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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.

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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

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Ecological Design: The Blue House Project

October 30th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

Guest post by Faren Worthington and Oliver Osnoss. Faren and Oliver were participants of the North Cascades Institute Creative Residency program. Their residency lasted six weeks and in that time, they worked closely with the NCI community to create an ecological development plan for the Blue House property in Marblemount.

We came to NCI from Massachusetts where we both recently graduated from The Conway School, a graduate program in ecological design and planning. This creative residency was an opportunity for us to practice our craft in collaboration with an organization whose educational mission is well-aligned with our work. By working on an ecological landscape design, we learned about the region’s ecology and communities in a unique and powerful way.

There’s a housing shortage in the upper Skagit Valley where North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center is located. NCI tries to provide housing for many of their staff and students. In 2014, they purchased the Blue House in Marblemount to address the need for housing. Since then, the Blue House has been home to staff, students, a vegetable farm, and even some livestock. The 7.7-acre property is located at the confluence of Diobsud Creek and the Skagit River where it is also home to wildlife including osprey, salmon, and black bear. The confluence is a dynamic place that changes as creek and river flows fluctuate. Both people and animals are attracted to it. Strict restrictions on development throughout Skagit County (primarily the moratorium on drilling new wells or changing the use of existing wells) exacerbate the housing shortage in the area. These restrictions are driven in part by a need to conserve natural resources such as salmon habitat.

NCI is currently seeking funding to develop the Blue House property by constructing an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) to house five additional people. They are also considering future construction of a private developed campground for temporary housing. NCI needs a plan for ecological development that is consistent with their mission. The product of our creative residency was a pair of conceptual landscape designs published in a document titled Blue House Site Designs: Conceptual Plans for Ecological Development. The document summarizes the project and is intended to serve as a tool in NCI’s decision-making process. During the project, we gave a series of presentations, facilitated community meetings, and taught an Ecological Design Workshop to share our process and invite feedback on our work. A second, unanticipated outcome of this creative residency has been a community-building process. Many participating members of the NCI community have grown more knowledgeable and engaged in stewarding the development of the property.

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NCI staff and students practiced ecological design in a workshop held at the Blue House. Photo by Joshua Porter

The project started with a goals articulation process in which we met with members of NCI’s leadership to learn about the organization’s needs and interviewed many others about their vision for the future of the property. We distilled three project goals:

  1. Provide additional housing for NCI staff and students.
  2. Create community and educational spaces.
  3. Improve farm and garden workspaces.

» Continue reading Ecological Design: The Blue House Project

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Growing Minds: Tree Planting at Cornet Bay with the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program

April 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Environmental Education has the unique opportunity to bring people and organizations together in the most radical places on this planet. Last month, myself and three other members of the current graduate cohort at the North Cascades Institute hopped on a bus full of students, chaperons, a police officer and National Forest employees as part of the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program.

The Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program (or Kulshan Creek for short) is a partnership between Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Mount Vernon Police Department, Catholic Housing Services of Western WashingtonNorth Cascades National Park and North Cascades Institute. Coming together they work with youth from the Mount Vernon, WA neighborhoods of Kulshan Creek and Casa de San Jose to:

  • Foster a connection to nature by increasing students’ understanding of their place in the North Cascades and surrounding region
  • Help students discover the connection between natural resources, public lands and the urban environment
  • Develop a stewardship ethic through meaningful environmental education experiences
  • Facilitate opportunities to gain life skills, build self-esteem and foster community engagement and pride
  • Provide positive role models for staying in school
  • Provide a pathway for students to continue their engagement through next step opportunities including Youth Leadership Adventures and exposure to internships and careers in natural resources, community services and environmental education

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Orlando Garcia instructing students what our day is going to look like.

Each month the Kulshan Creek program provides free opportunities for students to engage with the natural world. This year alone they have already been eagle watching and working with the Skagit Land Trust, and later this month will participate in the annual Migratory Bird Festival at Fort Casey State Park! On March 19th all of us met with the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group to help out with tree planting at Cornet Bay.

» Continue reading Growing Minds: Tree Planting at Cornet Bay with the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Program

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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

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Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Nika Meyers, Youth Leadership Adventures Field Instructor

Our journey into the wild started with an incredible boat ride on the Mule boat on Ross Lake to Little Beaver where the views of the North Cascades were in full force and the stories told by boat captains Gerry and Rob were in full supply. The dramatic vertical relief of the mountainsides shot up into the crisp air, Nohokomeen Glacier filled our rear view and the glassy surface of the lake rippled in our wake.  We had 18 miles to go on boat and then a 4.6 mile hike into Perry Creek for the night.

