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2014 Program Calendar



Special Event: Poet Holly J. Hughes Reading, Bellingham 4/12

April 9th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Sailing by Ravens
A reading by Holly J. Hughes
April 12, 2014; 7 pm
Readings Gallery at Village Books, 1200 11th Street, Bellingham

This Saturday evening, former Alaskan salmon gillnetter, mariner, editor and naturalist Holly J. Hughes shares her latest book of poetry, Sailing by Ravens (University of Alaska Press, 2014) as part of Village Books and North Cascades Institute’s Nature of Writing Series.

Using a variety of poetic forms, Hughes deftly explores how we find our way, at sea, in love and in life. Hughes draws from more than 30 seasons working at sea, offering a lyrical view of the history of navigation, plumbing its metaphorical richness. From the four points of the compass, Hughes navigates “the wavering, certain path” of a woman’s heart, learning to trust a deeper knowledge. This collection offers wisdom culled from direct experience and careful attention, taking us with her in her quest to chart her own course. “How will she learn to ride the swell, let the earth curve her?” This poet’s questions open us to possibilities as vast as the ocean.

Sailing by Ravens is a deeply moving portrait of a sailor and her ocean.  It’s a look back at love and loss and the Alaskan fishing life. It’s a history of sailing and navigation, a study of a dissolving marriage, a gorgeous map of the body and desire. It’s an impressive book of forms and an ingeniously crafted whole. Holly Hughes takes on the familiar metaphor of the ocean, then makes it necessary and new. I’m awestruck.
–Kathleen Flenniken, Washington State Poet Laureate, author of Plume and Famous

Hughes is a recipient of a Washington State Artist Trust Fellowship and residencies at Hedgebrook, Centrum and the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies, including Dancing With Joy: 99 Poems (Random House), The Poet’s Guide to Birds (Anhinga Press), Working the Woods, Working the Sea (Empty Bowl Press), and America Zen: A Gathering of Poets (Bottom Dog Press).

She teaches writing at Edmonds Community College, where she directs the Convergence Writers Series and received the Excellence in Education Award in 2012.  She has also spent over thirty summers working on the water in Alaska in a variety of roles, including commercial fishing for salmon, skippering a 65-foot schooner, and more recently, working as a naturalist on ships.

Some samples from Sailing by Ravens:

Steering by Monarchs 


She forgot the instruments and steered instead

by butterflies knowing nothing human could be that sure.  

~Alison Hawthorne Deming, The Monarchs


Fog thick enough to lick, horizon a blanket,

pearl gleam of sun.  Sure, the sea trips

the mind, conjures creatures but what’s

this dusty heartbeat of wing?

First one.  Then another.  And another.

How to account for this river of wings

flowing south through generations?

She watches the monarchs drift—

cloud of orange and black—

Western mind says discount,

but knows better than to dismiss.

She abandons the instruments,

tracks by dusty heartbeat,

joins the wavering, certain path.

Sailing by Ravens


They have no chart, no sailing directions.

Instead three ravens to find Iceland.

 ~ Islendingabok 


Planks creak, sails shudder in unseen wind.  At the tiller,

Floki faces astern, watches the Faroes diminish


to flat line of horizon.  They ride a barrel stave of latitude,

sight each night with the husonatra the Guiding Star.


On the first day out of sight of the Faroes, Floki released a raven. 

Lifts dark wings into an empty sky, an exclamation point,


wings off, shadows another ship’s wake home.

On the second day another raven is released.  Circles, a question,


lights upon the ship’s mast, an answer.  On the third day,

another raven climbed to a great height, flew off purposefully to the west.


A raven can see land ninety miles away  

Floki could see the raven to a height of 5,000 feet.


What next?  Black V of wings diminishing

to a period, winging toward certainty


in bone, feather.  Floki leans against the tiller,

traces faint calligraphy across the blank slate of sky.

 sailingravensHolly J. Hughes’ most recent book of poetry, from which she’ll be reading this Saturday, April 12 at Village Books. The cover is from a painting by Evon Zerbetz.


