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Mtn School Nat Geo Oct 2016

Mountain School in National Geographic magazine

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled to have been included in Tim Egan’s cover story for the October 2016 issue of National Geographic!

“In early fall I went to North Cascades National Park — the American Alps, chock-full of glaciers containing the frozen memories of wet winters past. A bundle of high peaks in Washington State, the park is one of the most remote places in the contiguous 48 states and also one of the least visited parks. But here, deep in the forested embrace of the upper Skagit River Valley, you can find the next two generations of Americans getting to know a national park. I heard hooting like owls and howling like wolves, coming from a circle of fifth graders and their wilderness instructors. The kids were from Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham, Washington, a school where almost half the students are nonwhite and most had never been in a national park. They were there for Mountain School, three days in outdoor immersion run by the North Cascades Institute. Their guides—staff naturalists, park rangers, graduate students—were all millennials. Without exception, the instructors thought the concern about their generation’s attachment to the land was valid, but overstated.

“It’s not like all of a sudden people are going to stop loving nature,” said Emma Ewert, who had gone to Mountain School and returned as an instructor. “But you do need the exposure, the fun of playing in the woods.” For that, perhaps, we should look to today’s parents, those afraid to let their children wander a little bit on their own.

The institute’s co-founder and executive director, Saul Weisberg, is a self-described Jewish kid from New York by way of Cleveland. He’s 62 now, wiry, with a bounce to his step. He learned to love the parks from his family, camping in a tent not unlike the one my folks used. He became a seasonal ranger at North Cascades and noticed a troubling pattern among visitors. “I don’t think I ever saw a person of color in the backcountry,” he said. He started Mountain School in 1990, partnering with the Park Service. About 3,000 students a year go through the program.

Though these kids lived only two hours or so away, this park was a strange new world for them. Many said it was the first time they’d been off the electronic leash of a family smartphone. “They have a very short attention span,” Ewert said.

At Mountain School, the instructors note changes in behavior over the few days the kids spend in the forest. They start to identify types of trees and small animals, and notice distinctions in sounds and smells. “Parents say, ‘What did you do to my child?’ ” said Carolyn Hinshaw, a teacher at Birchwood.

The parks director, Jarvis, is a big fan of Mountain School and similar programs, like Nature Bridge, which brings 30,000 students every year to a half dozen national parks. But he cautions that one visit does not a park lover make. “Something clicks, a light goes on, just by having some exposure,” he said. “I think it takes three touches for someone to change. A great first impression, but no follow-through, is not enough.” What’s needed, he said, is a broad cultural shift—a return, of sorts, to a time when outdoor exposure was a basic nutrient of American life.”

Read the rest of “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?” at www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/10/unplugging-the-selfie-generation-national-parks.

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LEED by Example

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

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

We are the North Cascades Institute. And if you are reading this blog you are somehow affiliated with or are curious about our organization devoted to environmental education. You may know us through Mountain School, Adult learning programs, Snow School, Youth Leadership Adventures, Family Getaways, Stewardship Events, Kulshan Creek Programs, our M.Ed. Graduate Program, Skagit Tours or perhaps you stumbled upon us hiking or driving Highway 20 beneath the steep contour of Sourdough Mountain. You may or may not know that our mission is to “conserve and restore Northwest environments through education.” No matter your age, we believe that place-based education in the rain drenched mossy, cascade cut forests or heather dotted, steep rocky alpine landscape makes a lasting impression. Our programs speak for themselves, but you may or not know about our sustainability efforts.

How effective is an organization that does not employ its values on a daily basis? The North Cascades Institute embodies what we believe sustains the vitality of this ecosystem and beyond. Our unique location, one hour from a grocery store and an hour and a half from a hospital, create obstacles that we are always navigating with different paddles.

But to give you a glimpse into how we operate sustainably at the base of the Cascades, let me tell you how we, this community of 50+ people, attempt to tread lightly while serving nearly 5,000 clients at 1200 feet.

Thirty years ago, Saul Weisberg and friends crafted an idea while hiking and climbing the silent, ancient peaks in the North Cascades National Park. The idea was for an educational institution which eventually led to the serendipitous construction of the Environmental Learning Center 11 years ago. The arduous details aren’t as important as the intention behind them. Change through education.

