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2015 Classes & Family Getaways, Holiday Gift Certificates

December 1st, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News


North Cascades Institute is excited to announce new Winter and Spring Field Excursions just posted to our website and open for registration:

Dec 6: Salmon and Eagles of the Skagit with Libby Mills
Jan 17: Salmon on the Nooksack with Brady Green
Feb 8: Birding Blaine, Birch Bay and Semiahmoo with Joe Meche
Feb 21: Birding the Greater Skagit Delta with Libby Mills
Feb 22: Winter Tracking Snowshoe Excursion with David Moskowitz
April 3: Ross Lake: Exploring the Draw Down by Canoe with John Reidel

Class descriptions, pricing and registration at or (360) 854-2599.

We’ve also posted and opened for registration Family Getaways 2015, earlier than ever before! Plan ahead and choose your weekend for an epic family adventure at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake in the heart of North Cascades National Park.

July 3-5, 2015 July 17-19, 2015 | July 24-26, 2015 August 14-16, 2015 | August 28-30, 2015 

Information and registration at


Tis the season! Once again we are offering our annual Extended Value holiday gift certificate promotion, where you can purchase $100 value towards 2015 Institute programs for only $80! Purchase before Dec. 22 and we’ll include a package of our blank note cards featuring art from Molly Hashimoto, John Cole and other Northwest artists. It’s okay to gift yourself and there is no limit on how many gift certificates you can buy!

Purchase by calling (360) 854-2599 or emailing

Wild Nearby book cover

The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby

October 15th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

We’re excited to introduce you to a new book that explores the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades in lyrical words, informative maps and awesome photographs: The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby, by Braided River, a conservation imprint of Mountaineers Books. We are celebrating with several book launch presentations in and around Cascadia: Seattle, the Methow Valley, Everett, Leavenworth, Bellingham and at the Learning Center, with more events to come over the fall and winter!

Dietrich Romano Martin

In its colorful pages, Pulitzer Prize–winning author William Dietrich takes an imaginary hike through the region, explaining the rich natural and cultural history of the region while also examining future challenges facing this remote yet accessible ecosystem; Christian Martin profiles local folks who live, paint, write, study, recreate and educate in the North Cascades, including Fred Beckey, Saul Weisberg, Libby Mills, Bill Gaines, Molly Hashimoto and Ana Maria Spagna; prolific guidebook author Craig Romano offers routes to getting out and exploring the region, detailing day hikes, bicycle rides, paddling expeditions, ski outings, and car-camping options on both sides of the border. Other elements of this one-of-a-kind book include excerpts from Gary Snyder’s 1957 fire lookout journal, an inspirational foreword by Richard Louv, essays on native peoples, early explorers and pioneers of the North Cascades, a detailed conservation timeline and bibliography, lots of maps and — last but certainly not least — inspiring color photographs by the likes of Steph Abegg, Paul Bannick, Benj Drummond, John Scurlock, Andy Porter, John D’Onofrio, Brett Baunton, Paul Bannick, Ethan Welty and Art Wolfe and many other leading nature photographers.

October 10: The Mountaineers Program Center, Magnuson Park, Seattle

October 11-12: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, Diablo Lake

October 15: Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Auditorium, Everett Community College, Everett

November 4: Twisp River Pub, Methow Valley

November 5: Skagit Station, Mt. Vernon

November 6: Syre Center, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham

November 7: Wenatchee River Institute, Leavenworth

Ticket prices and times vary; please visit or call (360) 854-2599 for details.


Baker Lake cleanup, by canoe!

October 8th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Join North Cascades Institute, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities North Sound Baykeeper Team and the United States Forest Service for an annual trash cleanup at Baker Lake on Sunday, October 12, from 9 am-5 pm.

Past cleanups have collected inflatable mattresses, beverage containers, busted lawn chairs, towels, coolers, fishing gear and poles.

“North Cascades Institute is supporting this event with volunteers and canoes because, as an environmental education organization, we value our public lands and our ability to bring people to places like Baker Lake for education and outdoor experiences. It’s our classroom! Stewardship is a powerful tool to connect folks to the natural world. A clean up like this has really tangible results and people can feel good about what they have done,” said Katie Roloson, Program Manager at the Institute.

Registration is required and a number of canoes will be supplied on a first come, first served basis. People who own canoes are encouraged to bring them and are also asked to register. No experience required.