Leading photo: Holly Hughes, happy. Photo by Isolde Pierce.
C12 graduates haag

A Generosity of Spirit: Cohort 12 Graduates!

March 25th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The twelfth cohort of graduate students earned their Masters in Education degrees through North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University this week. Dr. John Miles, Executive Director Saul Weisberg, Graduate Coordinator Joshua Porter and Program Manager Katie Roloson recalled anecdotes and unique qualities of each of the eight grads, while about 100 friends and family watched in support. “They opened my eyes to gas station junk food,” Roloson laughed, invoking the power of sour gummy worms and experiential education.

Snickers bars and red licorice vines were hardly Cohort 12’s only sweet contribution to the Environmental Learning Center community. As the sky changed from gray to golden to grey again, and everyone sat in the Dining Hall looking west toward Diablo Lake and the future, the speakers described what Porter called “the generosity of spirit” that characterized this small group. Roloson noted they were experts at supporting each other, collaborating and holding council, saying, “They were the first cohort where every decision seemed like a group decision.”

Dr. John Miles, the students’ primary professor throughout both their residency and three quarters at WWU, told several stories from their adventures together over the past seven quarters. The audience was transported to Yellow Aster Butte, where he set up a belay with parachute cord down a steep subalpine slope, and to his and his wife, Susan’s, beautiful Bellingham garden, where they would hold summertime classes. One Kentuckian student, Kim Hall, coming from the Peace Corps in Senegal, would have to wrap herself in a sleeping bag to armor herself against western Washington’s July temperatures.

kim graduating haagKim Hall, sans sleeping bag. Photo by Jessica Haag.
sahara graduating haagSahara Suval laughs with Program Manager Katie Roloson behind a Douglas fir-stump podium. Photo by Jessica Haag.

Dr. Miles called the Environmental Learning Center, and the graduates in particular, “a point of light, shining in the North Cascades.” He said he admired them for their courage in taking on what one scholar dubbed “the world macro problem”, and for their refusal to submit to despondency. “Thank you for the opportunity to learn from you and be inspired by you,” he said.

Saul Weisberg, who started the North Cascades Institute almost 30 years ago and, with Miles, initiated the graduate program in 2003, distinguished Cohort 12 for their willingness to continually challenge the habits of their discipline. “More than any other cohort,” he said, “you’ve worked on building bridges outside the bubble of environmental education.” For example, graduate Cait McHugh helped start the Concrete Summer Learning Adventure with the Concrete School District, United General Hospital and the National Parks Service. Several students’ culminating research involved how to reach out and make connections with diverse communities who have values that are largely at odds with the prevailing environmentalist worldview.

Weisberg read a poem, “The Spirit of the Practice” by Robert Aitken, from the book Zen Master Raven (2002):

The Spirit of the Practice 

Relaxing with the others after zazen one evening, Owl asked,

“What is the spirit of the practice?”

Raven said, “Inquiry.”

Owl cocked his head and asked.

“What do I inquire about?”

Raven said, “Good start.”

Lindsay graduating

Lindsay Walker beams big. Photo by Jessica Haag.


liza with degree haag
Liza Dadiomov shows off a pile of degrees and certificates. Photo by Jessica Haag.


hillary and John haagHillary Schwirtlich and Dr. John Miles share a big hug. Photo by Jessica Haag.

For the two days before Thursday’s celebratory and peaceful ceremony, the graduates’ families trickled in to the Environmental Learning Center from all across the country, just in time to witness the first springtime cracking of Ribes leaf buds and fat, rusty-breasted robins brightening the campus forest. These days were filled with watching the “Capstones”, the exploration and presentation of “a topic that has intrigued [the students] throughout their graduate school experience, connecting their experiences within environmental education, natural history, sense of place and the future of education” (quoted from All of the capstones were a balanced combination of lecture and discussion, projected visuals, and interactive audience participation. All showcased the diverse directions to which a degree in environmental education can lead. And like any good scientific or artistic endeavor, in the spirit of a raven-inspired inquiry, all encouraged more questions than definitive answers.

