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Wilderness Awareness School and Islandwood: Graduate Exchange Weekend

February 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

The North Cascades Institute has a Graduate Residency program where Western Washington University students live and learn at the Environmental Learning Center located near Diablo, Washington for a full year. Currently the Institute’s 15th cohort (C15) is doing their residency as part of their Master’s in Outdoor Environmental Education.

This idea of a dedicated year of learning for future Environmental Educators is not unique to North Cascades Institute. Back in January my cohort and I hosted three other residential higher education programs at the Environmental Learning Center. We spent the weekend sharing about what we did with Mountain School and our residency in the mountains of the North Cascades. This month it was our turn to go down valley and visit the similar programs of

 

Wilderness Awareness School (WAS):

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WAS’s Cedar Lodge.

Founded in 1983, the Wilderness Awareness School (located in Duvall, Washington)  the goal of the organization is to “to provide opportunities for children to discover the natural world around them, and for adults to explore, gain confidence in, and reconnect with the environment.” They do this through a variety of programs that involve over 2000 students every year. Their Anake Leadership Program is designed to build on what students have learned over their time at school and develop them as leaders in Outdoor Education.

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gorgelakewithdam.KristiKlinesteker

Gorging the Senses on Gorge Lake

March 21st, 2014 | Posted by in Adventures

Though I moved to the Environmental Learning Center last August, I had visited many times before during my first summer while living in Bellingham as a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. Each time I drove by Gorge Lake, I marveled at the huge sand banks with gigantic tree trunks, remnants from before the dam was constructed and the gorge was flooded. One of three manmade reservoirs on the Skagit River, Gorge Lake is part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. Built in 1921, it makes up one third of a three-part system that helps power the city of Seattle. The two other parts of that system are Diablo and Ross Dams, with their consequent lakes.

During the warmer summer and fall seasons, the utility company, Seattle City Light, keeps the Gorge Lake water level relatively low, making the lake bed look like a vast expanse on a foreign planet. Not long after I moved up to the Environmental Learning Center in September, Seattle City Light raised the water level in Gorge Lake. The Skagit River in winter, without the addition of glacial flour scoured from the mountains above, is a dark emerald green that begs for exploration.

tylerdrygorgelake.HaleGraduate student Tyler Chisholm explored the cracked surface of the de-watered Gorge Lake last fall, looking for signs of a moose who some encountered visiting the town of Diablo. Photo by author.

I recently had the opportunity to canoe the lake with some friends, and though it was a drizzly day, the company was warm and light. We started in the town of Diablo, close to the bottom of the Diablo Dam. Two in our company, Dylan and Max, were advanced paddlers, which made for an easy learning experience for the rest of us who all came with varying degrees of canoeing know-how. Starting close to the dam was a wonderful idea as it gave us a new perspective of the small, company town as we floated by. The Diablo Power House, built into the rock wall, seemed so much more impressive on water than it did on land.

As we floated down lake, we came to a small section of white water where Stettatle Creek meets with the mighty Skagit. My canoe partner, Max, gave me a few quick pointers before we entered the waves and we floated down easily without much duress, bumping and tossing as the flow pushed us here and there. As we shot out the other end, Max and I let out a WHOOP! It was a short bit of rapids, enough to keep us on our toes and to be a ton of fun. We watched as Dylan, Annabel and Kristi expertly navigated the waves before paddling on toward where Highway 20 crosses the lake. On the other side of the massive bridge, we slowed down and meandered through stumps and sandbars that momentarily sit above the water line. We could see far through the deep green water, with visibility at ten or so feet. The sand bars above and below the water line had deep cracks in them, presumably due to the shifting level of the lake. The remainders of the stumps that we could see were old, large and teeming with new life. It is remarkable how quickly nature reclaims that which has been disturbed.

powerhouse.KristiKlinestekerGraduate student Samantha Hale and Seasonal Naturalist Max Thomas paddle past the Diablo Power House. Despite its grey, concrete exterior, the inside is quite fancy, complete with marble and granite flooring, an art deco water fountain, and a tiled goldfish pool. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.
submergedtree.KristiKlinestekerStumps of old trees poke through the green waters of Gorge Lake, like 100-year-old ghosts lending paddlers an idea of what the landscape looked like before the dam and reservoir were constructed. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

