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MS Fall 2015 Cover

Mountain School: Celebrating 25 Years and the end of the Fall Season

November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

For the past 25 years, the North Cascades Institute has been teaching students about their wild nearby through the Mountain School program. The program started back in 1990 and was based out of Newhalem, WA. Tracie Johannessen, who lead the program when it started and is the current Education Director at the Institute, informed the newest Mountain School instructors during training that “Mountain School used to be based out of tents in Newhalem. Other than the location change (up to the Environmental Learning Center in Diablo in 2005) and tweeks in the curriculum here and there, the program has been consistent.”

The typical, three day program for fifth grade students has a simple ABC format: Abiotic, Biotic and Community days. As Tracie said, every student coming for Mountain School over the past 25 years has experienced the North Cascades in this way. This fall 1,230 students from 19 schools joined this legacy.

MS Fall 2015 Bus

Two students ready for an awesome three days!

After driving anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours on a bus, the students arrive with big smiles and arms full of luggage. Some of the schools have been coming for 25 years, so these students have been hearing about this journey from their older schoolmates. They then drop off the luggage and go through a humorous and informative orientation about the Environmental Learning Center, the North Cascades National Park, and what to expect for the next three days. The students are then divided into trail groups of 10 students maximum per instructor.

» Continue reading Mountain School: Celebrating 25 Years and the end of the Fall Season

Jon Reidel

Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

October 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

What do you do if you are a young midwestern college graduate with a degree in geology and a yearning for adventure, wilderness and outdoor work in the West? “You go to where the action is,” says Jon Riedel, and for him, that meant the North Cascades.

The North Cascades’ superlative features would excite any geologist: it’s the most glaciated region in the Lower 48, with the most vertical relief; the bedrock floor of Lake Chelan sits more than two thousand feet below sea level; dozens of ice ages and glaciations have contorted the landscape into an infinite number of “problems” waiting to be solved. And better yet, the region had largely been ignored by geologists due to its remoteness and difficult access. Riedel found his calling and soon landed a job with North Cascades National Park as a geologist.

“The deductive approaches used in geomorphology—the study of the earth’s surface—caught on with me,” he explains.“The ability to read the landscape and see into the past was intoxicating.”

Coming from the Midwest, Riedel found that everything in the North Cascades was different: the brush was thick and the slopes steep, making exposed rock difficult to find and study sites challenging to get to. So Riedel focused on more easily visible surficial geology features such as alluvial fans, floodplains, terraces, moraines, valleys, and of course, glaciers. With persistence and many miles underfoot, Riedel began to understand what makes the North Cascades unique.

» Continue reading Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

Seattle Times cover

North Cascades Institute in The Seattle Times: “Mountain School makes the magic of the wilderness real for kids”

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled with The Seattle Times‘ story on Mountain School, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and the Institute’s 30 years of environmental education in the North Cascades. It appeared as the cover story in the Times‘ Pacific Northwest Magazine on August 9, 2015 and features a wealth of amazing photos, many quotes from MS students and teachers and an interview with our founder and executive director Saul Weisberg.

 

“DO NOT LET the sly grin fool you. Nika Meyers is not joking around.

Out here amid the firs and ferns and tiny birds and devil’s club above Diablo Lake, she makes certain things clear to her young charges. Today’s lesson on getting in touch with the earth? It’s not some cute metaphor. It is exactly that: On your knees, boys and girls. Right down there with the spiders and rotting leaves and — Holy Crap! Is that a centipede?
This is how it’s done at Mountain School: One pair of happy, grubby, fifth-grade paws at a time. Multiply by 2,800 kids from 53 schools this year alone, stir, and enjoy.

The concept behind the school, run by nonprofit North Cascades Institute, sounds simple: In a three-day mountain camp experience, imbue in school children a visceral connection with this special place — the thumping, mountainous heart of Northwest wilderness. Make its magic real to them at a micro level, in the hope that some of them will feel the pull to return as powerfully as a salmon headed home to spawn. Slip into their consciousness rudimentary skills of a naturalist — the ability to observe and make the same personal connections to other wild lands.