A list of Cohort 12 Capstone Presentations, in order of appearance:


“Motley Crews and Odd Couples: Unconventional Partnerships in Environmental Education” by Cait McHugh


“Greening the Bluegrass: What International Development Can Teach Us About Environmental Education in the South” by Kim Hall


“Learning to Listen: Using Value-Based Messaging to Reframe Environmentalism” by Sahara Suval


“A Sound Sense of Place: Fining Home in the Salish Sea” by Andrea Reiter


“Down to Earth: The Environmental Education of a Recovering Space Cadet” by Lindsay Walker


“Is Wildness the Preservation of the World?” by Hillary Schwirtlich


“Peeling the Educational Onion: The Environment is in Here Somewhere” by Liza Dadiomov


“In the Shadow of Sourdough: Stories of Place and Reflection” by Ryan Weisberg

The capstones reflected the interdisciplinary nature of their education. Through this graduate program, students earn a Masters in Education, as well as a Certificate in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration and a Northwest Naturalist Certification. A traditional cap ‘n’ gown ceremony was held at WWU on Saturday.

more C12 graduating haag

Cohort 12, triumphant! The audience (the other half are not pictured) applauds them, looking forward to supporting them further in making their mark within the world. (This graduation was brought to you by….Organic Tea!) Photo by Jessica Haag.

So what’s next? Saul Weisberg assured all the parents in the audience that jobs, and good ones at that, indeed exist in the environmental education field. The graduates will be putting their new leadership and teaching skills to work everywhere from India to Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to the depths of the Salish Sea. Some are already working at local non-profit organizations, including the American Alpine Institute and the Skagit Conservation District, while others are moving to various corners of the country to pursue their educational passions.

Congratulations C12! Go do what you love, with the mountains and the ravens cheering you on.

C12 WWU graduation Gabby Suval

Cohort 12 graduates from Western Washington University, showing off their stylish footwear and admiration for beloved professor Dr. John Miles. Photo by Gabby Suval.


Leading photo: Cohort 12, smiles of success. From L to R: Kim Hall, Sahara Suval, Hillary Schwirtlich, Liza Dadiomov, Cait McHugh, Ryan Weisberg, Andrea Reiter, Lindsay Walker. Photo by Jessica Haag.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She sends out a hearty thank you to C12 for paving the way and looks forward to being in their shoes in one short year, writing a bevy of blog posts in the meantime.




The Snow and The Shining

March 7th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

A small avalanche across Highway 20 just east of Newhalem at milepost 121 had residents of the Environmental Learning Center stuck at home Monday morning through Thursday morning of this week. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was waiting until avalanche danger had decreased to assess the situation and clear the snow and debris. The highway is now passable up to its regular winter closure at milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam.

What did the closure mean for life at the Learning Center? Graduate students couldn’t leave, and staff who live down valley in Newhalem and Marblemount couldn’t come up. Residents had to increase their awareness of their daily actions, since they already live at a remote facility (defined as 60 miles or more from definitive medical care) and now had even fewer options for help if need be. But by far the worst consequence was the cancellation of Mountain School. Two Bellingham elementary schools, Wade King and Northern Heights, could not spend their three days exploring ecosystems in the North Cascades as planned. The avalanche was the second time this school year that both schools thought they were coming but were prevented by outside forces (the first was during the government shut-down last October). They are troopers! Both have been rescheduled.

During this time, Senior Naturalist Kevin Biggs could not get to work from Marblemount for two days, but was offered the opportunity on Wednesday to be take the extra seat of the Seattle City Light helicopter and be flown up to participate in trainings. Here are a few aerial photos from his exciting journey.

avalanche!kevinbiggsThe avalanche on Highway 20, milepost 121. Photo by Kevin Biggs.
diablointersection.kevinbiggsGorge Lake and the town of Diablo. Photo by Kevin Biggs.
aeriallakekevinbiggsAbove one of the tunnels on Highway 20 between Newhalem and Diablo. Photo by Kevin Biggs.

