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You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

February 7th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Recently, graduate student Marissa Bluestein became a volunteer at Rockport State Park. She also earned her Junior Ranger badge and learned about old growth forest ecology. Below are her words on the experience:

I stood with my right hand raised in the converted maintenance shed serving as the Discovery Center at Rockport State Park and repeated after Ranger Amos:

“As a junior ranger, I promise to protect the environment, pick up trash, explore the outdoors and protect state parks for current and future generations.”

It was my first day volunteering at Rockport State Park, and I’d just went on my first guided hike. Within 45 minutes, I learned that Rockport has one of the last remaining old growth forests in the Skagit Valley, with some trees as old as 500 years. The Park’s camping is now forever closed due to diseases invading these old trees, causing them to die and fall.

The forest is made up of salmon. Salmon hatch in freshwater and make their way to the ocean where they eat food containing Nitrogen 15. Nitrogen 15 is only found in the ocean, and as salmon make their way back up their river of origin to spawn, they carry that chemical makeup with them. After salmon die, their bodies are taken from the river by eagles, which sometimes drop carcasses in the forest, or they are drug into the forest by bears and other wildlife. Salmon remains are left on the ground. The decaying fish enrich the soil with Nitrogen 15 which help trees grow taller faster and are more resilient to drought and parasites.

Photo of Rockport State Park by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading You’re Never Too Old to be a Junior Ranger

Naturalist Notes: See the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018

January 29th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

On January 31st, 2018 humans across the west will witness a special convergence of three astronomical events tied to the full moon. It’s something so special it deserves its own notable name: the Super Blue Blood Moon. But what’s in a title? 

Here’s a Naturalist Note by graduate student Gina Roberti about what is most exciting in our upcoming super-blue-blood moon.


To get emotionally hyped for the Blue Moon portion of this celestial trifecta, we recommend you listen to the song Blue Moon by The Marcels (a throwback to the year 1961).

The full moon on January 31st will be the second full moon to occur in one month, an event known as a blue moon. A full moon occurs roughly every 29.5 days, and our calendar months are 30-31 days long. On the occasion that the full moon falls in the first two days of the month, it is likely that a Blue Moon will occur at the end of the month (except perhaps in leap years!). The expression “once in a blue moon” is not as rare as it implies, as this phenomenon occurs regularly every thirty-two months.

It is possible for the moon to literally appear blue, but this has nothing to do with an event on our calendar. In 1883, the eruption of the volcano Krakatoa in Indonesia threw enormous plumes of ash into Earth’s atmosphere. Some of the ash particulates were exactly large enough to scatter red light and let other colors to pass through (slightly wider than 1 micron). Through this veneer, the dominant red wavelengths of the sun’s light will instead appear blue. Since the moon reflects light from the sun, it also can appear blue. It is common to see a blue-colored moon after the eruption of any large volcano. Blue moons were reported after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in 1983 (Mexico), Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Volcanic eruptions in Indonesia have been some of the largest recorded in modern history. The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 led to an unexpected outcome: the invention of the bicycle! The year 1816 was called “the year without a summer” as Tambora’s release of such large volumes of ash persisted for years. The bicycle was introduced as an alternative to horse and buggy because without crops, horses became too expensive to feed. Image and info courtesy of UNESCO.

» Continue reading Naturalist Notes: See the Super Blue Blood Moon of 2018

Mark Scherer: Artist in Residence

January 26th, 2018 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Mark Scherer participated in the Creative Residence Program at the North Cascades Institute this December, joining the tradition of poets, naturalists, dancers and researchers who have participated in the past.

In Mark’s own words:

My home is Stehekin, Washington. The medium I work with most often is wood. I’m not a carver except in the most rudimentary way. I think of myself as a “shaper”. I use saws, files, sanding tools, and sometimes paint and glue to make my sculpture. Here are two examples of past work.

“Feets” 4′ diameter. Photo by Mark Scherer

“Twice” 17″ x 6″ x 2″. Photo by Mark Scherer

At the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, I’m working with ideas that are new to me, ideas addressing climate change. I like to make things that are pleasing and humorous. Climate Change isn’t pleasing or humorous. It scares me. If art has the power to move us, to change perceptions, to give us insights we might not otherwise see, then why not use whatever “art power” I can muster to encourage thoughtful consideration of our individual and shared culpability for where we’re taking the climate? During my Creative Residency I’m beginning tentative, “baby steps” toward that goal. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

» Continue reading Mark Scherer: Artist in Residence

Graduate Students Visit Concrete Elementary!

January 22nd, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

On January 17th, graduate students in the 17th Cohort visited Concrete Elementary School to teach naturalist lessons. As part of our Curriculum Design course, our main goal was to engage the local community in lessons about the environment, and develop a stronger connection with the school and its teachers.

This Curriculum course is taught by Lindsey MacDonald, the Graduate Program Coordinator at the North Cascades Institute. She strategically designed this experience as a way for us grads to practice our coursework in a meaningful way.

In her own words:

Graduate students have been learning about, analyzing, and developing curricula from a theoretical, and lived experience, perspective throughout this course. This opportunity to co-develop and implement a lesson in Concrete served to ground theory in practice, engage with our neighbors, and just have a little bit of fun with real live kiddos. It can be easy to forget why we spend so much time developing and adapting curricula. These practical teaching experiences provide a good reminder of the value and impact of all the behind-the-scenes, detail-oriented work.