Registration for Whatcom County residents: contact Lee First at RE Sources at or (360) 733 8307.

Registration for Skagit County residents: contact Katie Roloson, North Cascades Institute, at or (206-526-2564).


We couldn’t do it without our INTERNS!

July 24th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Summer is a burgeoning season at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only does the landscape itself come alive in a very real sense with turquoise waters, wildflowers, butterflies and access to the alpine, our program offerings expand to serve more participants through Youth Leadership Adventures, Skagit Tours and a varied suite of adults and family programs. The Institute’s composition of staff and graduate students multiplies as well. This summer, we are thrilled to include in our up-river community a special group of five individuals from the east and west sides of the country: INTERNS! These fine folks are motivated students enrolled in undergraduate institutions or culinary schools who are here through the North Cascades Institute’s Internship Program. Internship opportunities are focused in different program areas: Mountain School (spring/fall), Adult and Family Programming (summer), Youth Leadership Adventures (summer), and Culinary Arts and Foodshed Education (summer).

These internships offer exciting opportunities for undergraduate students to gain professional experience in environmental education and learning center operations in the heart of the North Cascades. Interns are supervised by program staff and work alongside Naturalists and Graduate Students, all of whom support interns as they gain hands-on, practical experience in teaching, program development, cooking, administration and operations.

The Internship Program is a crucial link that helps the Institute to fulfill one of its strategic goals of providing multiple, scaffolded experiences for young people along the Path for Youth. This summer, four of our five interns are Youth Leadership Adventure alumnae whose powerful learning experiences in the North Cascades have prompted them to return in order to help others engage with this place in similar ways as their own.

Please read on to meet our fabulous Summer 2014 Interns.

Avarie Fitzgerald was inspired to start on a path of ecology and environmental education when she attended North Cascades Institute’s Cascade Climate Challenge in 2010. Since then, she has been studying environmental science as an undergrad at Portland State University, always looking for ways to climb trees, catch frogs and take hikes in the name of college credit. She is ecstatic to be back this summer as an intern for the Youth Leadership Adventures program and hopes to inspire youth as she herself was inspired four years ago. And be warned, as an Astoria, Oregon native, she is required to make at least one reference to The Goonies daily. (Because Goonies never say die).

AvarieAvarie Fitzgerald

Lorah Steichen spent the first few months of her life living at Wind Cave National Park and continued to explore National Parks and wild spaces across the American West throughout her childhood. She grew up where the mountains greet the sea on the Olympic Peninsula, but recently relocated to Eastern Washington to attend Whitman College where she is pursuing a degree in environmental studies and politics. Lorah is interested in examining the reciprocal relations between nature and society and is excited to observe these processes through the lens of environmental education as an intern at North Cascades Institute. Having herself benefited from a range of outdoor and environmental education experiences, Lorah is eager to help facilitate such opportunities for people of all ages visiting the Institute this summer.

Lorah Steichen

Raised in zip-off pants and flannel shirts in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Emily Petrovski cultivated a love for, and fascination with, nature early on. As a North Cascades Institute program alum, Emily jumped at the chance to intern with North Cascades Institute for the summer. She’s excited to be back in the breath-taking North Cascades, helping others to have the same wonderful experience she herself did. Emily will graduate from Western Washington University in August with a degree in Environmental Science Journalism. She loves exploring in the outdoors, taking photos, learning about almost anything science or nature related, and has a mild obsession with dogs.

Emily Petrovski

Kassandra Barnedt has grown up in the North Cascades enjoying the outdoors from childhood. She was often found running through mud puddles and building forts in the woods with her brother and sister. Six years ago her experience on an Youth Leadership Adventure course sparked her interest  in a career in the outdoors. Currently she is studying environmental education at Western Washington University where she is a senior. The most exciting place she has traveled was Denali, Alaska where she worked on a trail crew for the National Park Service. Currently she is excited to return to North Cascades Institute not as a student but as an intern, leading the same trips that inspired her.

kassyKassandra Barnedt

Donald Young loves exploring the forest. He developed an early love of nature by spending his summers exploring the forests of New England and attending summer camp in Maine. He assumed everything was bigger in Texas until he saw the trees, waterfalls and hydro electric dams in North Cascades National Park! Having spent the last seven years as an environmental educator working with young people, he is here this summer as part of the Farm to Table Culinary Internship and is excited by the challenges of cooking for large groups. Donald thinks that working with wonderful people and using organic fruits and vegetables from local farms are the two best things going on in the North Cascades Institute kitchen. Enthusiastic about American history and regional cuisine, he is looking forward to cooking up traditional American summer dishes. Shaker cuisine and culture are very great inspirations. It’s a gift to be simple! His goal is to create some Shaker inspired dishes in the kitchen this summer.