The resident graduate students chose to make the best of the snowed-in situation and efficiently cross two things off their “Wintertime To-Do List” simultaneously: “Make a Blanket Fort” and “Watch The Shining”. Raiding both their backpacking supplies and the office, they constructed a fort in the Wild Ginger Library by stringing up tapestries and sheets with parachute chord and industrial strength binder clips.

blanket fort K. RenzTyler Chisholm and Katie Komorowski put their construction and interior design skills to use on a recent dark and stormy night. Photo by Katherine Renz.

And really, as practicing environmental educators the grads were simply exemplifying one of the seven “Children and Nature Design Principles” as described by award-winning author and educator David Sobel in his book, Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. Among principles such as “Animal Allies” and “Hunting and Gathering” is “Special Places”: “[There] appears to be a universal tendency for children to create or find their own private places,” Sobel writes. “I believe the creation of these places serves many developmental purposes for children. The fort is a home away from home in nature; it provides a bridge between the safe, protected world of the family and the independent self in the wider world of adolescence. These places also serve as vehicles of bonding with the natural world, allowing children to feel comfortable in the landscape, connected to it, and eventually committed to acting as stewards of it.”

So, really, the blanket fort was an exercise in preparation for facilitating the next generation of ecological stewards.

people in fort k. RenzAll smiles, bright lights, three bags of popcorn and a jar of nutritional yeast. This is before the film. Photo by Katherine Renz.

With each cushion and sleeping bag of the Special Place Blanket Fort in order, it was time to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 screen version of Steven King’s psychological horror novel, The Shining (1977), a feature film we had been planning on watching during a snowstorm since we’d moved to the isolated Environmental Learning Center way back in the sunny days of September. This activity also be considered related to our studies, in multiple ways: it taught us how not to act when you’re stuck in the mountains with a lot of writing to do; it showed us one of our sister Cascade peaks, Oregon’s Mount Hood, which towered over the backdrop for the exterior shots of the movie’s haunted Overlook Hotel, known in real life is called the Timberline Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in the late 1930s; and it encouraged further cohort bonding, as any good horror movie will do.

the shining twins k. renz“Come and play with us, forever, and ever, and ever……”. The creepy ghost sisters of The Shining, as seen in the Wild Ginger Library-cum-independent movie house. Photo by Katherine Renz.

The road is open, the snow is slowly melting, and the grads have transitioned from fort-building to prepping lesson plans. We look forward to Mountain School resuming next week and watching the landscape morph, day by day, in to spring.

slush on diablo katie rolosonDiablo Lake from the shore at the Environmental Learning Center, Monday morning. Program Manager Katie Roloson said this was the first time she had ever seen the lake so completely covered in slush. It’s almost hard to imagine it having its characteristicly jewel-green, milky blue summertime hue. Photo by Katie Roloson.


Leading photo: Chunks of ice float on Diablo Lake in the shadow of Colonial and Pyramid Peaks on the weekend preceding Monday’s avalanche. Photo by Katie Komorowski.


Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program and co-editor of Chattermarks. She is happy to say that The Shining is less terrifying by the third viewing.




“Imaging the Arctic: Climate Science Through Art” at Whatcom Museum, Jan 11

January 8th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Join North Cascades Institute and the Whatcom Museum on January 11, 2 pm, for the Vanishing Ice Speaker Series! This final presentation in the four-part series will feature Expeditionary Artist Maria Coryell-Martin and marine mammal biologist Dr. Kristin Laidre presenting their project, “Imaging the Arctic: Communicating Climate Science through Art.” This free event is made possible with a grant from Humanities Washington and is part of  the Whatcom Museum’s Saturdays on Ice program that also includes reduced admission to the Vanishing Ice exhibit at the Lightcatcher Museum, family activities and workshops covering art, science, history and exploration.


In Spring 2013, Maria Coryell-Martin accompanied scientist Dr. Kristin Laidre onto the pack ice of Baffin Bay, based out of West Greenland. Dr. Laidre and colleagues were investigating the effects of sea ice loss on narwhals and polar bears, iconic species that are highly adapted to the extreme Arctic environment and vulnerable to climate change.