For a few weeks leading up to our visit, we worked in teaching pairs to write our own lesson plans from scratch, incorporating Next Generation Science Standards for the assigned grade levels. We communicated with teachers and gathered as many fun props and animal specimens as we could find in our Sundew Collections to share with students. The results? The kids had a great time and we gained more teaching experience!

A student’s drawing of beavers in a wetland; photo by Eric Buher

Each teaching pair visited a classroom and taught for about an hour, sharing fun facts about the North Cascades Ecosystems, watersheds, and local animals. Below, Eric Buher shares his account of the day.

“It was such a pleasure to meet the wonderful students in Ms. Beazizo’s Kindergarten class at Concrete Elementary. They were very excited to learn about beavers and their habitat. They went to great efforts to show how much they had learned with some excellent pictures. We learned a lot about meeting the students where they are, the importance of effective lesson planning, and always being sure to give encouragement for burgeoning artistic talent!”

» Continue reading Graduate Students Visit Concrete Elementary!

2017 Northwest Youth Leadership Summit

January 18th, 2018 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The Northwest Youth Leadership Summit, now in its eighth year, is for young adults (ages 14-22) in the Pacific Northwest who have participated in outdoor, leadership, and/or stewardship programs. In 2017, graduate student Amy Sanchez attended the event, led a presentation, and enjoyed the festivities. 

In Amy’s own words:

As a student in the Graduate M.Ed. program, there are a number of opportunities to learn beyond schoolwork. My Work Study position as a Youth Leadership Adventures Graduate Assistant has been no exception to that. After returning from our Natural History Field course in the second week of October, I jumped into the swift moving river of planning the 2017 Northwest Youth Leadership Summit. This year was the eighth  Summit to take place, and the second time it’s been hosted at The Mountaineers in Seattle, Washington.

A group picture taken at the end of the day to commemorate a successful Summit; photo by Jodi Broughton.

Leading up to the Summit, I had the pleasure of working with and learning from an amazing team of individuals of staff from the North Cascades Institute, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest Service, and Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. They provided  insight into the immense amount of work that goes into coordinating an event for 150 young adults. Participants were given the chance to reconnect with fellow peers, many who had participated in outdoor programs, as well as with potential employers, internship opportunities, and college representatives. In addition to the  to networking, the Summit provided folks with workshops that included a wide range of topics and activities including a college prep presentation, an obstacle challenge course, and opportunities to discuss identity in the outdoors.

Crystal Sierra (left) and Alicia Raftery (right) excited for their chance to emcee the day’s events; photo by Jodi Broughton

We tried to make the Summit event as accessible to participants as possible.  All participants were provided with access to transportation both to and from the Summit. Shuttles and busses picked up groups from as far north as Bellingham, and as far south as Tukwila. My day began at 5:30am as I prepared myself to fulfill my role as a shuttle driver. After making sure I went through all of the safety checks, I made my way to the first pick up spot of the “Upriver Shuttle” in Rockport.

» Continue reading 2017 Northwest Youth Leadership Summit

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15 2018

January 15th, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Every weekend I will post photos collected from various North Cascades Institute graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

This week graduate students in the M.Ed Residency Program returned from their holiday break. After three weeks of being gone, we all returned to see cold, white stuff everywhere at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Below is a video from Ashley Hill of students having a snowball fight while on a break from nonprofit class. Some of us couldn’t help but enjoy the newly fallen snow and the temptation to throw it at each other!

Graduate Student Charlee Corra caught a glimpse of deer enjoying the snow, too.

Photo of deer snacking by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15 2018

Kulshan Creek Field Trip: The Search for Salmon at Cumberland Creek

January 5th, 2018 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program is a year-round educational program that engages young people ages 5 to 18 from two Skagit Valley neighborhoods in a series of monthly field trips to explore the outdoors and learn about our local watersheds.

This post is courtesy of Ellie Price, the Youth Ambassadors and College Access Coordinator. In it she describes a Kulshan Creek outing at Cumberland Creek. 

The weather was cold and rainy, but this didn’t stop the intrepid Kulshan Creek crew from having a blast at during their monthly field trip and outing. About eight students, three adults, and four high school volunteers decked themselves out in rain gear and rain boots to brave the weather and check out the salmonids spawning at Cumberland Creek.

We arrived at the Skagit Land Trust’s property to a gentle drizzle and immediately warmed up by playing the Salmon Game. The Salmon Game involves pretending you are a young salmonid that has to swim from the stream you were born in out to sea, circle one of the adult volunteers four times to signify the four years you spend in the ocean, and finally face the host of obstacles blocking you from returning to your original starting point in your home stream. These obstacles included Officer Serrano, who acted as a fisherman and tried to catch the students, and Orlando Garcia who pretended to be a bear chasing after fleeing salmonids. Two high school volunteers also stood arm-in-arm in the middle of the field as a dam, which inhibited the salmonids from reaching their goal.

» Continue reading Kulshan Creek Field Trip: The Search for Salmon at Cumberland Creek