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At Little Beaver we filled up water, ate our lunch, did some stretches, adjusted our packs and reiterated the importance of dealing with a “hotspot” before it turns into a blister. We hoisted our heavy packs onto our backs and began the first hot climb up and away from Ross Lake. What an introduction to backpacking!

There was a mix of emotions during the first two hours: the beginning of pack rash, sweat dripping from many different body parts, beautiful views and getting to know and trust each other.

“I am not sure if this is what I was expecting,” said one student, just before another accidently kicked a squirrel that ran across the trail at the wrong time.

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“Whoops” of joy were heard through the Western Hemlocks as the front of the group reached Perry Creek campsite. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
We finished off the day with a sponge bath in the stream, mac n’ cheese and peas in our tummies and a bear-hang dangling our 7 days of food from the sky.

To develop leadership skills, improve communication and learn many important hard skills, each student had the opportunity to serve in different job roles throughout the course. Each day we had two leaders of the day, two cooks, two cleaners, a camptender, a scientist, and a community journalist. By working together we were reminded about the importance of being open minded, to share skills and experiences with respect and curiosity, and the value of being a good leader and a good follower.  We were challenged to be assertive, practice patience and share affirmative and constructive feedback to help us be a strong group.

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Our leaders of the day woke us up to the sound of running water and wind in the trees as we were ready to go meet some of the National Park trail crew staff for a day of brushing along the trail. With weed whips (swizzle sticks), loppers and handsaws in hand we worked our way through 6 feet tall brush shoots revealing the tread way once again to the human eye. “Wow! There is a trail here! Who would have guessed?!” One student said. “Before I did this I always thought that trails were just always there right where you needed them. I never thought about the fact that someone actually does take care of them or they would disappear. I will never look at a trail again in the same way!”

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Is there a trail here??

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We found it!

» Continue reading Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

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A Recipe for the Future: A visitor reflects on Youth Leadership Adventures

August 20th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sioux Towner

I had the privilege to witness, for the second year running, Youth Leadership Adventures in action. North Cascade Institute really knows how to navigate the tremulous water of teens in America, all kinds of teens: The diversity of the group I listened to today demonstrated to me that the strength of our country lies in its variation. After five days of wilderness hiking, team building, mentoring and “public speaking” (within the group twice a day or more), the ups and downs of North Cascades National Park along Diablo Lake did its magic once again.

It’s called “Visitor Day”; what that means is that each participant shares challenges, accomplishments, thoughts and dreams with an eclectic group of interested people who could be donors, teachers, park employees, national forest employees, alumni from former leadership trainings. It is a melange of adults often as diverse as the participants. What happens during this day, in my experience, is nothing short of perfect. It is filled with a kind of authenticity that can only blossom in a safe and caring environment. How that environment gets made was my personal quest today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParticipants transport themselves and their gear through a combination of backpacking and canoeing.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStewardship along the trails is an integral part of the Youth Leadership Adventures experience. The teens pack/canoe all their tools into the backcountry themselves.

I came up with several ideas based on what I heard from the group dubbed the  “Tree Huggers” (a name they gave themselves). The recipe goes something like this:

1.) Combine a group of total strangers — the more diverse, the better

2.) Provide for all their basic needs and no more

3.) Marinate in an atmosphere of wilderness and experienced staff

4.) Structure the days with meaningful work, challenges (nature usually takes care of most of that with rugged topography, weather, insects, wind, etc.) and the opportunity to talk to someone and be heard by all

Out of this relatively simple yet refined formula comes the most heartwarming stories of companionship, confidence, and insight — a backcountry utopia really. So many times we heard about some transformation that was incubating or starting to fledge. There were tears and laughter, questions and surprising answers. The unpredictability of the speeches was as refreshing as the environment, clean and pure — leaders in the making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProtecting wildlife, protecting their food! Participants become experts at hanging their food and any other scented items, an important responsibility in the backcountry.
Leading photo: Youth Leadership Adventures participants harnessing the ancient power of fire.
 
All photos by Carolyn Waters, Youth Leadership Adventures instructor.
 

Chattermarks gives a huge “thank you” to Sioux Towner, both for heading out to experience the backcountry with the student-participants and for being inspired to write her reflections.