“The Arctic is a remarkable and stunning environment that is rapidly changing,” explains Coryell-Martin. “Collaborating with Kristin has given me the opportunity to witness and help illustrate this region that so few people can access. Her research brings deeper meaning to my sketches and paintings as they go beyond being just environmental portraits, to having a story within a scientific context. Working together, we can use art as a hook for scientific outreach and to inspire appreciation and stewardship for the Arctic.”


Coryell-Martin worked alongside the scientists as they recorded data on the health and movements of narwhals and polar bears, creating ink and watercolor sketches, as well as multimedia recordings. Following the tradition of artists working with early explorers, her fieldwork complements the science, and is being developed into a collection of stories and imagery to illustrate stories of climate change. Learn more at

 Read more:

“Painting the Arctic in a different hue” in The Arctic Journal

“Bringing Art To Narwhal Research In The Arctic” on KUOW


A New Culture: The 2013 Henry M. Jackson Youth Leadership Conference

November 22nd, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

Hey leaders?!”

Hey what!?!”

It was that time of year again, when over 60 motivated teens and environmental professionals from throughout the Pacific Northwest converge on the North Cascades Institute to spend the weekend learning about community action and environmental service projects. On November 9 and 10, the North Cascades Institute, National Park Service and United States Forest Service hosted the fourth annual Henry M. Jackson Youth Leadership Conference. The conference brought together former participants from regional youth stewardship programs to help them define their educational and professional goals, introduce them to new people and opportunities, and enhance their leadership skills.

One student, Tatum Kenn, described the weekend in her evaluation at the end of the conference: “LIFE CHANGING. INSPIRING. EYE OPENING.”

APCulturalCompA break-out session titled “Cultural Competence and the Environmental Movement,” facilitated by Sarah Weigle, Program Coordinator for the Student Conservation Association, and Amy Brown, NCI’s Youth Leadership Manager. Photo by Andrew Pringle.

And BUSY.  There were 11 break-out sessions, exploring everything from “Leadership Styles” and “Opportunities with the Federal Government” to “Adventures Abroad” and “Camping 101.” There was a Student Success Panel, featuring six youth leaders who shared their stories and answered questions from the audience, and an hour of student-led dialogue on topics ranging from labeling genetically-modified organisms to human population growth and sustainability. There was an Opportunity Fair, where government, non-profit and for-profit environmental leaders assembled to network with participants about future jobs, internships and programs. The following organizations all graciously attended the fair:

Lewis and Clark National Historic Park

Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

McNett Corporation

National Forest Foundation

National Outdoor Leadership School

North Cascades Institute

North Cascades National Park Complex

Northwest Youth Corps

Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities

Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group

Skagit Valley College

Student Conservation Association

Washington Conservation Corps

Washington Trails Association

Wilderness Awareness School

Additionally, Charles Thomas, Regional Manager of Youth Programs for the National Park Service Pacific West Region, flew in from California for the first day of the conference. Imagine if more national parks hosted annual events for youth leaders?

TatumKnotsLearning how to tie knots in “Camping 101.” Photo by Aneka Singlaub.
WatershedStudents freewrite during a break-out session, considering questions such as, “How can you live your life to be part of the solution? What are your strengths and challenges in terms of a more sustainable lifestyle? How does your connection to the natural world influence your behavior and lifestyle?”. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.
PowerTowerOne group hiked to the lookout spot above Buster Brown field, a perfect perch for inspiration. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.

In between such activities, participants were hiking and working on their “Action Plans” in small groups to outline their goals and objectives. The chance to get to know each other, reconnect with friends from past programs, do sunrise yoga and eat delicious food from the dining hall all made the conference a unique experience, as well.

Indeed, all these things were on the schedule, and happened, quite well. But more important is what happened in the hearts and minds of the student participants. Here is a sampling, gleaned from end-of-conference evaluations:

  • From Ariel Lunsford: “I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to come to this conference. I feel like I have found what I wish to do for the rest of my life. All the staff members were awesome and I have made many new friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everyone who helped make this all possible.”


  • From Elijah Yakimyuk: “This Conference is awesome! I gained so many resources and opportunities that made me realize that my wildest dreams now seem realistic in achieving.”


