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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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Where the Powerlines Start

April 21st, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

Bumper to bumper traffic on I-5 provides the perfect thinking spot. Usually this is the place where my mind starts to wonder things like “Why does traffic happen” and “When will they make flying cars?” The most recent time I was fortunate enough to be stuck, however, my mind drifted over to the powerlines beside the road. More electrons than I could count were wizzing past, heading into homes, phones and even some cars. The hyper-speedways of electricity, we only see powerlines in the transportation or end state. But they have to start somewhere, right?

My quest to see the start of the powerlines had me heading east on Washington State Route 20. If you wish to pursue this adventure yourself be warned: there is not cell phone reception and most importantly no traffic. Heading east along SR 20 will take you past the towns of Sedro-Woolley, Concrete and Rockport. Make sure you fuel up in Marblemount though as it is the last place for gas before heading into the park.

Keep traveling, and you will see the large North Cascades National Park sign just past mile marker 111. Gradually, you will begin to see civilization be replaced with the expansive wilderness that is Western Washington. Even the little town of Diablo (which will be on your left) is dwarfed by the forests, mountains and the mighty Skagit River.

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» Continue reading Where the Powerlines Start

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The Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project

April 25th, 2014 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Whoa! Wha….?!

Sometimes one’s path is rerouted as they are traveling upon it.

Or so it can seem. It was early January, and we graduate students had recently returned to the Environmental Learning Center from a month away at various winter vacation destinations. We were crammed into a North Cascades Institute mini-van, traveling west on Highway 20 to our organization’s down valley headquarters at Sedro-Woolley. Suddenly, just east of Rockport near milepost 100, the road turned beneath our tires. Instead of rolling past the front of the Cascadian Farms stand at 45mph, we realized we were driving behind it. We checked to make sure we were still on the asphalt, hadn’t off-roaded into neatly planted rows of now leafless berry vines. The two Cascadian Farms structures with the whimsically sweeping roof lines were still there, but we had been re-routed for a different perspective. The whole carload of us did a double-take: Had we all collectively gone mad?

Nope. Rather, we were in the midst of a Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) project to repair the Skagit River shoreline. Oh.

The “Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project” is a $10.2 million effort to attempt to permanently remediate the unstable river bank, an issue the state categorizes as a “Chronic Environmental Deficiency”. During five previous years – 1993, 1994, 2004, 2006 and 2007 – emergency rock buffers were installed temporarily as a quick fix. But WSDOT seeks a long-term solution to this problem of massive erosion, and they have a plan.

» Continue reading The Skagit River Permanent Restoration Project

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Elk Xing

April 3rd, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

If you drive on State Route 20 between Sedro-Woolley and Concrete, you can participate in citizen science without even leaving your car.

Researchers at Western Washington University are studying elk crossings along this stretch of two-lane road, and they need your help. Their interest was prompted by the high incidence of collisions between vehicles and the 1,000-pound ungulates. Over 50 elk were reported killed by traffic in this zone in 2012, though it’s only a 20-mile stretch of highway. There were likely more fatalities that went undocumented. A year later, in 2013, reported elk roadkills fell to the low 30s. Since this was only the second year of concerted data collection for scientific study, it is impossible for researchers to discern any pattern.

Yet. Now scientists want to know: Exactly where and when are elk crossing the highway, and where and when are they killed? That’s where commuters, visitors and day-trippers come in. The observations of motorists and residents are an important component of their data gathering, so much so that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed an “App” that makes it easy for people using the Internet or mobile devices to upload their observations. For those of us who hear “app” and get excited about pre-dinner small plates, here’s the simple breakdown: Step one: Download the App. Step 2: Choose your device to open the map. Step 3: Mark your elk sighting on the map, adding to the database and furthering the scientific understanding of elk behavior.

There is also a hotline and email address to report observations. Researchers remind drivers to be safe and not try to use the App while driving – photos and information can be uploaded later upon arriving at one’s destination.

elk haagCan you see the elk? The typical habitat of the lower Skagit Valley, east of Interstate 5, where the North Cascades elk herd tends to hang out, to the chagrin of some and the joy of others. Photo by Jessica Haag.

» Continue reading Elk Xing

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The Snow and The Shining

March 7th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

A small avalanche across Highway 20 just east of Newhalem at milepost 121 had residents of the Environmental Learning Center stuck at home Monday morning through Thursday morning of this week. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was waiting until avalanche danger had decreased to assess the situation and clear the snow and debris. The highway is now passable up to its regular winter closure at milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam.

