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Mtn School Nat Geo Oct 2016

Mountain School in National Geographic magazine

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled to have been included in Tim Egan’s cover story for the October 2016 issue of National Geographic!

“In early fall I went to North Cascades National Park — the American Alps, chock-full of glaciers containing the frozen memories of wet winters past. A bundle of high peaks in Washington State, the park is one of the most remote places in the contiguous 48 states and also one of the least visited parks. But here, deep in the forested embrace of the upper Skagit River Valley, you can find the next two generations of Americans getting to know a national park. I heard hooting like owls and howling like wolves, coming from a circle of fifth graders and their wilderness instructors. The kids were from Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham, Washington, a school where almost half the students are nonwhite and most had never been in a national park. They were there for Mountain School, three days in outdoor immersion run by the North Cascades Institute. Their guides—staff naturalists, park rangers, graduate students—were all millennials. Without exception, the instructors thought the concern about their generation’s attachment to the land was valid, but overstated.

“It’s not like all of a sudden people are going to stop loving nature,” said Emma Ewert, who had gone to Mountain School and returned as an instructor. “But you do need the exposure, the fun of playing in the woods.” For that, perhaps, we should look to today’s parents, those afraid to let their children wander a little bit on their own.

The institute’s co-founder and executive director, Saul Weisberg, is a self-described Jewish kid from New York by way of Cleveland. He’s 62 now, wiry, with a bounce to his step. He learned to love the parks from his family, camping in a tent not unlike the one my folks used. He became a seasonal ranger at North Cascades and noticed a troubling pattern among visitors. “I don’t think I ever saw a person of color in the backcountry,” he said. He started Mountain School in 1990, partnering with the Park Service. About 3,000 students a year go through the program.

Though these kids lived only two hours or so away, this park was a strange new world for them. Many said it was the first time they’d been off the electronic leash of a family smartphone. “They have a very short attention span,” Ewert said.

At Mountain School, the instructors note changes in behavior over the few days the kids spend in the forest. They start to identify types of trees and small animals, and notice distinctions in sounds and smells. “Parents say, ‘What did you do to my child?’ ” said Carolyn Hinshaw, a teacher at Birchwood.

The parks director, Jarvis, is a big fan of Mountain School and similar programs, like Nature Bridge, which brings 30,000 students every year to a half dozen national parks. But he cautions that one visit does not a park lover make. “Something clicks, a light goes on, just by having some exposure,” he said. “I think it takes three touches for someone to change. A great first impression, but no follow-through, is not enough.” What’s needed, he said, is a broad cultural shift—a return, of sorts, to a time when outdoor exposure was a basic nutrient of American life.”

Read the rest of “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?” at

C14 Row

Graduation 2016: C14’s Grand Finale

March 21st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Phenology, or the study of natural cycles, is a constant part of life at the North Cascades Institute. We dive deep into when the first buds appear on trees, what bird songs we can here in that season and the height of all of the flowing water in the area. This year two of the largest, and most celebrated, phenological events at the Institute were the capstones and graduation of the 14th graduate cohort obtaining their Master’s in Outdoor Environmental Education with certificates in Non-profit Leadership Administration and Northwest Natural History.

Back in the summer of 2014, Cohort 14 (or better known as C14!) was born. These individuals then spent a year at the Institute’s Environmental Learning Center located on Diablo Lake, WA learning and teaching about the natural landscape. They then finished their degrees at Western Washington University.

Each of the nine cohort members poured their passion into their studies and made a permanent impact at the Institute. Their grand finale was giving their capstone presentations from March 15th-March 17th where staff, professors, family and Cohort 15 gathered to listen to the wise words from C14.

Kevin Capstone

Kevin Sutton

Kevin Earhart Sutton gave his capstone on Perceptions in (Outdoor) Education: Using openness and vulnerability as learning tools. In his presentation he discussed the “masks” that we all wear and how outdoor education can be a tool to help empower people to take control of the masks they wear each day. Examples of masks include proficiency, extravertedness and stubbornness.

» Continue reading Graduation 2016: C14’s Grand Finale


Celebrating 30 & 100 Years Birthdays!

March 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

As we ready for our 30th spring and summer of offering outdoor explorations and learning adventures in the North Cascades, we acknowledge another important anniversary too: the Centennial of the National Park Service! On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that created the agency that today stewards 410 units, of which 59 are national parks. We are fortunate in Washington State to have three of the best ones! Learn more at and

We’ll be celebrating this important milestone this year by co-presenting Terry Tempest Williams reading from her new book The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks at the Mount Baker Theater on June 15 and hosting a free Anniversary Picnic at the Learning Center on July 17. North Cascades National Park has a slate of special offerings too, including a NatGeo Centennial BioBlitz May 20-21 and a Centennial Photo Scavenger Hunt; learn more on their website.

In other news, we just opened for registration two dozen more Learning Center classes and Field Excursions on our website, including Hart’s Pass Wildflowers, Backpacking for Women, Hawkwatching at Chelan Ridge, Ross Lake Canoe Adventure and several photography and geology classes. We are also signing folks up for Family Getaways, Base Camp (check out our new online calendar of available dates) and Skagit Tours. View the calendar below to see what’s coming up, visit or call our friendly registrars at (360) 854-2599 for more information and to sign up.