  • From Marisa Etzell: “A great opportunity to meet people who have been through a similar experience as you have, as well as network and connect with organizations who are looking for people just like you to hire!”


  • From Shekinah San Jose: “Take advantage of this amazing opportunity, take a risk and get out of your comfort zone, because you won’t regret it.”


  • From Seth Wendzel, of Seattle Parks and Rec’s O2, Outdoor Opportunities: “The Youth Leadership Conference was a confluence of great individuals and entities. The location is one of the better locations to be in the Pacific Northwest. Being an AmeriCorps intern in Experiential and Environmental Education, I was surrounded by so many opportunities to further partnerships and prospect future career opportunities. I look forward to mentoring the two students I was paired up with and encouraging them in the real world.”
 APSuccessYadira Lopez, a college student and former participant in NCI’s Cascade Climate Challenge, shared her experience as a leader during the Student Success Panel. In her evaluation, she wrote that the Youth Leadership Conference is “an awesome way to spend the weekend, and connect with old friends and new people. You learn about yourself a bit more too!” Photo by Andrew Pringle.
APEarthParticipants on the earth, of the earth, and in front of the earth. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
APgroupLeadership, rain or shine. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
APBridgeTyler Nixon, another participant on the Student Success Panel and leader with Teen Science Café, advised:”Just go and find out for yourself. It is worth it.” Photo by Andrew Pringle.

Having the chance to spend the weekend with so many teens and young adults inspired to seek solutions to global problems was inspiring in itself. Jeff Giesen, Associate Director of the North Cascades Institute, reflected on the importance of these opportunities in a recent email:

“The Saturday I spent at the conference was magical….I had countless conversations today with our staff, partners and youth about how amazing it is to be in the National Park, at the Learning Center and with so many people that care….I did my spiel about us having three missions and when I got to the ‘Save the World’ part, not a single youth laughed. It made me pause. A few adults laughed, but the kids sat there in understanding. We really have created a new culture of youth, a counterculture of sorts. These kids get it. We need to do more of this kind of work.”

ApCampfire2Closing ceremony. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
Leading photo: Masyih Ford, Co-master of Cermonies with Kassandra Barnedt, facilitates the Student Success Panel. Photo by Andrew Pringle.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She was excited to be able to present about some aspects bioregionalism at this year’s Youth Leadership Conference.



North Cascades Institute open for business

October 18th, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

We are relieved that the 16-day federal government shutdown is finally over and we are able to reopen the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center again.

The closure of North Cascades National Park forced us to cancel four different Mountain School sessions, impacting more than 300 students, teachers and parent chaperones. (You can read about how Bellingham fifth-graders from Wade King Elementary felt about having their Mountain School cancelled on our blog at

The dysfunction in Washington D.C. also meant that we had to furlough nine staff members; shut down our five bookstores; cancel a nature journaling class, a luncheon for Skagit Tours, a yoga retreat and two Group Rentals contracts for staff retreats; and cancel or return food deliveries from local farms.

All in all, we estimate that we’ve lost $65,000 in revenue over these past two weeks.

But the shutdown is over now, the park and Learning Center reopened, and we’re looking for ways to bring the disappointed fifth-graders up to Mountain School later this season. As a good friend of ours pointed out, “Our children need our parks and our parks need our children.”

Plus, the sun is out, there is new snow dusting the peaks and the larches on the eastslope and vine maples to the west are in glorious fall  color!

Thanks for your continued support.

Photo by Ethan Welty.

Graduate M.Ed. Program on the road

October 17th, 2013 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Staff from our Graduate M.Ed. Program will be attending several of the Northwest’s best graduate school exhibitions this month. If you live near any of these places and you’d like to learn more about what our program has to offer, please stop by and say hello!

Oct 21
University of Washington Nonprofit/Government Career Fair 
1-5 pm, Student Union Building

Oct 23
Evergreen State College Grad School Fair 

11am-3pm, Evergreen State College Library, 2nd floor

Oct 24
Western Washington University Community Internship & Volunteer Fair 

12-4pm, Viking Union Multipurpose Room

Oct 29
Portland Idealist Grad Fair 

5-8pm, University Place Hotel Ballroom, 310 SW Lincoln St

You can also learn more about our Masters in Education program by reading posts written by graduate students here on our blog Chattermarks and by liking our Facebook page.

