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30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

December 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

As today marks the last day of 2016, what better place than Chattermarks to look back at the memories and highlights of the year here at the North Cascades Institute. I have only recently joined as a contributor to the blog and many of the posts this past year were submitted by guests, naturalists, C15 graduate students and Ben Kusserow – our previous blog editor who left intimidatingly large shoes to fill! Before I started the graduate residency program, I frequently came to Chattermarks to get a better idea as to what my life would be like in the upper Skagit and the work being done by the Institute. The first hand narratives, naturalist tidbits, and expertise of all these contributors painted a rich picture, helping to prepare me for this year of living in the North Cascades. I hope you’ve found their contributions as helpful and informative as I did. Enjoy this look back at 2016!

Mountain School

One last group photo before these 5th graders head back to Bellingham after three days of Mountain School.

In my mind there isn’t a program at NCI that can compete with the energy and enthusiasm of Mountain School. Hundreds of students from all over the state participate in the program during fall and spring, spending three to five days exploring the trails and learning about mountain ecosystems through interdisciplinary activities.

  • We always hope that when the students leave, they are taking with them positive and lasting memories. This year, instructors shared some of the letters they received from students in the post, “Dear Mountain School,” affirming our hopes.
  • In October, we were all excited to see Mountain School in the cover story of National Geographic. The article highlighted the importance of getting young people and people of color into our National Parks.

 

Naturalist Notes

Photo courtesy of Ben Kusserow, from his natural history project on bats in the North Cascades National Park.

2016 was full of educational opportunities here on Chattermarks. If you feel like your naturalist skills could use a brush up or you just want to learn something new, look no further. This year seemed to have a little bit of everything, from fungi to fire lookouts.

» Continue reading 30 Year Anniversary: A Look Back at 2016

C16 Natural History2

Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

November 8th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Chompers and Lewisa, the new beaver residents of Beaver Creek, quickly became much more active as their wire cages were placed in the cold creek, splashing about and looking to explore. The beavers looked on disdainfully as we humans created a small dam in the creek, to give them a suggestion of where to build their new home. We then opened their cages and they immediately swam out, eagerly exploring their new territory.

C16 Natural History5

The NCI graduate cohort was on our Fall Natural History Intensive. We spent a week in the Methow Valley, observing classes at Classroom in Bloom (a community garden that works in conjunction with the Methow Public Schools) visiting salmon restoration sites, printmaking, and continuing our coursework. On this day, we had the opportunity to help out with the Methow Beaver Project. We had started the day at the Winthrop Hatchery, where beavers from the Methow Valley Restoration Project were held in the time between being removed from problematic areas (areas where beaver dams would flood homes or buildings) and being moved to new homes where the ponds they create would benefit the entire ecosystem. Beaver ponds not only create vital open habitat that increase biodiversity, they also act as a storage area for fresh water, decreasing flood possibility, decreasing erosion, and recharging water aquifers.

» Continue reading Wildlife Encounters In The Methow: A Natural History Intensive

must-see-birds

Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Upcoming events:

North Cascades Institute’s Birds of Bellingham Bay outing on the Snow Goose; Oct. 5, 8 am-5 pm, $125. Info and registration at ncascades.org or (360) 854-2599

Sarah Swanson and Max Smith presentation at Village Books in Bellingham; Oct 2, 7 pm, free. Info at villagebooks.com

Sarah Swanson and Max Smith, passionate birders living in Portland, have created a fantastic new natural history guidebook with Timber Press called Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest. Unlike other guides, Must-See Birds doesn’t attempt to describe every winged creature in our region but instead hones in on 85 species that provide a rich cross-section of the avian riches unique to Washington and Orgeon. Divided in to sections like “Beach Birds,” “Big Birds,” “Tree Trunk Birds” and “Urban Birds,” their tome tells the stories of each species, illustrated by sumptuous photographs and, most helpful, where to find them. It closes with eight distinct weekend birding trip itineraries, including “Nesting Season on the Central Oregon Coast,” “The Canyon Country of Central Washington” and “The Salish Sea in Winter.”

Swanson and Smith will bring their book to life when they join local bird authority Joe Meche to lead a day-long “Avifauna Afloat” exploration of Bellingham Bay aboard the Snow Goose with North Cascades Institute on October 5. We talked with them about Must-See Birds ahead of their visit.

Christian Martin:  How did you determine what birds in the Northwest are “must see”?

Sarah Swanson: The 85 birds in the book are ones that should excite birders and ones that they should be able to find and identify without too much trouble. We included species with interesting plumage and behavior and excluded ones that are too rare (Snowy Owl) or hard to identify for beginners (Pacific-slope Flycatcher).

CM: What is the larger goal of creating this guide?

SS: We want to get more people out birding and to help them expand their birding horizons geographically and taxonomically. The more that people enjoy birds and birding, the more they will do what they can to help protect birds and their habitats.