DonaldDonald Young

Thank you, interns!

Additional reporting by Aneka Singlaub, Youth Leadership Coordinator

Leading photo: Two of the North Cascade Institute’s interns are spending the summer on backpacking and canoeing excursions on Youth Leadership Adventures. Epic sunsets not guaranteed, but encouraged.



Owen Painter, MS, by Cam Painter

“When we say…….

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

….’Mountain’, you say, ‘School!'”





It has been another successful season here at Mountain School, the North Cascades Institute’s flagship program through which naturalist-educators have welcomed 4th-12th graders to the North Cascades since 1990. It was an extra long spring season, stretching from February 18 to June 12 due, in large part, to having to reschedule three schools from the government shut-down last October.

Program Outreach Coordinator Codi Hamblin, who is also a former graduate student from Cohort 10 and former editor of Chattermarks, supplied the numbers:

  • Total number of Mt School participants (students, teachers chaperones): 2,588
  • Total number of Mt School students only: 1,445
  • Schools (both public, private, and home) attended from western and eastern Washington: 34


Some of the schools attending Mountain School this spring received scholarship assistance from North Cascades Institute. The scholarship is dependent upon an individual school’s demonstrated need as provided by the state’s Office of Superintendent Public Instruction. This helps to ensure a variety of schools can attend Mountain School regardless of a community’s need.

But enough words. Buff Black, a photographer and parent-chaperone from Bellingham’s Silver Beach Elementary, generously offered to share his images with Chattermarks. A select few are shown below, organized loosely following the A, B, and C‘s of our most popular three-day curriculum, “Ecosystem Explorations.”


Day 1: Abiotic (“not living, never will live, and never has lived”)


kevinbigmapSenior naturalist Kevin Biggs facilitates a lesson on the Big Map about the orographic effect.
tylersourdoughsignGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Tyler Chisholm helps orient her trail group to where they are in the forest and where they’re going.
kevinecosystemboardAn ecosystem is made up of both biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”) and abiotic components. This is the foundational concept of “Ecosystem Explorations.”
40 - Kaci and Dancer Solstice © Buff BlackGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Kaci Darsow helps entertain approximately 65 hungry 5th graders before they slowly descend on the dining hall.
pillowfightInstructors go home after either a diurnal or nocturnal shift (which only lasts till about 9:15pm, at the latest). But apparently pillow fights are a popular ritual in the lodges. Who knew?


Day 2: Biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”)


22 - Yasmin and Blindfolded Juliette Find the Right Tree © Buff BlackSilver Beach students work on team-building skills while learning to use senses other than sight to get to know some of the plants in the forest community through the popular “Meet-a-Tree” activity.
30 - Head Dunking in Sourdough Creek © Buff BlackSeveral trail groups tend to visit “The Waterfall” on Sourdough Creek on Day 2, doing trail lessons and games throughout the 3.5 mile round-trip hike. Head-dunking in the snowmelt-fed creek is often requisite.
37 - Food Waste Warriors and Chef Hard at Work © Buff BlackThe Food Waste Warriors and Chef Kent defeat Valuta Wastoid once again with their fresh, local food and penchant for composting in Mountain School’s nightly rendition of dinner theater. Waste not!
43 - Guide Kaci and Cougar Clan Get In Touch with a Wolf Skull © Buff BlackThe evening Ranger Program uses “Mystery Skulls” to hone students’ observation skills while teaching them about carnivore adaptations and wildlife of the North Cascades.
42 - Ranger Dylan and Cougar Clan Talk about Carnivores © Buff BlackRanger Dylan, kindly borrowed from the National Park Service (a primary partner of the North Cascades Institute), chats with a student during the small group discussion portion of his program.


Day 3: Community (the plants, the animals, and their interactions)


50 - Guide Tyler Leading an Eyes-Closed Trust Hike © Buff BlackTyler’s all smiles leading a trust line for her trail group.
32 - Cougar Clan and Sourdough Creek Waterfall © Buff BlackWe made it!

