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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.

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Listening to Coyote

May 13th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Emily Ford, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

After a rainy and dark winter, I’ve started to recognize the North Cascades as I remember them when I arrived last summer. Pyramid Mountain’s East wing is shaking off the snow, reminding me of summer as if it were an old friend. Soon again, Pyramid will be the snowless, chiseled, gray spire that taunted my stout climbing heart, and proved to me that its summit remains sacred beyond tired muscles, novice skills and terminal daylight. It is no longer capped by cornices like ice cream cone swirls that soften its thrust into the clouds. Pyramid stands out along the Diablo Lake skyline once more, and reminds me how deeply at home I have become.

Ok I got a little carried away. This blog is not about the North Cascades. In fact, I desperately needed to leave. I needed to go back to the desert, where I’ve returned to backpack and guide river trips for many years. When water has been scorned in the Northwest for being too much, the water in the desert is praised – and as Edward Abbey notes – exactly the right amount. Which is hilarious because it was 90 degrees in Seattle, but it rained every day, and even hailed, during my spring break trip in the Canyonlands.

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Eating dinner in a slickrock alcove, I watched a storm approach at sunset. Shadows danced among the spires creating quite the dinner theater.

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Cascadian Farm: It all started in the Skagit!

May 10th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

While shopping around your local grocery store, you might have seen projects in the organic section with the brand title “Cascaidan Farm Organic: Founded in the Skagit Valley, WA since 1972.” The products can be found in stores nation wide. Last week, however, I took a bicycling adventure to the Roadside Stand of the farm. It serves not only as a great place to get snacks on a long road trip, but also serves as an environmental education tool in the valley.

I’ll let them tell their founding story:

The story of Cascadian Farm begins with the story of our founder, Gene Kahn. 40 years ago, Gene was an idealistic 24-year old grad-school dropout from Chicago, who just wanted to make a difference in the world. He recognized the delicate balance between nature and humans. Inspired by reading “Silent Spring” and “Diet For A Small Planet”, Gene wanted to go back to the land and farm in a way that would not harm the natural beauty of the earth or her inhabitants. So he set out to farm organically on a little stretch of land next to the Skagit River in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. –Cascadian Farm

That farm grew and grew over the years into the powerhouse it is today. You can take a virtual tour of their whole farm to see how they work in and with the landscape.

My little excursion started last Saturday in the bright, sunny afternoon. Biking about eight miles from the Blue House Farm, I reminisced on my first experience with stand; last summer within the first few weeks of my graduate residency. Since it is closed during the winter months, I peddled with great anticipation to experience Cascadian Farm again.

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Blue Berries not quite ready to be picked.

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Creating Tradition: Sixth Annual Migratory Bird Festival

May 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Any cool event can happen once. Maybe twice. After so many years the “just a cool idea” starts to be folded into the fabric of a community. Hosted by the U.S. Forest Service at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Park with support from all the following partners, the Migratory Bird Festival is becoming one of the newest traditions in the Northwest Region.

Partners of the Migratory Bird Festival
National Park Service
International District Housing Alliance
Mount Vernon Police Department
Catholic Housing Services of Western Washington
North Cascades Institute

Three groups of learners ranging in ages of 5 to 85 descended on Fort Casey at Ebey’s Landing National Reserve near Coupleville, WA for two days of learning, service and fun on April 30, 2016.

The 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.
Outdoor Opportunities is an outdoor expedition program designed to expose multi-ethnic teens (ages: 14-19) to environmental education, urban conservation and stewardship in the Seattle area.
InterIm Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development (WILD) is a youth leadership program that provides opportunities for wilderness and inner city environmental education and leadership skills development.

Joining the youth were parents of the Kulshan Creek students and elders of the InterIm WILD community.

» Continue reading Creating Tradition: Sixth Annual Migratory Bird Festival

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Sharing Home: Three days of adventure in Washington

May 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Having moved into the North Cascades Eco-region in July for the graduate residency program, these mountains are finally starting to feel like home. Month after month I have been engaged in the cycle of the seasons, the habits of natural neighbors and the rhythms of the Skagit. So when I knew my family was coming for only a three day visit, I panicked. How can I show them all that I have learned about this amazing place in only three days? I couldn’t, and I didn’t, but we crammed as much as we could and went to four main locations for an amazing adventure: around the Environmental Learning Center, the Methow Valley, the Salish Sea and the City of Seattle.

While my family feels at home in the outdoors, Washington is a completely different beast than our wilderness. Coming all the way from Pittsburgh, PA my parents (Kurt and Pam) and older sister (Abby) reminded me of my general first reaction when I arrived: “Washington is just like Pennsylvania, except exaggerated. The mountains are higher, the rivers purer and the trees much, much taller.” My mother even remarked that it was as if I was living in a fairy tale, the scenery taken right out of a book.

Our first stop on this fairy tale adventure was a place I don’t even notice anymore. On my daily commute to work I drive past the Gorge Creek Falls, an amazing 242 ft. cascade. Since I see it every day, it fell into the backdrop of the commute. Only when my family was seeing it with new eyes, did I stop and remember how beautiful of a place I get to study in.

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Dad enjoying the view at Gorge Creek Falls.

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Joshua Winter 2016

Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

March 28th, 2016 | Posted by in Field Excursions

As the snow is melting and Spring is is coming in full force, winter’s grasp is quickly fleeting from our minds. It’s hard to imagine that just a month ago the 15th Graduate Cohort of the North Cascades Institute was on their Winter Natural History retreat in the Methow Valley, then a winter wilderness! The retreat was the second retreat we had taken this year, in which we delve deep into the natural landscape to get first hand experience with our local wilderness. In this particular trip we learned about astronomy, wolverines, avalanche science and even tracking. Our whole trip had us centered at the Skalitude Retreat Center located in the Methow Valley.

Skalitude Retreat Center

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Skalitude Retreat Center located in the heart of the mountains.

After traveling for seven hours into the Methow Valley, for Washington Pass is closed in the winter, the road into Skalitude was the definition of a remote mountain road: covered with animal tracks, steep, and windy. The whole road was encased in a thick forest. As soon as we reached the retreat the trees opened up to showcase the excellent valley and the pristine snow! Living in Western Washington this winter made me forget how much I had missed feet of clean, beautiful snow.

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Good friends and good food! Photo courtesy of Aly Gourd.

» Continue reading Graduate Winter Natural History Retreat: Class in the snow!

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Snow School 2016: Experiential Education on Mt. Baker

March 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

On a rainy Friday morning in Bellingham, eight environmental educators cram tightly into a van fully equipped in winter gear. The van’s destination—Mt. Baker Ski Area. Rain continues to fall heavily in the lowland forests of the Nooksack Valley as the van makes its way toward the mountain. Soon we’re steeply ascending toward the Ski Area and as we pull into the parking lot we hit a magic line where the rain turns to thick, wet and heavy snowflakes. We have an hour to prepare for the day until a school bus arrives with a hoard of 8th grade students from Mt. Baker Middle School in Deming, WA.

Upon arrival, the students seem excited but also unsure for what’s in store for the day. The environmental educators, with lesson plans prepared, await to go explore the nearby snowy mountain terrain with these eager students who will be heading into the field to collect data and observations on weather, snow pack and snow stability.

Based out of the Mt. Baker Ski Area, Mt. Baker SnowSchool is a collaboration between the Mt. Baker Ski Area, North Cascades Institute, Northwest Avalanche Center, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and The Winter Wildlands Alliance.

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Northwest Avalanche Center instructor Jeff Hambleton teaches students to identify layers in the snowpack.

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