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Place-based Learning Course: Paddling the Skagit River

October 16th, 2017 | Posted by in Field Excursions

In August, my cohort and I began our 7-quarter educational journey of earning our Master of Education degree. We are the 17th Cohort of students in the Graduate M.Ed Residency program through the North Cascades Institute and the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

Before beginning our year-long residency at the Learning Center, we engage with the natural and cultural histories of the North Cascades region through field excursions. This intensive six-week course includes canoeing on the Skagit River, learning about local communities and sustainable agriculture, hiking in alpine areas, cohort community formation and a culminating 10-day wilderness backpacking experience. 

Below are pictures from the paddling portion of our Place-based Learning Field Course, along with excerpts from our group journal. Enjoy!

Big Canoe and Community August 9, 2017:

“With a little less smoke in the sky, Cohort 17 loaded into the Salish Dancer for a paddling orientation to Diablo Lake and the surrounding area. Before the canoe left the dock, we heard and saw two peregrine falcons – the fastest member of the animal kingdom – amongst the rocky cliffs of Sourdough Mountain.

The Cohort paddled through the Strait of Juan de P’orca up to the Skagit Gorge, stopping at Hidden Cove for lunch and a quick swim. Upon return to the boom around 1pm, the notorious afternoon winds picked up. Joshua described the winds as the mountains breathing.” – Rachael Grasso

Canoe Training on Diablo – August 16, 2017

“Today was a kind of grab bag, starting with some canoe training on Diablo Lake. Towards the end, it turned a bit dicey as the wind whipped up and caused quite the commotion on the water.” – Tanner Johnson

Learning how to properly carry canoes.

Day One on the Skagit – August 17, 2017

All smiles the first day!

“This afternoon we started our paddle down the Skagit River. After some last minute skills and safety instruction, we set off from the Blue House in Marblemount. Four hours later, we made it 12 miles down river and came to rest at Rockport. Along the way, we learned to eddy out, we traversed several sets of 1 and 2 rapids, and saw an amazing variety of wildlife.

Despite some valiant efforts, no one tipped over. Our chance to practice technique rescues will have to wait for another day.”

Day Two – August 19, 2017

Teamwork makes the dream work!

“The day was spent on the river floating (aka hard paddling!) down to Rasar State Park. It was inspiring to see our entire cohort working so hard even when our bodies were aching. In total, we paddled 22 miles!!! Along the way we saw a great many wonderful sights: a bald eagle eating a dead salmon, an osprey diving into the river on a hunt, many animal tracks in the mud (mink, river otter).” – Charlee Corra

Day Three – August 20, 2017

“Nested within the Skagit’s current, we travel as if a migration of waterfowl; calling to one another in formation and in floundering. What once began of the narrowly formed channel of our new home has opened expansively as valley, field and flood plain. Today’s mileage: 24.” – Zoe Wadkins

Day Four – August 23, 2017

“Today was our fourth day paddling on the Skagit, and our mileage count has now reached roughly 75 miles. Early in the day a juvenile bald eagle circled overhead of our canoes, which some people took as a good omen for the day. We noticed a “Sun-dog” encircling the sun, this phenomena appears as a perfect circular rainbow around the sun, and according to Dan (Dubie – Cohort 16) signifies there are ice crystals high up in the atmosphere.”

Launching off a gravel bar into the river.

“Along with flattening landscape came more clear signs of human development. We passed under I5 and heard the thundering sounds of cars traveling 70 miles per hour… A salmon so large jumped out of the water that Kira was convinced it was a shark. Soon we entered agricultural land; tonight we are camped at Viva Farms.” – Nate Tranche

Day Five – August 26, 2017

“Traveling the extent of a river by canoe was a spiritual and gentle way of moving. It allowed us to really see the landscape and experience such an incredibly diverse region. Along this journey, we also got to know the landscape of our cohort, all the tears and giggles, along with the acknowledgement of what is still to come. I have so much confidence in our group and look forward to understanding more about what Larry Campbell means by dig deep.” – Ashley Hill

Cohort 17 standing shin-deep in the Salish Sea after 80+ miles of paddling from freshwater to saltwater!

New hand-illustrated North Cascades National Park map

June 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Xplorer Maps Releases Hand-Illustrated North Cascades National Park Map, Donates Percentage of Map Sales to Ongoing Park Support

MISSOULA, MT – Xplorer Maps, the creators of hand-illustrated maps of national parks and travel destinations throughout the world, announced today that it has released the newest fine-art map, North Cascades National Park, highlighting jagged peaks topped by more than 300 glaciers, cascading waters in forested valleys and abundant wildlife.

Purchase online now >>

World-renowned artist Chris Robitaille, co-founder of Xplorer Maps, illustrated the map using an antique, old-world style and featuring the iconic images from the national park located in Washington. The map features geographic marvels like Mount Shuksan and the Picket Range while paying homage to hikers, skiers and bikers who enjoy the park’s many recreational opportunities.