CM: What is unique about birds in our region?

» Continue reading Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest

cedarosa flag

The Cedarosas Take On North Cascades National Park

September 12th, 2013 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

They met on July 17, 2013, not quite sure what to expect. Six talented young women, all alumni of programs like North Cascades Institute’s Cascades Climate Challenge and North Cascades Wild, as well as the Student Conservation Association, met up with three North Cascades Institute instructors to embark on the Institute’s newest course: Leadership Corps. Leadership Corps is a 31-day course for 18-22 year old students who are interested in exploring careers in public lands and expanding their leadership, backcountry travel, and work skills. The Corpsmembers spent four weeks in the North Cascades National Park Complex completing trail maintenance and ecological restoration projects alongside Institute and National Park employees.  This year, the crew happened to be all female, and as they explored the vast beauty of the National Park they also explored what it means to be a woman in a non-traditional career: a trail dog. This is the story of the Cedarosas….

group by truckThe crew on their last day in the field in Stehekin, WA. From left to right: Sahara (Instructor), Sage, Annabelle, Mohawk, Monica, Yadira, Karina, Sabrina (Instructor), and Kevin (Instructor) underneath

Their journey began in the northern unit of the National Park on Ross Lake. After a trip on the Park’s faithful mint green boat, the Mule, the crew set out to their first destination. Straining and struggling with heavy packs most were unaccustomed to, the first leg of the journey was long, hot, and buggy.

on the trailTaking a break on the first day of hiking. Everyone’s pack was well over 50 lbs!

» Continue reading The Cedarosas Take On North Cascades National Park

panorama at desolation lookout

Science, Sustainability, Singing, Stir-fry, and Snacks!

August 25th, 2013 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

I met them on August 1st. Twenty bright new faces arrived on buses and vans at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. As they walked quietly out of the vehicles, sleepy from early morning pick-ups at high schools from Bellingham to south of Seattle, I could tell right away that they were older than the rest of our Youth Leadership Adventures participants this summer—mostly because 90% of them were taller than me…

These 16-18 year olds from western Washington and Oregon had been selected for our Science and Sustainability program. They were about to spend 15 days in the North Cascades—11 days backpacking and canoeing on Ross Lake, followed by four days of staying at the Learning Center and camping in Marblemount, all the while studying science, sustainability, leadership, and community.

backpackingBackpacking down Ross Lake. Photo by Institute staff and graduate students
practicing canoeingThe students practicing their paddling strokes before loading the canoes. Photo by Institute staff and graduate students

» Continue reading Science, Sustainability, Singing, Stir-fry, and Snacks!

dragonfly

Order of the Odonata

August 12th, 2013 | Posted by in Field Excursions

August 2nd through 4th, 16 participants, three Institute staff, and one instructor spent a wonderful weekend exploring the order of the Odonata. Due to cold and cloudy weather, we were unable to catch dragonflies and damselflies on Friday as planned. Instead, the class sat down for a presentation on these carnivorous insects given by instructor Dennis Paulson, who gave most of the Odonates their common names.

common spreadwing damselflyCommon Spreadwing Damselfly (Lestes disjunctus)
northern bluet damselflyNorthern Bluet Damselfly (Enallagma annexum)

» Continue reading Order of the Odonata

baker in morning

Falling in love with the forest

August 2nd, 2013 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

When I first learned that I would be leading a Youth Leadership Adventures course on Baker Lake, I was a bit…wary. Don’t get me wrong—I knew Baker Lake would be lovely. And although it is much easier to access than Ross Lake (where many of our courses happen), I knew the students would still feel like they were in the middle of the wilderness. But. I had heard stories from other instructors who had led trips at Baker Lake before. Stories of rowdy groups camped out in our reserved sites, unwilling to leave. Stories of so many motor boats on the lake that crossing the narrow span of the reservoir by canoe was…challenging. I knew that our group would be fine, that whatever happened, we would figure everything out. But as we departed from the Learning Center last week, there was still a corner of doubt in my mind.

Before we got to Baker Lake for the canoe-camping portion of our trip, however, we would be backpacking to Mazama Camp, 3.7 miles from the Schreiber’s Meadow trailhead. I had hiked up Railroad Grade before, which shares much of the trail en route to Mazama Camp. We had checked the map ahead of time, and it appeared that we gained 400 feet in elevation, and then descended back down those 400 feet to the camp. That seemed pretty reasonable, even for the group’s first time backpacking. Now, I will be the first to admit that my math skills are not my strongest asset (my students will attest that sometimes counting to 12 can be hard for me)…but the hike was three miles of up, and then .7 miles back down 400 feet. (I still need to look at that topo map again…) Regardless, our group did eventually make it there, after a good amount of snow travel, and were greeted with a scene of incomparable subalpine beauty.

» Continue reading Falling in love with the forest