling the itch of civilization. 

» Continue reading A Look Back At Our Summer in the North Cascades

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Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

November 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Chompers and Lewisa, the new beaver residents of Beaver Creek, quickly became much more active as their wire cages were placed in the cold creek, splashing about and looking to explore. The beavers looked on disdainfully as we humans created a small dam in the creek, to give them a suggestion of where to build their new home. We then opened their cages and they immediately swam out, eagerly exploring their new territory.

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The NCI graduate cohort was on our Fall Natural History Intensive. We spent a week in the Methow Valley, observing classes at Classroom in Bloom (a community garden that works in conjunction with the Methow Public Schools) visiting salmon restoration sites, printmaking, and continuing our coursework. On this day, we had the opportunity to help out with the Methow Beaver Project. We had started the day at the Winthrop Hatchery, where beavers from the Methow Valley Restoration Project were held in the time between being removed from problematic areas (areas where beaver dams would flood homes or buildings) and being moved to new homes where the ponds they create would benefit the entire ecosystem. Beaver ponds not only create vital open habitat that increase biodiversity, they also act as a storage area for fresh water, decreasing flood possibility, decreasing erosion, and recharging water aquifers.

» Continue reading Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

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We don’t know what we’ve already lost: A road trip

July 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

As much as we love North Cascadian landscapes, we here at the Institute are still called to visit and experience other amazing places on our planet. We publish accounts of the places Institute staff and graduate students visit in our Road Trip series.

By David “Hutch” Hutchison, naturalist at the Institute.

We paddle our small boats upon the black still water, reflecting a mirror image of the great sandstone walls rising perpendicularly from its depth.  The mountains beyond covered in snow on this early March morning provide a stunning backdrop and increase our sense of remoteness.   Each paddle stroke brings us further into the land of sandstone canyons, the land of water reclamation, of summer recreation, and the great pause which the Colorado River makes along its journey to the Sea of Cortez.  We have entered a land of contrast; nature and human design merge here in beauty and tragedy, revealing much, while obscuring much more.

Lake Powell, so named in honor of the first European/American expedition to explore the length of the Green and Colorado Rivers, remains a beautiful place despite the changes made by the Glen Canyon dam.  During our six days on the waterway in sea kayaks, we explore only a relatively small area of this vast reservoir.  Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
The tributaries and channels of the watershed are now backfilled creating a labyrinth of flat, motionless water, a maze of passages which cry out for the slow exploration of motorless boating.  At this time of year, the houseboats and party barges remain quietly moored in their harbors and our only companions are the occasional early-rising fisherman buzzing to a secret spot among the myriad twists of side-canyons and channels which make these hectares of water feel so expansive and at once so intimate.

» Continue reading We don’t know what we’ve already lost: A road trip

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The Big One

July 2nd, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Calvin Laatsch, the Institute’s Conference and Retreat Coordinator. Calvin originally posted this to his personal blog, Live Close. We publish accounts of the places Institute staff and graduate students visit in our Road Trip series.

I notice that my knuckles are raw and chaffed from stuffing my fists into the wide crack leading up into an endless wall of granite. I pause to note how vibrant my blood looks against the rock. I’m hyper aware of this moment, but am quickly snapped back to my precarious position on the side of El Capitan. Glancing at my last piece of protection, a stuck cam 20 feet below me, and I feel completely overwhelmed…

“Jonathan!” I yell into the wind. “I’m scared!”

There is a pregnant pause, before he hollers back, “Me too!”

That was 5 years ago. Jonathan and I decided to retreat after another night halfway up the Nose. With that experience seared in my memory, I have spent countless hours dreaming of a return, trying to identify and improve on my weaknesses, wrestling with the feeling that I was not ready. Fear can be incredibly motivating. Whether in climbing, in work, or in love, facing fear is an experience that all people can relate to.

» Continue reading The Big One

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Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

June 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

At the Institute, the graduate students of the 15th cohort (C15) have been hard at work this past year teaching Mountain School, assisting in adult programs and visiting non-profits, all while finishing assignments and trying to find some sleep! Every season though, the graduate students leave all that behind to learn from experts in the field and be fully immersed into the wilderness of the North Cascades. Last fall we worked with beavers and hawks. In the winter we dived into snow ecology and wolverines. Just last week, we ventured out on our last natural history retreat where we tracked our natural neighbors, captured native bees and kept up with all of the birds!

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Our first stop was with author, photographer and educator David Moskowitz. Since the fall we as a cohort had been using his book Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest as our go-to guide on all things tracking. Having a class with the man himself was an experience all its own.

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Using some of our newly acquired tracking skills.

» Continue reading Springing into Learning: Graduate Spring Natural History Retreat

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Snakes, Amphibians and a whole lot of learning!

May 23rd, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Editor’s Note: Do not attempt to capture any wildlife, especially snakes. This class was done with trained professionals who kept all participants safe with decades of experience.

As a graduate student at the North Cascades Institute, most of my experience in environmental education over the past year has been teaching fifth graders in Mountain School and graduate natural history retreat classes. Earlier this month I got to experience a whole new side to environmental education at the institute: adult field classes.

Designed to get students of all ages (10-110) into the outdoors, these excursions happen all over the greater North Cascades bio-region. On Mother’s Day I went over to the Methow Valley to help John Rohrer and Scott Fitkin, district biologists, with the Snakes and Amphibians of the Methow Valley class.

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John Rohrer, District Biologist for Methow Valley Ranger District in National Forest.

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Scott Fitkin, District Wildlife Biologist for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

» Continue reading Snakes, Amphibians and a whole lot of learning!