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OUR BUILDINGS:

The Environmental Learning Center is LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council based on our level of sustainability! LEED certification is awarded to buildings that are efficient, use less energy and water and create less impact on the environment both in the construction process and during operation. Our foundation is one of recycled structures upon which we expanded.

  • We respect our environment! Most of our buildings are built upon preexisting foundations for minimal impact to native vegetation and landscape, which still thrives today. Our campus is built into the landscape, working with naturally occurring barriers, slopes, and light.
  • We support local economies! Local and regional materials were used in construction of our facility.
  • We recycle! Salvaged wood was used to craft the front gate, the maple flooring in one of the classrooms and the heart pine flooring in staff housing.
  • We care about you! The woodwork inside of the buildings at the Learning Center does not contain composite wood like particle board or plywood that can contain formaldehyde in glues.
  • We used the natural landscape to our advantage in the construction of the buildings on campus. Windows are south and west facing when possible to absorb as much light as possible.

» Continue reading LEED by Example

Cover Austin

Finding Freedom in the North Cascades

March 31st, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Aly Gourd, member of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

As graduate students and adventurers in the North Cascades, we take risks. We take risks in living where we do and we often purposely pursue adventure in the outdoors because we believe the benefits we gain outweigh the risks we choose to take.

“A huge challenge to overcome is the inaccessible view that so many hold toward wilderness. Messages are sent to so many people that the wilderness is not a place for them to be…”

This quote by Rosemary Saal leads the article titled Freedom in the Hills by Charlotte Austin. An alpinist and writer, Charlotte, recently published the research-based essay in Alpinist, a magazine featuring adventurers in the mountains, in which she introduces different perspectives on the variety of challenges met by women outdoor professionals. On March 3rd, graduate students in the North Cascades Institute’s 15th Cohort participated in a writing workshop with Charlotte, exploring forms of creative nonfiction writing and perspectives on how passion and hard work can translate into both a rewarding and challenging career.

Alpinest

Alpinist issue 52 featuring Charlotte Austin

» Continue reading Finding Freedom in the North Cascades

Mail Attachment

Naturally Wonderful Naturalists: New staff of 2016

March 7th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

As the snow is melting and the trees are budding, our Naturalist Team is getting ready for teaching in the mountains. At the North Cascades Institute‘s Environmental Learning Center the Senior Naturalist and Lead Program Assist will help guide the five new Naturalist Field Instructors over nine months of teaching in the mountains.

During the spring and fall of 2016 these naturalists will educate elementary through high school students in our Mountain School program about the numerous interactions in the surrounding ecosystem. During the summer they will be leading high school students on back country trips through our Youth Leadership Adventure program. Throughout their time here they will also have opportunities to lead Skagit Tours; a tour of Seattle City Light’s Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

We look forward to their energy and enthusiasm in the variety of ways they will teach about the North Cascades!

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Max Thomas

Max isn’t new to North Cascades Institute, but is taking on a new role with us. After 2 previous years as a seasonal naturalist, Max has moved into the Senior Naturalist position. This position supervises the naturalists and provides leadership and mentorship in our education programs, with a focus on Mountain School, Family Getaways and Basecamp. Max was raised in Minneapolis and went to college at the University of Minnesota Duluth where he received a degree in Outdoor Education. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
During college he found a variety of passions in the forms of canoeing, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding and cross-country skiing.  After college Max worked as an interpretation ranger in Glacier National Park.  The beauty rocked his socks off.  After 4 years in Montana, the Cascade Mountains called his name and has found a new home in the Evergreen State.  The beauty is still rocking his socks off.  When he isn’t playing nature games with fifth graders or camping in the mountains, Max can be found fiercely rooting on Minnesota sports teams.

» Continue reading Naturally Wonderful Naturalists: New staff of 2016

Censored Cover

Dear Mountain School,

January 21st, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Dear Mountain School,

Thank you for the fun hikes and delicious food. I loved looking at pieces of the forest in the microscope lab.

Sincerely,

Student

It is rare to hear first hand from students what they remember the most from their educational experiences. Whenever it happens it is one of the best gifts an educator can receive. Early this week Whatcom Hills Waldorf School sent the Mountain School staff letters about their time spent last fall season in the mountains of the North Cascades.

Each letter was filled not only with thankfulness but depictions of some of the best teaching spots during Mountain School. All of the names have been censored for the students’ protection.