Chris Kiser, Mountain School Program Coordinator, reflects on the season:

This spring, nearly 35 schools and 1.500 students from all over the Puget Sound and East and West sides of the Cascades came to the mountains to experience and explore the magic of this place, leaving as more cohesive groups with expanded understandings of the local ecosystem and their role in it. Closing campfire ceremonies at the end of the Mountain School program always bring this home for me, as students share out loud an unselfish wish for their community. Often, these wishes focus around Mountain School being available to every 5th grader, or continuing to care for wild places so that National Parks like the North Cascades will be protected now into the future. I can’t think of a better example of the Institute’s mission to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education in practice than the words of these young people.

34 - Crouched Cougar Clan Portrait Looking Up © Buff Black
Leading photo: Representing Omak Middle School from Washington’s east side, Owen Painter gets creative with the spillway on Diablo Dam. The “Dam Walk” is one of the evening activities during springtime Mountain School, a privilege granted by our partner, Seattle City Light. It is often a unique experience for the students to get to walk across a 389-foot-tall dam and learn about hydroelectric power generation in a national park. Photo by Cam Painter.
All photos by Buff Black (except the lead).

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She wishes to extend a huge thank you to all the Mountain School students, teachers, and chaperones; to Buff Black for his beautiful photography; to Chris Kiser for her extraordinary organizational capacity; and to her fellow Mountain School instructors. Schooooool’s out, for, summer!



praying mantis k. renz

Nature Namaste: Retreats with Maya Whole Health Studio

June 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Snowy mountains, old growth forests, wholesome food, s’mores and yoga.

How could you go wrong with a combo like that?

Maya Whole Health Studio is hosting their series “Yoga, Nature & More: Refresh Your Perspective” retreats at the Environmental Learning Center this summer and fall through North Cascades Institute’s Group Rentals Program. They are a fantastic group of instructors and health practitioners from Renton, WA who are devoted to the well-being and enjoyment of their participants.

Not only are the retreats located in one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, but guests are well taken care of while staying at the Environmental Learning Center. Maya Whole Health’s owner, Shannon Aldrich-Payne, and instructor, Kristen Swanzy-O’Conner, created the three-day, two-night retreat around meditation, yoga, reflection and experiencing the surrounding nature. Spending a weekend with them is relaxing and rejuvenating.

Exploring and learning about the immediate environment is the mission of North Cascades Institute. While staying at the Environmental Learning Center, our expert naturalists lead guests on a guided hike in North Cascades National Park. Participants experience the wilderness by learning about the local flora and fauna, observing the natural beauty of the mountainous North Cascades and visiting a breath-taking waterfall.

Food is another passion for North Cascades Institute. Our chefs make sure no one leaves our historic lakeside dining hall hungry by preparing flavorful, delicious, local, organic meals that can accommodate any dietary need (and there’s plenty of dessert too!).

cake betsy AndrianaDid someone say, “dessert”? Enjoy scrumptious meals at the Learning Center like this creation by our very own Chef Betsy. It’s a dairy-free, gluten-free delicious chocolate cake. Photo by author.

In addition to our naturalists and chefs, there is always an on-site host for Group Rentals to help guests and the program. Just like Maya Whole Health Studio, the North Cascades Institute staff is dedicated to making sure everyone thrives during their time here.

Ready to sign up for a retreat weekend with Maya Whole Health Studio? Below are the summer retreat dates and click here to register online or contact their studio:

June 13-15

July 2-4

Mark your calendars for their fall retreats too:

October 3-5

November 28-30

There are other Group Rental Programs that you can sign up for as well! From hiking adventures to wilderness medical trainings, visit

Or learn how you can host your own event at the beautiful Environmental Learning Center by contacting Andriana Fletcher, Group Program Coordinator, or 206-526-2565.

See you in the North Cascades!

IMG_5472Is there anything more epic than a glaciated valley in the North Cascades to inspire you to become more flexible and grounded? Likely not. Photo by Samantha Hale.
Leading photo: This praying mantis is a natural yogini. Photo by Katherine Renz.
Andriana Fletcher keeps the Environmental Learning Center bustling with diverse groups of people in her position as the Group Program Coordinator. When not in the North Cascades, she can probably be found in Croatia.




cougar kitten! Eric York

SPECIAL EVENT: The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous

June 2nd, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous
Author Paula Wild reads and presents, “Sharing the Landscape: Can Humans & Cougars Coexist?
Saturday, June 7, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham

By Paula Wild

Heavily falling snow covered our footsteps almost as quickly as we made them. The fat white flakes, the forest around us and the arrival of twilight meant visibility was fading fast. And right in front of us, filling with snow as we watched, were the large paw prints of a cougar.