The map was produced in partnership with North Cascades National Park Service Complex and the North Cascades Institute, a conservation nonprofit based in western Washington that works to inspire and empower environmental stewardship through transformative experiences in nature.  Xplorer Maps will donate a percentage of proceeds in perpetuity from map sales to the Institute to support youth education opportunities to help create the next generation of public lands stewards.

» Continue reading New hand-illustrated North Cascades National Park map

The North Cascades Institute 2017 Naturalist Team

April 5th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Last month we welcomed the 2017 naturalist team to the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. A mixture of new and returning faces, these naturalists are an integral part of our community here in the mountains. Throughout the spring and fall, they will work alongside our graduate M.Ed. residency students, teaching students across the state participating in our Mountain School program. In the summer months, naturalists will also lead summer expeditions with Youth Leadership Adventures and various educational activities offered in many of our Learning Center programs.

As you will soon find out, this group of talented individuals bring many gifts and experiences with them. We look forward to all that they have to share this upcoming season in the North Cascades.

Evan Holmstrom (Lead Naturalist)

Hailing from the little-known Alaskan burg of Chugiak, Evan is an artist, naturalist, hobby multi-culturalist and outdoor frolicker. His childhood included time on the tundra, amid his father’s falcons and on the sports field. Moving into young adulthood Evan developed his language and art skills, travelling to Japan, Korea, and Mexico, all the while nursing a relationship to the Earth. Upon graduation from college at the University of Montana in Japanese Language, he took his completely predictable next step working in the outdoors.

His position as a field leader for the Wilderness Institute sent him into the austere backcountry and Wilderness of Montana, leading volunteers and college students. He moved into experiential and environmental education of high schoolers with Ecology Project International before feeling inspired to come out to the North Cascades and confirm his long-lived suspicion that the lichen-adorned, moss-engulfed cedars and sword ferns speak to a special place in his soul.

His position this year as Senior Naturalist, amid the spectacular team at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), is a terrific opportunity for him to share experiences, mentor other educators and help ensure that everybody is set up for success. Look for him smiling in the company of naturalists, graduate students, ELC staff or nestled into a forest tussock treating his ears to the pure, flutelike song of the varied thrush.

Natascha Yogachandra

Born in Hong Kong and raised in western New York, Natascha found early passions for reading, writing and dance. She moved to India at age 12 and to Thailand at age 14, after establishing an educational nonprofit with her parents as a result of the 2004 tsunami. She later returned to her native state to receive a degree in journalism and anthropology at New York University. Shortly after graduating, Natascha ventured down to Southern Patagonia, where she managed community partnerships for an environmental fund based in Torres del Paine National Park and its gateway community. Deeply inspired by those she met there in the outdoor field, she found her way to the Pacific Northwest and has been mesmerized by these mountains ever since. After serving as a trail crew leader for high school students with the Student Conservation Association in Alaska, Natascha grew more intentional with her environmental work pursuits and knew they needed to include working with youth. In came North Cascades Institute! She loves the community and the work she has found here and stays busy by exploring her new home on foot or in books.

» Continue reading The North Cascades Institute 2017 Naturalist Team

An Unforgettable Mountain School Adventure

March 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

The first week of the 2017 spring Mountain School season will be one not forgotten here at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. After experiencing an unusually high amount of snowfall at the ELC this winter, many of us were eagerly anticipating signs of spring (and sunshine), hopeful that the last lingering patches of snow would be gone before our students’ arrival. However, winter was not quite ready to concede to spring. On March 6, the first day of Mountain School, we awoke to a winter storm warning in the North Cascades. While it certainly wasn’t the spring weather we had hoped for, it provided a rare opportunity to play and learn in the snow with our first group of students, the 5th grade class from Mt. Vernon’s Madison Elementary School.

Driving to the ELC for the first day of Mountain School. Photo by Angela Burlile

By midweek, the snow had subsided and we said goodbye to Madison Elementary and welcomed the AP Environmental Studies class from Mill Creek’s Henry M. Jackson High School. These high school students were here to participate in our Aquatic Investigations field-based science curriculum. Working in small groups, students designed their own study investigating the interactions between physical, chemical and biological components of the local watershed. Through site observations, groups developed a scientific question which they then answered using various data collection methods such as water chemistry testing, benthic macroinvertebrate samples and examination of physical stream characteristics. They then presented their findings in a symposium-style discussion with their peers and teachers.

Henry M. Jackson student, Taylor Gerould, searching for benthic macroinvertebrates in a partially frozen Diablo Lake. Photo by Angela Burlile

Henry M. Jackson student, Alina Ribeiro, taking a dissolved oxygen reading at Deer Creek near the ELC. Photo by Angela Burlile

What was meant to be a three day experience became a slightly longer visit. Although the snow had subsided earlier in the week, heavy rain followed and the combination pushed the avalanche forecast to high. Early Friday morning, instructors and staff awoke to an email sent by Kristofer Gilje, Operations Director at the ELC.

