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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

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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

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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.

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» Continue reading Dear Mountain School,

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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

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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

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Mountain School fifth-graders help restore Bowman Bay

December 2nd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By KERA WANIELISTA for the Skagit Valley Herald, November 23, 2015

BOWMAN BAY — Bracing against the wind at Deception Pass State Park’s Bowman Bay, 10-year-old EmmaLee Grove put the force of her entire body into digging a hole on the beach’s newly restored shoreline.

When the hole was sufficiently deep, EmmaLee and her best friend Kadence Yonkman placed the roots of a small, leafless tree — which they had named Wilbur — into it, then covered the roots with rich, dark gray mud.

“I think Wilbur’s going to be happy,” EmmaLee said.

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Nearby, about 70 Fidalgo Elementary School students planted other trees, shrubs and ground cover.

“We’re rebuilding the habitat for animals and bugs,” Kadence said.

That morning, Fidalgo’s three classes of fifth-graders were the first student group to help restore habitat at Bowman Bay. Three more classes from Island View Elementary School headed to the beach in the afternoon.

“We really just want to re-create the entire ecosystem,” said Lisa Kaufman, Northwest Straits Foundation nearshore program manager. “The habitat (then) can do what it wants to do and what it needs to do.”

The fifth-graders’ work to restore the beach came after a three-day trip to the North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School.

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» Continue reading Mountain School fifth-graders help restore Bowman Bay

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