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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

Youth Leadership Ambassadors: A Pathway For Youth

January 6th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

This last August I was grateful to fill a newly created position at the North Cascades Institute, that of College Access Coordinator. The position was specifically created to support and strengthen opportunities for participants of our Youth Leadership Adventures and Mountain School programs. The AmeriCorps position is made possible by the Washington Campus Compact “College Access Corps” grant. This grant is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, and supports local economically disadvantaged youth to become more academically engaged in their education, increase preparedness for post-secondary education, and become more knowledgeable about the college application and financial aid process.

The grant allows selected college campuses, nonprofits (the North Cascades Institute!), or grade 4-12 educational institutions to place an AmeriCorps member (me!) to help coordinate college access programs in their local communities. While I have been graciously accepted into the closely knit Institute community, I have had the opportunity to serve on the planning committee of the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit, present a workshop at said conference (“College: Planning For What’s Next & What To Do Now), volunteer at the Migrant Youth Leadership Conference, attend multiple Kulshan Creek field trips, and participate in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee meetings.

While all of these opportunities stand out in my mind as highlights of my first five months in this position, getting a new program extension off the ground and running has been the most fulfilling and rewarding aspect of my work. The Youth Leadership Ambassadors program is an extension of our Youth Leadership Adventures summer program. The goal of the program is to further develop leadership and outdoor skills, facilitate service and stewardship in our local communities and ecosystems, and provide college preparedness support to high school students from Skagit and Whatcom County.

While serving as Ambassadors, students will participate in work parties, attend field trips, and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum. Our first field trip of the year is in collaboration with Skagit Land Trust to remove invasive species on Mt. Vernon’s Little Mountain. Examples of some of the other scheduled field trips include visits to local community colleges and universities, trips sponsored by National Park Service Park Rangers, and an overnight trip to our Environmental Learning Center for a stewardship weekend.

14 local Skagit and Whatcom County high school students have been selected to participate in this pilot school year opportunity. The students attend 8 different high schools including Burlington-Edison, Mount Vernon, Concrete, Mount Baker, Bellingham, Sehome, Lynden, and Meridian.

Having never previously worked with youth in an environmental education setting previously, I am looking forward to collaborating with Institute staff to help facilitate Ambassador events. Additionally, I am eager to share my background in college access work with students, many of whom aim to be the first in their family to attend college.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Ambassadors: A Pathway For Youth

confluence garden 1

The Confluence Garden: A Space For Growing Community

December 16th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

Here at the Confluence Garden we’re gearing up for winter. That means bringing in the irrigation hosing, tucking in the garlic bed with a blanket of straw, building row cover structures to protect our more tender perennials, and battening down the hoop house hatches to enable some winter planting. It also means starting to think about next spring. And, let me tell you, we’ve got some big plans for next spring! We’re hoping to ramp up production in order to supply some veggies to programs at NCI’s Environmental Learning Center, to support the summer graduate program, and to provide fresh produce to the Marblemount Food Bank. We’ll also be expanding our educational programming—working with community partners in the valley and with NCI programs to welcome more students and community members into the garden space than ever before.

confluence garden 2

Graduate students construct a bamboo row cover for the herb garden.

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Gathering up the irrigation hoses for winter.

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The Confluence Garden hoop house.

We hope that you join us at one of our community work parties this Spring! Because this garden is more than just a space for growing food and teaching hands-on lessons about food systems, gardening practices, and plant biology. It’s first and foremost a space for growing community, for getting our hands a little dirty as we build connections between one another and the land here in the upper Skagit.

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The Blue House and Confluence Garden space in Marblemount.

Thank you for your support! Stay tuned to ChatterMarks for more about what’s happening at the Confluence Garden!

Title photo includes Rachael Grasso and Dan Dubie picking herbs during the fall harvest party at the Confluence Garden. 

Written by Alexei Desmarais, Cohort 16 Graduate Student. All photos courtesy of Angela Burlile