2016 Learning Adventures: Now Registering!

April 22-24: Ross Lake Revealed: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe
April 29-May 1: Skagit Canoe Adventure
May 7-8: Exploring Yellow and Jones Islands by Boat and Boot
May 8: Snakes and Amphibians of the Methow Valley
May 14-15: Exploring Sucia Island by Boat and Boot
May 20-22: Stewardship Weekend at the Learning Center
May 27-29: Blockprinting and Bookbinding
May 28: Sauk Mountain Wildflowers
June 3-5: Wild Edibles on Lopez Island
June 3-5: Spring Birding East and West of the Cascades
June 10-12: Watercolors in the North Cascades
June 10-12: Adventures NW Photography Workshop
June 18: Geology: Cinder Cones and Crater Lakes of Mt. Baker
June 24-26: The Artful Map
July 1-3: Fourth of July Family Getaway
July 8-10: Best Hikes of the Cascades I
July 8-10: Beaver Ecology in the Methow

Many more classes, pricing and registration at >>

Teacher clock hours, scholarships, student and military discounts and academic credit may be available >>

Mail Attachment

Naturally Wonderful Naturalists: New staff of 2016

March 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

As the snow is melting and the trees are budding, our Naturalist Team is getting ready for teaching in the mountains. At the North Cascades Institute‘s Environmental Learning Center the Senior Naturalist and Lead Program Assist will help guide the five new Naturalist Field Instructors over nine months of teaching in the mountains.

During the spring and fall of 2016 these naturalists will educate elementary through high school students in our Mountain School program about the numerous interactions in the surrounding ecosystem. During the summer they will be leading high school students on back country trips through our Youth Leadership Adventure program. Throughout their time here they will also have opportunities to lead Skagit Tours; a tour of Seattle City Light’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

We look forward to their energy and enthusiasm in the variety of ways they will teach about the North Cascades!


Max Thomas

Max isn’t new to North Cascades Institute, but is taking on a new role with us. After 2 previous years as a seasonal naturalist, Max has moved into the Senior Naturalist position. This position supervises the naturalists and provides leadership and mentorship in our education programs, with a focus on Mountain School, Family Getaways and Basecamp. Max was raised in Minneapolis and went to college at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he received a degree in Outdoor Education. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
During college he found a variety of passions in the forms of canoeing, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.  After college Max worked as an interpretation ranger in Glacier National Park.  The beauty rocked his socks off.  After 4 years in Montana, the Cascade Mountains called his name and has found a new home in the Evergreen State.  The beauty is still rocking his socks off.  When he isn’t playing nature games with fifth graders or camping in the mountains, Max can be found fiercely rooting on Minnesota sports teams.

» Continue reading Naturally Wonderful Naturalists: New staff of 2016

Meal at FSS

North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015

January 11th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Annah Young, Tyler Davis, and Ginna Malley-Campos who are all graduate students in the institutes 15th cohort.

On December 4, 2015, over 20 local farmers, educators, chefs, advocates and organizers from our region gathered at the Environmental Learning Center to connect on challenges and opportunities to strengthen the health of our regional food system. The weekend was filled with lively conversation and inspiring stories. The North Cascades Institute was inspired to host this particular group of community change makers because of our belief that in order to protect the North Cascades ecosystem we need to also protect the health of our local foodshed, the region where our food comes from.

Friday night started with a locally sourced meal followed by a discussion led by Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition. Mary has over 30 years of experience working as a food systems advocate in Washington State. The group identified that in order to move forward with discussion we needed to understand what each person does, and is motivated by, on an individual level within this complex food system. Friday night offered an open space for story sharing and connecting with individuals such as Don Power and Joel Brady-Power, father and son and co-owners of Nerka Sea Frozen Salmon. Don and Joel gave us a multigenerational look at how they have provided sustainably caught fish for the institute for over 10 years. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
These personal stories about where our food comes from were intertwined throughout the weekend and we recognized a need to tell these stories; where and who our meals come from and, most importantly, why this matters.

Activity at FSS

Deep into discussion.

» Continue reading North Cascades Foodshed Summit 2015

Pacific Wren

Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

November 27th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

By Rob Rich

I came to the Pacific Northwest for many reasons, but one of them was, well, for the birds. Were those harlequin ducks for real? What was so special about the Pacific wren? And oh, how I longed to see the red-shafted Northern Flicker! These were some of my last thoughts before finally chasing the sun towards the Salish Sea. But since most birds don’t migrate from East to West, I knew I’d need a guide to set me straight.

Thankfully, I’d planned North Cascades Institute’s Spring Birding to be my first stop upon arrival. That’s right, I signed up from 3,000 miles away, tossed out my moving boxes in Bellingham and settled first things first: learning birds in the field with Libby Mills.

If you too feel like a lost goose at times, do not fear. Spring Birding is back, as are a host of other older Institute favorites – and some new ones that look out of this world. Literally. Where else but North Cascades Institute can you take a class that is astronomically synchronized for the nighttime awe of photographers? And where else can you hang out with snake experts, or decipher the clues of wildlife tracks in our precious winterscapes? As always, the great unveiling of the Institute’s January-June courses will expose natural curiosities you never knew you had. Experienced and emerging naturalists alike will both be forced to reckon with a growing list of reasons why the North Cascades are where it’s at.

Night photo

» Continue reading Shooting Stars: Nighttime Photography, Wildflowers and More (a preview of 2016!)

YLC (1 of 1)

Youth Leadership Conference 2015 in the North Cascades; now accepting applications

September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

Applications for our 2015 Youth Leadership Conference are now being accepted! The conference is held at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center November 6-8 and is open to students ages 14-22 who are alumni of our youth programs, including Youth Leadership Adventures, Mountain School, Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth, and Concrete Summer Learning Adventure.

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Information and application at Due date is Friday, October 2nd!

2012 YLC ©Jess Newley (2 of 5)

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