» Continue reading Graduate M.Ed. Program on the road


Democracy in Action: Denied Mountain Schoolers Make Their Voices Heard

October 11th, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

“Dear President,

Please stop the government shutdown by Sunday. I am dying to go to Mountain School and it is being canceled. I am writing to you on the worst day of my life. You are ruining the lives of every single fifth grader in Wade King Elementary and if you care about kids then STOP THE GOVERNMENT SHUT DOWN!!! You can easily settle a budget but this may be the only time I’ll ever go to Mountain School.”

So read the text of a letter sent earlier this week by the fifth grade classrooms at Bellingham’s Wade King Elementary School to our nation’s capitol.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. government shut down because of dysfunction in Congress. Among the many negative impacts of this shutdown has been the closure of our treasured national parks, which has meant blocked access to monuments in Washington DC, cancelled vacations to popular destinations like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, massive loss of income for gateway communities and the suspension of fall educational programs inside the parks.

Many of  North Cascades Institute’s programs, because they occur inside North Cascades National Park, have been cancelled, including Mountain School, our keystone environmental education program for young students.

As The Bellingham Herald reported on Sunday, October 6:

Mountain School is a popular environmental education program offered by North Cascades Institute in cooperation with North Cascades National Park. Students learn about ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains.

Wade King students are set to go the first part of the week, and Columbia students the second part.

If the shutdown drags on into mid-October, students at Northern Heights and Happy Valley elementaries will be unable to attend.

North Cascades Institute also has had to cancel its adult programs at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center in the park. It is losing thousands of dollars, representatives said, but the impact on kids who look forward to going to Mountain School but might not be able to do is of concern.

“That’s the one that hurts the most,” Jeff Giesen, associate director for the nonprofit North Cascades Institute, said.


Right now, the decision on whether North Cascades Institute will be allowed to welcome 5th graders to Mountain School—many of whom have been scheduled and preparing for this singular experience for over a year in advance—is based on a day-by-day process.

The trickle-down effect is radiating outward like ripples across the green waters of Diablo Lake. Nate Cornelsen, a fifth grade teacher at Wade King, emailed Chattermarks a list of almost a dozen ways the shutdown has affected his students, classroom and school community, including:

  • Buses were scheduled and had to be cancelled.
  • Approved chaperones took time off work or planned to use vacation time to join us and may not be able to do so again.
  • Hours of teacher prep work to create new learning experiences for students.
  • Connections to the current Inquiry Unit that now cannot be made with Mountain School and will need to be altered.
  • Collaborative teacher prep time for additional activities or field trips to “replace” this experience so students can gain the required knowledge of the “Environments” section of the Inquiry Unit.
  • Building budget dollars used to support teaching and learning now have to be re-purposed for new busing.
  • Many parents are now collaborating to create additional shared experiences outside of the school day for all of the students.
  • Countless communications spent answering questions, keeping families and students informed of changing events, and between staff members about the fluid situation.
  • The challenging home and classroom atmosphere: Trying to console and reassure students that everything will be okay and we “might” be able to participate in a trip they have been counting on for six years!

The teachers are finding ways to turn the disappointment in to a learning experience for the students by having them write down their feelings and opinions in letters to the officials elected to lead. Though probably not nearly as interesting as tromping the trails at Mountain School, the shut down still offered a “teachable moment” for students, who researched the reasons why the government was closing the national parks.



While students downvalley write letters in protest, staff at the Learning Center are writing their own letters, working on improving Mountain School curriculum and trying to re-schedule the impacted schools so that, ultimately, no child is left behind.If you were a national leader, how would you respond to disheartened fifth graders who’ve been looking forward to going to Mountain School for years? Have an opinion? Follow the example of Bellinghamstudents and contact your representatives!

Top photos of Mountain School students by Rick Allen.

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is looking forward getting back on the trails with Mountain Schoolers, hopefully sooner than later.