What did the closure mean for life at the Learning Center? Graduate students couldn’t leave, and staff who live down valley in Newhalem and Marblemount couldn’t come up. Residents had to increase their awareness of their daily actions, since they already live at a remote facility (defined as 60 miles or more from definitive medical care) and now had even fewer options for help if need be. But by far the worst consequence was the cancellation of Mountain School. Two Bellingham elementary schools, Wade King and Northern Heights, could not spend their three days exploring ecosystems in the North Cascades as planned. The avalanche was the second time this school year that both schools thought they were coming but were prevented by outside forces (the first was during the government shut-down last October). They are troopers! Both have been rescheduled.

During this time, Senior Naturalist Kevin Biggs could not get to work from Marblemount for two days, but was offered the opportunity on Wednesday to be take the extra seat of the Seattle City Light helicopter and be flown up to participate in trainings. Here are a few aerial photos from his exciting journey.

avalanche!kevinbiggsThe avalanche on Highway 20, milepost 121. Photo by Kevin Biggs.
diablointersection.kevinbiggsGorge Lake and the town of Diablo. Photo by Kevin Biggs.
aeriallakekevinbiggsAbove one of the tunnels on Highway 20 between Newhalem and Diablo. Photo by Kevin Biggs.

The resident graduate students chose to make the best of the snowed-in situation and efficiently cross two things off their “Wintertime To-Do List” simultaneously: “Make a Blanket Fort” and “Watch The Shining”. Raiding both their backpacking supplies and the office, they constructed a fort in the Wild Ginger Library by stringing up tapestries and sheets with parachute chord and industrial strength binder clips.

blanket fort K. RenzTyler Chisholm and Katie Komorowski put their construction and interior design skills to use on a recent dark and stormy night. Photo by Katherine Renz.

And really, as practicing environmental educators the grads were simply exemplifying one of the seven “Children and Nature Design Principles” as described by award-winning author and educator David Sobel in his book, Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. Among principles such as “Animal Allies” and “Hunting and Gathering” is “Special Places”: “[There] appears to be a universal tendency for children to create or find their own private places,” Sobel writes. “I believe the creation of these places serves many developmental purposes for children. The fort is a home away from home in nature; it provides a bridge between the safe, protected world of the family and the independent self in the wider world of adolescence. These places also serve as vehicles of bonding with the natural world, allowing children to feel comfortable in the landscape, connected to it, and eventually committed to acting as stewards of it.”

So, really, the blanket fort was an exercise in preparation for facilitating the next generation of ecological stewards.

people in fort k. RenzAll smiles, bright lights, three bags of popcorn and a jar of nutritional yeast. This is before the film. Photo by Katherine Renz.

With each cushion and sleeping bag of the Special Place Blanket Fort in order, it was time to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 screen version of Steven King’s psychological horror novel, The Shining (1977), a feature film we had been planning on watching during a snowstorm since we’d moved to the isolated Environmental Learning Center way back in the sunny days of September. This activity also be considered related to our studies, in multiple ways: it taught us how not to act when you’re stuck in the mountains with a lot of writing to do; it showed us one of our sister Cascade peaks, Oregon’s Mount Hood, which towered over the backdrop for the exterior shots of the movie’s haunted Overlook Hotel, known in real life is called the Timberline Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in the late 1930s; and it encouraged further cohort bonding, as any good horror movie will do.

the shining twins k. renz“Come and play with us, forever, and ever, and ever……”. The creepy ghost sisters of The Shining, as seen in the Wild Ginger Library-cum-independent movie house. Photo by Katherine Renz.

The road is open, the snow is slowly melting, and the grads have transitioned from fort-building to prepping lesson plans. We look forward to Mountain School resuming next week and watching the landscape morph, day by day, in to spring.

slush on diablo katie rolosonDiablo Lake from the shore at the Environmental Learning Center, Monday morning. Program Manager Katie Roloson said this was the first time she had ever seen the lake so completely covered in slush. It’s almost hard to imagine it having its characteristicly jewel-green, milky blue summertime hue. Photo by Katie Roloson.

 

Leading photo: Chunks of ice float on Diablo Lake in the shadow of Colonial and Pyramid Peaks on the weekend preceding Monday’s avalanche. Photo by Katie Komorowski.
 

 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program and co-editor of Chattermarks. She is happy to say that The Shining is less terrifying by the third viewing.

 

 

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Skiing into Spring

May 3rd, 2009 | Posted by in Adventures

Here in Western Washington many of us wait in anticipation for the coming of spring. Indications of this seasonal change are different for different people. For some it’s sighting the first of the migratory birds, blossoms of the indian plum, deer in their spring velvet, tulips bursting from the warm ground, or the eerie drumming of the ruffed grouse. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and look forward to all of these milestones, but I am a backcountry skier.  Spring to me means smooth, fast, Cascade corn snow so I wait in anxious anticipation for the opening of Hwy. 20 over Washington Pass to access the deep snowpack and rugged mountains of the North Cascades.

» Continue reading Skiing into Spring