“There is a very large avalanche at mp 122.6, Brown’s Creek.  There is another smaller one on the dam road.  WSDOT is aware of our situation and will give us more information when it gets light.”

The avalanche covering Highway 20 in the Skagit gorge. Measured at over 40 feet tall and 200 feet long. Photo courtesy of WSDOT

» Continue reading An Unforgettable Mountain School Adventure

Highway reopened, students safely back home!

March 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

UPDATE March 13, 4 pm: After WSDOT successfully reopened one lane of Highway 20 today, the Henry M. Jackson high school students, teachers and parent chaperones were able to leave the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center to return home!

More updates later, but for now we want to say thank you to the great students, teachers and parents, to WSDOT and to our Environmental Learning Center staff for keeping everyone safe and sane with educational activities, community building and fun through this unexpected long weekend of Mountain School!

Avalanche closes Hwy 20, students and staff get unexpected weekend at the Learning Center

March 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

On Friday morning, March 10, the Washington State Department of Transportation closed Highway 20 seven miles west of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center due to a large avalanche across the road. This incident blocked the school buses that were due to pick up students from Henry M Jackson High School in Mill Creek, WA, who were participating in our Mountain School residential environmental education program. Forty-two students, seven teachers and parent chaperones and 21 Institute staff and graduate students are currently at the ELC until WSDOT crews can reopen the road; they are doing an assessment on Monday.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is a modern facility with 92 beds in three comfortable lodges, a dining hall, classrooms and other amenities, and we have plenty of food and supplies to get through the weekend. Everyone on site is safe, warm, well-fed and in good spirits. The Environmental Learning Center was deliberately sited away from avalanche paths and is not at risk for avalanches. We have two Emergency Medical Technicians on staff and our instructors are trained Wilderness First Responders. We are in close contact with our partners in the National Park Service and Seattle City Light and have contingency plans if any emergencies arise. Extreme weather conditions are a part of life in the mountains and North Cascades Institute has established procedures and risk management training to get through incidents like this.

Mountain School is a nationally-recognized residential environmental education program offered in cooperation with North Cascades National Park that brings local students to the North Cascades to learn about the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains. Mountain School was recently profiled by National Geographic and The Seattle Times calls it ” a national model for wilderness education on public lands.”

Report from KING 5 NEWS

LINK: www.king5.com/news/local/mill-creek-students-stuck-in-north-cascades-after-snow-slide/421620399

Contact WSDOT for more information about the road closure at (360) 707-5055 or visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/trafficalerts. We will post updates to our website at www.ncascades.org/roadclosure, on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ncascades and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ncascadeswa.


North Cascades Institute in The Guardian

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Call of the wild: can America’s national parks survive?
America’s national parks are facing multiple threats, despite being central to the frontier nation’s sense of itself
by Lucy Rock
published January 14, 2017

Autumn in the North Cascades National Park and soggy clouds cling to the peaks of the mountains that inspired the musings of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg 60 years ago. Sitting on a carpet of pine needles in the forest below, protected from the rain by a canopy of vine maple leaves, is a group of 10-year-olds listening to a naturalist hoping to spark a similar love of the outdoors in a new generation.

This is one of 59 national parks which range across the United States, from the depths of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the turrets of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All – plus hundreds of monuments and historic sites – are run by the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centenary last year. The parks were created so that America’s natural wonders would be accessible to everyone, rather than sold off to the highest bidder. Writer Wallace Stegner called them America’s best idea: “Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”

It’s easy to agree. Nicknamed America’s Alps, Washington State’s North Cascades is an area of soaring beauty, a wilderness of fire and ice thanks to hundreds of glaciers and dense forest where trees burn in summer blazes. The Pacific Crest Trail – made famous by Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon – runs through the park. Walking along Thunder Creek one midweek morning, the only sound is rushing water and birdsong. The view is a nature-layered cake of teal water, forested mountain slopes and snowy summits. But it is here that you can also observe the threats facing the parks in their next 100 years. They are fighting a war on three fronts: severe underfunding, climate change and a lack of diversity and youth among their visitors.

Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades surrounded by silence and rocky spires, far from the drink, drugs and distractions of his San Francisco life. He drew on his Cascades experiences in Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler and Desolation Angels, in which he wrote: “Those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snow-covered rock all around…” Those views look different today. Climate change is causing the glaciers to melt: their square footage shrank by 20% between 1959 and 2009.

Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute, an environmental educational organization, said that the difference between photos from September – when the seasonal snow is gone – in the 1950s and today was, “Incredibly dramatic. Snow is melting back more and more and now you see a lot more rock when you look at the mountains.”

» Continue reading North Cascades Institute in The Guardian