As we continued on our journey, we stopped here and there to explore the many waterfalls that feed into the lake. By this point, the drizzle had turned to full-blown rain, swelling the cascades around us, giving an even better idea at the amount of water coming off the land. No wonder they call this place the North Cascades. To make the occasion all the more special, it was Kristi’s birthday weekend, so we took our time meandering around some lakeside caves and waterfalls of all sizes and shapes. We continued on much farther than we had originally planned, finally coming to rest at the point where the Gorge Falls meets its namesake lake. The falls are impressive from the roadside, and even more so from the base. Climb as we did, it was too damp to get higher for a full view of the falls. However, there were many waterfalls closer to the lake that were equally as impressive and easier to access.

canoeinggorgelake.KristiKlinestekerChasing waterfalls: Thomas and Hale canoe past one cascade after another, meandering toward Gorge Dam up ahead. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

After a bit of playing in the snow and taking a plethora of pictures and “selfies”, we were on the water again. Before heading up lake we stopped to touch the massive 300 foot dam on our way back. I can now say I have seen and touched all three dams on the Skagit. On our return journey we hugged close to the opposite shore, investigating an equal number of waterfalls as well as avalanches and rock slides. Rain or shine, the day was exquisite, and I can’t wait to return to the Gorge Falls on a sunnier day. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone, but would suggest going when the water level is higher as it makes for a more relaxed journey.

Enjoy your weekends and get out exploring, my friends!

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We made it to the Gorge Falls!  From L to R: Kristi & Dylan Klinesteker, Samantha Hale, Annabel Connelly, and Max Thomas. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.
Leading photo: The trip began in the shadow of Diablo Dam. Photo by Kristi Klinesteker.

 

Samantha Hale is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She has a background in marine mammal research and is ever in search, via canoe, of Diablo Lake’s elusive porca.

 

Paul Bunyon Stump

Christmas in the American Alps

December 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Whilst traveling home from Bellingham, I became enchanted by tales of Christmas in the Tirol (Tyrol) province of Austria while tuning in to “Travel with Rick Steves” on KUOW radio. A woman with a delightful Austrian accent described the many Christmas traditions celebrated in the Tirol beginning with Advent on the 1st of December. Although the events are many, the root of each is in simplicity. Natural items are brought into the home to make holiday decorations. Considerable baking and crafting of handmade gifts for friends and family takes place. Little children are taken sledding by one parent while the other decorates the Christmas tree with older children, leaving the revealing of the completed tree to be a surprise for the little ones. Church is attended on Christmas Eve, and at midnight, people pour into the streets to wish one another a merry Christmas. Travelers are drawn to the Alps of the Tirol for their beauty and opportunities for snow sport. It all sounded quite magical, and I began daydreaming of a journey there next December.

What gave me pause, as I considered the costs associated with a high season transatlantic flight to Europe, was the very fact that I currently reside in mountains commonly referred to as the American Alps. All of the traditions that I found charming about the Tirol could be recreated (on a considerably smaller scale) here in this glorious National Park which I have come to call my home. I would have my Austrian Christmas in Diablo, Washington.

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Misty Mountains: Colonial Peak is silhouetted above Thunder Arm

It would seem that the gathering of natural items to make holiday decorations for the home would be the easiest endeavor of my American Alps Christmas. However, allow me to pause here to remind readers that the gathering of natural items of any kind is prohibited in North Cascades National Park (other than one pint of edible fruits, nuts, or berries per person, per day). So I ventured to the parking lot of Roadside Park near Rockport where I gathered downed Western Redcedar and Douglas fir branches along with some downed tufts of lichen. Bald eagles sat nonchalantly in the trees above the park, scanning the Skagit River for shiny salmon. Bright red viburnum opulus or “guelder rose” berries were gifted to me by a friend. Although non-native, they added the perfect holiday color to the collection.

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Western Redcedar and viburnum opulus or “guelder rose” berries

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