Censored Stream

» Continue reading Dear Mountain School,

fall-SWW

Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November

January 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Joe Loviska, Graduate Phenology Assistant

Phenology is the study of how plants, animals, and other biotic organisms change with the cycle of the seasons. As the graduate phenology assistant at the Environmental Learning Center (ELC), it is my job to collect and organize data on the weather, mammals, and birds around the center.

Weather

Weather Data from ELC Station

From these few numbers we can see that this fall has generally been cooler than the last two years, with the exception of the November lows in 2013 and 2014. 2014 was a very wet year overall, but this year has already seen more rain than 2013. A few weather events have stood out this fall. Most impactful to our place was the rainstorm from August 21 to September 3. During this period 4.41” of rain fell, effectively stopping the Goodell Creek fire and allowing us to move back into the ELC on August 31. On Halloween (October 31) it dumped 2.29”. Finally, the two rainiest days of the season were November 13th and 17th when 3.08” and 3.67” fell, respectively. This was during the biggest rainstorm of the season, from November 10 to November 18, during which it rained 9.54”. Wow!

Saul Weisberg’s (executive director of the North Cascades Institute) birthday fell on November 16, along with the first snow of the year at the ELC. On November 19, J. Loviska observed that the sun left the ELC amphitheater at 2pm, blocked by the ridge south of the lake. Thus began winter, despite what the calendar claims.

Mammals

We kicked off the Mountain School season well with a black bear (Ursus americanus) sighting in the ELC parking lot on September 14. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Two trail groups were on hand to observe the bear as it trundled down the road; then, upon noticing us, it hustled into the forest on the north side. Other notable traces of megafauna: J. Porter heard a gray wolf (Canis lupus) howling early in the morning on September 15 at Black Pine Lake; a wolverine (Gulo gulo) was picked up by the remote camera station on October 1 in Fisher Basin. This collared individual was later identified as Special K; A. Gourd observed a beaver swimming in Diablo Lake near Power Tower Island on October 5. White wood and trees with tooth marks have been observed near the mouth of Thunder Creek, but if anyone has seen beaver activity closer to the ELC, please let us know; on November 11 a coyote was seen crossing Highway 20 in Newhalem, near a deer carcass.

Wolverine Special K Caught on camera.

Wolverine “Special K” caught on camera on 10/01/2015.

» Continue reading Fall Count: Environmental Learning Center Observations from September through November

Gaines

Patience and Persistence: An Interview with Grizzly Bear Biologist Bill Gaines

December 12th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Bill Gaines has been at the forefront of the grizzly bear recovery efforts in the Pacific Northwest for 25 years. I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about the historical struggles of recovery efforts, the impacts of other carnivores in the North Cascades ecosystem and the role education must play in order to successfully implement recover efforts.

Mike Rosekrans: What initially got you interested in bears?

Bill Gaines: I finished my undergrad and went into my Masters pretty quickly where I studied harlequin ducks, so I really wasn’t a bear person coming out of school. I’d always been interested in bears, but it was something I never had the opportunity to focus on. I then went to work for the Forest Service where I was on a crew that was collecting information about habitat for bears in the North Cascades as part of an effort that started in the mid-80’s and ended in the early-90’s to evaluate whether the Cascades had the capability to support a recovered population of grizzly bears. I was working on the habitat side of that process as a field crew person. The fellow who was leading the habitat evaluation wound up moving after a few years, so in the late 80’s I found myself taking over the role of the leader of the habitat evaluation component. It then became pretty obvious to me that I needed to immerse myself in bear biology and ecology.

I began going to different meetings where I got to meet all these interesting people from all over the world who got to work with bears. I immersed myself in the literature, and had an opportunity to get involved with research on black bears in the Cascades for my PhD dissertation. This really gave me the opportunity to get into the research side and get out in the field and track bears around and start learning about how they behave here in the Cascades.

I got to be very intimate with many of the parts of the Cascades and had black bears radio collared on the eastside and the westside. So it was four years of field research that really became a dream job! That got me hooked on bears and I started to become more and more fascinated with their ecology, their intelligence, and their behavior. After I finished my PhD, I became involved with the development of the recovery planning for the grizzly bear in the Cascades.

MR: How important is it to reach the younger generation, who will ultimately be the future managers, to just go out and to educate the general public?

» Continue reading Patience and Persistence: An Interview with Grizzly Bear Biologist Bill Gaines