Our pickup was parked a couple of kilometres (about a mile) from the small logging and pulp mill community of Port Alice on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. We’d pulled off Highway 30 onto the SE Main, a logging road at the bottom of the hill heading out of town, to retrieve our thermos from the back of the truck. But now, following the tracks into the woods toward a small creek, our thoughts were on cougars. As the snow silently erased the paw prints I peered between the alders and up into their branches with equal measures of apprehension and excitement.

      — from The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous, by Paula Wild (Douglas & McIntyre)

Collared cougar in tree_credit-Steve Winter-PantheraAs the widest ranging predator in the western hemisphere, cougars roam from alpine to ocean and favor forested areas and rugged terrain that allows them to sneak up on their prey. Photo by Steve Winter, Panthera.

Elusive, graceful, powerful. Whether they’ve seen one in the wild or not, most people are fascinated by the big cat called cougar, puma, mountain lion and approximately forty other names. These amazing predators can jump 18 feet straight up from a standstill, swim four miles or more at a time and run up to 45 miles per hour for short distances.

After the jaguar, the cougar is the largest cat in the Americas. It’s said that one shot on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in 1936 measured eleven feet from the end of its nose to the tip of its tail. Large padded paws allow the carnivore to stalk its prey silently, sometimes for hours. Cougars are 90 percent pure muscle, capable of taking down prey more than seven times their size.

And they’re masters at blending in. More than one expert told me, “If you spend any amount of time in the woods, chances are a cougar has seen you while you’ve been totally oblivious of its presence.” But cougars aren’t only found in the backcountry. In 1998, a cougar was killed about eight blocks from city hall in Olympia, Washington and GPS collars have tracked a surprising number of the big cats roaming through residential neighborhoods.

CougarCover Douglas and McIntyre

Long ago, cougars ranged from the Yukon to the tip of Patagonia and from coast to coast. Bounty hunting decimated their numbers in the first half of the 20th century but today many cougar populations, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, are considered healthy and stable. Some cougars are even migrating east into their former territory.

Like all predators, cougars play a vital role in a healthy ecosystem. For instance, the presence of a cougar keeps ungulates on the move preventing them from overgrazing an area. A landscape striped of vegetation can lead to soil erosion in streams, affecting fish, as well the bears, birds and other animals that feed on them. The ripple effect of eliminating predators affects nature in ways most of us never even consider.

Although attacks against humans are rare, cougars are opportunistic predators. Wherever they exist, there is some element of risk to pets, livestock and people. Research shows, however, that there are many ways to prevent an encounter from becoming an attack and an attack from becoming a fatality. For people living, working or traveling in cougar habitat, understanding the way the predator behaves and knowing how to respond is just as important as teaching young children how to navigate a busy street.

Cougar and Maine cat Gail LovemanA Maine Coon house cat and a cougar go nose to nose at a sliding glass door near Boulder, Colorado. Photo by Gail Loveman.

*     *     *

The Cougar: Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous is a BC Bestseller and is shortlisted for the 2014 BC Book Prizes Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award (Canada) and Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Non-fiction-Nature (USA). It contains 70 photographs, including a 16-page color insert.

If you are unable to attend the reading at Village Books, Wild will also be presenting at the following Washington locations:

June 6: Port Townsend at the City Council Chambers, 540 Water St. at 7 pm.

June 7: Seattle at the Burke Museum of Natural History at 1 pm.

Paula at Trent River by Rick JamesPaula Wild is an award-winning author of four books and has written for numerous periodicals including British Columbia Magazine, Reader’s Digest and Canada’s History Magazine. She saw her first live cougar in Washington state before she could walk. Today she lives on Vancouver Island in Canada. She was convinced to learn more about the powerful cat after hearing a cougar scream in the green space behind her home. Photo by Rick James.
Leading photo: This kitten might look cute and cuddly but at three weeks old already has sharp claws. Cougar cubs have blue eyes until they are about a year old. Photo by Eric York, courtesy UC Davis Wildlife Health Center.