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Photo Roundup: April 22 2017

April 23rd, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photos by Kay Gallagher

The appearance of the sun at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, has been a rare treat this spring. Last weekend, we had a few beautiful days of sunshine and everyone went out to soak up that vitamin D! Our on-campus graduate students kicked off their Easter with a gorgeous paddle around Diablo Lake.

A rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). Photos by Kay Gallagher

This little one and some friends have been hanging around the lilac bush in front of graduate housing in Diablo, anxiously waiting for it to bloom. Fun fact: a group of hummingbirds can be called a shimmer, a charm, a bouquet or a hover!

Beaver signs near Cascade River. Photos by Calvin Laatsch

Conference and Retreats Coordinator, Calvin Laatsch, saw some pretty distinct beaver markings on this tree along the Cascade River in Marblemount. Beavers, (Castor canadensis) cut down trees, shrubs and other available vegetation for food and building material. Beavers are considered ecosystem engineers – their dams slow the flow of water in a stream, creating wetlands which many native North American fauna species rely on. Dams also slow the movement of nutrient-rich sediment in a stream, causing it to build up in a pond. These sediments not only provide food for creatures who live at the bottom of the pond but also enriches the soil once the water drains away!

This week, Seattle City Light opened a flood gate on Diablo dam to let out excess water from the spring melt. Students walked onto the dam to learn the history of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project and see the water cycle in action. Photo by Angela Burlile

A highlight for many students in the Wolverine trail group was our Sit Spot activity. Done each day, students are asked to find a peaceful place somewhere along the trail and to sit silently, making observations about the natural world around them. Photo by Angela Burlile

It was a gorgeous, sunny day on Friday and Lincoln Elementary School took full advantage of the clear skies and sweeping views of Pyramid and Colonial Peak for this group photo. Photo by Angela Burlile

Mt. Vernon’s Lincoln Elementary School arrived on Wednesday to participate in our Mountain School Program. Students explore how all parts of the ecosystem are interconnected through lessons and activities on the trails surrounding our Environmental Learning Center.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: April 22 2017

A Snowy Start to Spring Mountain School

March 20th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

There really wasn’t anything ‘spring-like’ about our first spring Mountain School session of the year. With almost a foot of snow falling the night before and continuing snowfall throughout the day, 5th grade students from Mt. Vernon’s Madison Elementary School arrived on March 6th to a winter wonderland at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

With a few lesson modifications, extra layers from our gear closet and frequent hot chocolate breaks, students and instructors took advantage of this seasonally atypical weather.

A Madison Elementary student enjoying some snowy exploration along the shore of Diablo Lake. Photo by Angela Burlile

At Mountain School, 5th grade students spend three days examining the interconnectedness between abiotic (non living) and biotic (living) elements of an ecosystem through interdisciplinary and experiential learning activities. The late snowfall allowed instructors an opportunity to incorporate pieces such as the effects of snowpack on the local watershed, life in the subnivean zone (the area between the surface of the ground and the bottom of the snowpack) and winter adaptations of animals found within the park into their lessons.

Graduate student, Becky Moore, leads her trail group through the motions of the water cycle dance. Photo by Angela Burlile

For more on our first day of Mountain School, check out the video below. 

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

January 29th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Jihan Grettenberger

Jihan Grettenberger, a graduate M.Ed. student at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center, came across some cougar tracks while walking down the Diablo East Trail this weekend.

Photo by Angela Burlile

The temperature really warmed up this week! Giant icicles began to break off onto the road between Highway 20 and Diablo Dam but were cleared away quickly thanks to Seattle City Light.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 29 2017

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

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15, 2017

January 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Every Sunday I will be posting photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

Photo by Angela Burlile

On Monday, I caught the sun dancing across Diablo lake in the morning mist on my way to North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.

Photo by Dan Dubie

Graduate M.Ed student, Dan Dubie, took this beautiful photo of a snow covered Diablo Dam.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15, 2017

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Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

July 22nd, 2016 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Guest post by Imara White, Apprentice Instructor for Youth Leadership Adventures

Youth Leadership Adventures is a North Cascades Institute program that takes high school youth out in the North Cascades backcountry to backpack or canoe, complete service projects, and develop outdoor leadership, field science, public speaking, and communication skills. The program works to inspire a conservation ethic in the next generation of leaders all while developing a love and connection to the North Cascades landscape. Our first session of three crews hit the trail on June 28 and returned after 8 days in the wilderness.  

One of these amazing groups was an all-female group. When they first arrived for their trip, they were bundle of nerves and excitement since almost all of the girls were new to canoeing, backpacking and camping.

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» Continue reading Youth Leadership Adventures 2016 trip report: Diablo Ducklings

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Winter Musing in an Alpine Refuge: Creative residency January 18-30, 2016

May 30th, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Véronique Robigou – Artist, Geologist, and Natural Science Illustrator.

At the start of the year, I was very fortunate to join the legion of artists, naturalists, and scientists who before me have benefited from the North Cascades’ Institute Creative Residency Program. A retreat as artist-in-residence in the remote, alpine setting of the North Cascades Learning Center! An escape from my city routine with all the comfort of a chalet in the forest, the support of the center staff, and the intellectual stimulation of interacting with graduate students that study environmental education at the center. What an ideal way to start the year!

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In winter, the Diablo lake landscape is not as colorful as alpine peaks and meadows blooming in Spring nor as glorious as the golden forests of the Fall but… the dark gray skies, the perfectly still surface of the lake, and the snowy trails are conducive to quiet and creative reflection – a luxury that I rarely have time for in my daily life.  I relished long, silent walks through the forests, and along the lakeshore, and many hikes up the snow-covered, mountain trails. The seemingly, dormant nature was amazingly vibrant with mosses and mushrooms thriving in the constant rain. And plants, bushes and trees were nurturing intricate, delicate buds. Buds that my eye had never quite noticed in the same way before. As I explored the area for the first time, I discovered nature in a season during which I usually don’t sketch in “plein air”. Hiking silently through towering Douglas firs, Sitka alders, and Ponderosa pines gave me an opportunity to muse and dream up new projects. Immersed in the subdued colors of winter, my sketches were infused not only by my observations in the natural world but also by the pitter-patter of rain, the raucous call of a solitary raven or the occasional rock fall on the mountain slope. Sounds became elements of my visual musings. Sounds became colors.

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When the rain would not take a break, I found refuge in the cozy center’s library to read and do research. Focusing on local, topographic maps, reports about the construction of the hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River, history of the Diablo lake region and natural history guides of the area, I unearthed fascinating ingredients that will feed new artworks. Over the next few months, all this new information, my observations and my impressions will gradually coalesce into new ideas to express with colors on paper and reflecting my time at NCI.

My discussions with the talented staff and students at the center have been some of the brightest moments of my stay. Sharing meals, life experiences and stories, art and science insights, and teaching strategies enriched my reflective time with energy from a youthful and dedicated group of people that enthusiastically share their passion for the environment. The atmosphere that they create and nurture at the center is a priceless addition to any creative endeavor. I also spent time facilitating an “Art of Map” workshop for the graduate students who literally transformed a gloomy, rainy day into “Liquid Sunshine”. Read more at

http://www.oceanetterrastudio.com/blog/liquid-sunshine.

As much as I thrive in the intensity of traveling afar, I may have found that a local, creative haven at the North Cascades Learning Center. How thrilling to have access to this refuge just a few hours from my studio! I look forward to future explorations at and around the center in all seasons.

Véronique is an artist, natural science illustrator, geologist, and educator at Ocean et Terra Studio in Seattle, WA. Learn more at www.oceanetterrastudio.com