Government Shutdown Forces Closure of North Cascades National Park Service Complex

October 3rd, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

As a result of the federal government shutdown, the National Park Service was forced to suspend all Cooperative Association Agreements on Thursday, October 3, including the long-standing agreement that guides the close relationship between North Cascades National Park and North Cascades Institute. As a result, we are unable to conduct scheduled programs at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center until further notice.

We are in touch with the groups that this impacts and deeply regret having to cancel programs. All programs happening outside of federal lands will continue as scheduled.

We are in close contact with our friends at both the National Park Service and US Forest Service and we are hoping for a speedy resolution.

Please feel free to contact us with your questions at (360) 854-2599. Thank you for your continued support.

Here is a press release from our friends at North Cascades National Park Complex:

Sedro Woolley, WA – October 3, 2013 –With beautiful weather forecast and new snow on the mountains, many people in the Pacific Northwest may head for the great outdoors this weekend. This is a reminder that the National Park Service (NPS) has closed all 401 national parks, including North Cascades National Park Service Complex because of the shutdown of the federal government caused by the lapse in appropriations. The Complex includes North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.

The North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem and the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount are closed as well as the NPS headquarters office in Sedro Woolley. In Ross Lake National Recreation Area, the Ross Lake Resort and associated water taxi service has shut down; Hozomeen campground and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center are also closed. In Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, visitor facilities including the Golden West Visitor Center and the lodge, restaurant and store at Stehekin are closed.

» Continue reading Government Shutdown Forces Closure of North Cascades National Park Service Complex

Saul Weisberg by Benj Drummond

Congratulations Saul Weisberg, North Cascades Institute’s co-founder and executive director

September 9th, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

Saul Weisberg, Executive Director of North Cascades Institute, has been recognized for his national and regional leadership with two high-profile professional awards: The Association of Nature Center Administrators’ 2013 Nature Center Leadership Award and Re Sources’ 2013 Environmental Heroes Award.

Weisberg is the co-founder of North Cascades Institute, the award-winning conservation nonprofit organization founded in Washington State in 1986. The Institute, under Weisberg’s leadership, has served tens of thousands of people of all ages in outdoor programs focused on the natural and cultural history of the North Cascades and Salish Sea region. In 2005, the Institute opened the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park, a $12 million educational facility operated in partnership with Seattle City Light and the National Park Service. Weisberg is noted for creating sustainable, mutually beneficial partnerships with the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Western Washington University and numerous local and regional organizations and businesses.

The Association of Nature Center Administrators’ 2013 Nature Center Leadership Award was presented to Weisberg in front of his national peers at the Surf’s Up Summit in Newport Beach, CA, August 21-24, 2013. ANCA recognized Weisberg’s “professionalism and ability to inspire and share with others,” “selfless work done in the profession and community” and for “exemplary accomplishments and contributions to the field of nature center administration” for his guiding role at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park.

“He has been a great friend, advisor, mentor and inspiration,” noted a nominating peer. “I have been impressed by his ability to share his expertise with others in ways that are insightful, encouraging and supportive.”

The Re Sources 2013 Environmental Heroes Award, presented Thursday, September 5, 2013 in Bellingham, WA, recognized Weisberg as a local leader in conservation and education.

“We are delighted to honor Saul for his extraordinary achievements in protecting and promoting the health of the Pacific northwest environment,” boasts Crina Hoyer, Executive Director of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “Saul has made huge contributions to the vision RE Sources and others share for our region. We at RE Sources  support, applaud, and encourage more work like Saul’s.”

Weisberg is executive director and co-founder of North Cascades Institute. He is also adjunct faculty at Huxley College of the Environment and has served on the board of directors of the Natural History Network, the Environmental Education Association of Washington and the Association of Nature Center Administrators. Weisberg is the author of From the Mountains to the Sea, North Cascades: The Story behind the Scenery, Teaching for Wilderness, and Living with Mountains. A dedicated naturalist, Saul continues to teach and write about northwest mountains, watersheds and wildlife. He lives in Bellingham where his passions include canoeing, bugs and walking in the mountains in the rain.

Photo by Benj Drummond.