 

 

 

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Place-Based Resolutions

December 31st, 2013 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Seconds past midnight, all bubbles and kisses. December’s fading moments transition into the cacophony of January, offering an annual reincarnation, ushering in a fresh year of open-ended possibility. Like blushing buds on winter’s twigs: Potential, unstoppable.

(For the next couple of weeks, at least.)

In terms of the new year — unlike most considerations — I’m a traditionalist. Being a powerfully symbolic time, the opportunity to create resolutions, and to reflect upon my variable successes with the almost done ones, is one too juicy to pass up. Two thousand fourteen is no different. Though the standard intentions, namely, “Play more guitar,” and “Stop being so neurotic” are obliged to make their repetitive appearance, I recently found a more measurable, but still challenging, way to test my resolve, one that will hopefully yield better results. It stems from the first post I wrote for Chattermarks, in which I wondered: How do we get to know our place (and, with a wink of the impatient, also asked if can we speed this relationship up)? I still haven’t found an answer, but the inquiry did prompt me to revisit a document called the “Bioregional Quiz.”

salmon carcasses RenzTaking care not to get any rotting flesh on her feet, the author stands amidst dozens of salmon corpses on the banks of the Skagit River near the Newhalem campground in North Cascades National Park. The anadromous fish travel upstream to the pools of their birth, lay the eggs of the next generation even as they begin to decay, then promptly die, in the process nourishing all the life of the upper valley. Photo by Samantha Hale.

Bioregionalism is best described by novelist Jim Dodge in his 1990 essay, “Living by Life.” Most simply, it’s a movement — part philosophy, part politics —  looking to natural systems as the point from which we should organize ourselves, our neighborhoods, our government, our spirituality. This could mean we consider, for example, watersheds, the shift in plant and animal communities from one region to another, topography, or human culture as the bases for decision-making, as opposed to arbitrary lines drawn on a map. Famously championed by Dodge and poet Gary Snyder, bioregionalism is radically place-based.

The questions such an approach requires one ask are essential ones and, I think, are the discoveries and explorations environmental educators seek to encourage in their students all the time. Let’s do it:

BIOREGIONAL QUIZ

Modified and augmented from Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman, and Victoria Stockley, CoEvolution Quarterly #32, Winter 1981

1.) Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2.) How many days until the moon is full? (plus/minus a couple of days)

3.) Describe the soil around your home.

4.) What was the total rainfall in your area last year?

5.) When was the last time a fire burned in your area?

6.) What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?

7.) Name five edible plants in your region.

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Wild alpine blueberries and savage salmonberries will soon mix with some oatmeal and sugar to make a mid-trip crisp on Cohort 13’s summer backpacking adventure. Photo by Samantha Hale.

8.) From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?

9.) Where does you garbage go?

10.) How long is the growing season where you live?

11.) When do the deer rut in your region, and when are the young born?

12.) Name five conifers in your area.

13.) Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.

14.) What is the land use history of where you live?

15.) What primary geological event/process influenced the land form where you live? (Bonus: What’s the evidence of it?)

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Evidence of former glaciers can be found all over the North Cascades in U-shaped valleys such as this one looking out from Slate Peak in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Photo by Samantha Hale.

16.) What species have become extinct in your area?

17.) What are the major plant associations in your region?

18.) From where you’re reading this, point north.

19.) What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?

20.) Name some beings (non-human) which share your place.

21.) Point to where the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.

22.) Are there plans for massive development of energy or mineral resources in your bioregion?

Dam HaleDiablo Dam: When living at the Environmental Learning Center, it’s impossible to forget where the energy comes from. Photo by Samantha Hale.

23.) What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

24.) Name five people in your neighborhood. What do they do?

25.) Where are the parks, open spaces or wild areas in your town?

26.) What are some of the main materials your house is made of?

27.) How much gasoline do you use per week, on average? What are the various ways you use to get from Point A to Point B?

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The pace of things to come? Biking around Lopez Island, dreaming of paradise. Photo by author.

28.) What is the oldest building in your community? The newest?

29.) Are there any hazardous waste sites in your community?

30.) Where does your sewage go?

31.) If there is a place you walk to regularly, is there an alternative route you can take instead, just to mix it up? How many different ways could you get to the same place?

32.) Where does your favorite restaurant get most of its food from?

33.) What advocacy organizations are in your community? Do they ever need volunteers?

34.) Does your town have a domestic animal shelter? A wild animal one? Do they ever need volunteers?

35.) Do you have a food bank or homeless shelter in your community? Do they ever need volunteers?

» Continue reading Place-Based Resolutions