Oh: Also do this without boring the amped-up, digitally dependent kids out of their skulls.

Mountain School still represents what Saul Weisberg espoused from the beginning: A chance for Northwest kids to get out in nature — many of them spending nights away from home for the first time — and go home with mountain air embedded in their hearts. While the Institute’s unofficial mission has always been to “save the world,” it’s official task is to put people and nature together and stand back in awe watching what happens. It can’t happen without the dirty hands.”

 

Read Ron Judd’s excellent story on our Mountain School program at www.seattletimes.com!

And watch a 4-minute video by Steve Ringman at http://bcove.me/5b5mbuaz!

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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

MSConcrete

Local Students Explore their Backyard National Park

April 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

by Katie Griffith, Americorps VISTA, Youth Programs Outreach Specialist, North Cascades National Park/North Cascades Institute 

Mist shrouded Diablo Lake’s surrounding peaks as Concrete and Darrington’s school buses drove over Diablo Dam. The overcast weather did not dampen student excitement as fifth grade students from both local schools arrived at North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center to attend Mountain School within North Cascades National Park Complex. Sixty kids unloaded sleeping bags, backpacks, and boots, well prepared to spend three days exploring the ecosystems of the park.

The residential environmental education program teaches science concepts in an interactive, outdoor setting; glaciers, rivers, and forests surrounding the Learning Center make up the Mountain School classroom. The visiting students participated in the Ecosystems Exploration curriculum, in which students investigate the abiotic and biotic factors that make up North Cascades ecosystems.

“I love science and fishing and it was really cool looking at stuff we collected under a microscope!” said fifth grader Coho about the program.

“We went on a night hike to the dam and it was awesome!” said fifth grader Anya, while Kiawa said “the five mile hike to the waterfall with my friends was the best.”

The trip also included plenty of hiking, locally-sourced meals and a campfire with skits and games.

In 2015, Mountain School is celebrating its 25th birthday! But Mountain School didn’t always happen at the Learning Center on Diablo Lake; for the first fifteen years, Mountain School students camped in tents at Newhalem Campground, an experience some Concrete teachers may remember. In 2005, the North Cascades Institute was thrilled to build the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake as part of the terms of Seattle City Light’s federal hydroelectric license renewal. Since 2005, thousands of students from all over the region have benefited from programs based out of the Learning Center.

MSGroupGraduate student Chelsea Ernst makes observations about a tree with her students

Institute staff members and National Park Service rangers were excited to welcome the most local schools to Mountain School last week. “It was so inspiring to teach such an excited, inquisitive, and observant group of young learners,” said graduate student and Mountain School Instructor Chelsea Ernst. Both Darrington and Concrete Schools participated in the Skagit Watershed Education Project with the Institute from 1994-2004, but this is the first year since the ‘90’s that Concrete has attended Mountain School. Concrete was able to attend with support from Washington’s National Park Fund. Darrington’s fifth graders had never attended a full Mountain School program; they attended with support from North Counties Family Services. North Cascades Institute also prioritizes fundraising to subsidize participation for public schools.

It is “hugely important” for the Institute to work with its most local schools, says Christen Kiser, Mountain School Coordinator. “Connections between their home communities and their experience at Mountain School are much more evident and integrated into their daily lives than students who travel from further away to attend.”

Local students will integrate ecosystems concepts learned at Mountain School into their classes throughout the rest of the year.

For more information about Mountain School and other programs at North Cascades Institute, visit the website or call (360) 854-2599.

SAVE THE DATE! You’re invited to celebrate Mountain School’s 25th anniversary at a free BBQ picnic and open house at the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center on August 23. Details can be found here.

This article originally appeared in the Concrete Herald.