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Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

February 25th, 2018 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.” – Hal Borland

February is the beginning of my favorite stretch of year – the transition from winter into spring, and then spring into summer.

This winter I am finding myself drawn to the lowland forests and deciduous banks of the Skagit River. My time upriver has been the most wintery winter I’ve endured; I am now accustomed to the semi-regular process of scraping ice and snow off my windshield, and wearing microspikes as I walk down the icy road of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. However, a walk in the forest feels like a visit with an old friend. It reminds me of my island home at the other side of the watershed, Deception Pass. Everywhere in the forest, signs of familiar companions are appearing and talking and that makes my heart feel much warmer, though my toes and hands are just as cold.

These interactions have also filled my journal with many, flowery ramblings. In between classes, and now Mountain School trainings, I try to take a walk outside and note changes in my environment. February is especially a time of rapid change – one day it can be cool and damp out, and the next day there’s seven inches of snow on the ground and slush in my boots. Below, I’ve noted some of the changes witnessed within my little sphere of the world this past week. What have you noted, too?

Recent Naturalist Notes: 

On February 16 – I heard a Varied thrush (Ixoreus naevius) sing outside of my partner’s cabin in Marblemount, while branches cracked from the weight of freshly fallen snow.

February 17 – During a rainy walk in Rockport State Park, I found Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), or osoberry, breaking leaf buds all along the Suak-Springs trail.

Also spotted were young buds on the Vine maple (Acer circinatum), leafy buds of the Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), and two of my favorite edibles popping up along the forest floor: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) and Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytona sibirica). It’s only a matter of time until I can make a batch of nettle pesto!

And there were signs of moss reproduction everywhere, with the stalk-like shoots of the sporophyte popping up. The spore capsules are about ready to release spores that will grow into new moss. Next time, I will take my hand lens with me to get an even closer look.

On the drive home, I stopped at mileposts 100 and 101 to stand by the Skagit River. I saw three Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) at 101 and noticed the snow line on the mountains and grey clouds. It felt good to stand close to the talking river and listen to the eagles.

» Continue reading Naturalist Note: February in the Mountains

Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15 2018

January 15th, 2018 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

Every weekend I will post photos collected from various North Cascades Institute graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

This week graduate students in the M.Ed Residency Program returned from their holiday break. After three weeks of being gone, we all returned to see cold, white stuff everywhere at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Below is a video from Ashley Hill of students having a snowball fight while on a break from nonprofit class. Some of us couldn’t help but enjoy the newly fallen snow and the temptation to throw it at each other!

Graduate Student Charlee Corra caught a glimpse of deer enjoying the snow, too.

Photo of deer snacking by Marissa Bluestein

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: January 15 2018

Weekly Photo Roundup: November 12 2017

November 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Photography

Every weekend I will post photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

This week was the last session of Mountain School at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center for 2017. Although winter approaches, we enjoyed three chilly days of sunshine by Diablo Lake. Students in the Graduate M.Ed Residency also shadowed Mountain School, and learned a lot from their naturalist mentors. Scroll down to see more!

The kiddos arrive and begin their “hike” from the bus to the Learning Center. They carry all of their things up the gravel road in a stampede of excitement.

Photo by Gina Roberti

Here is Naturalist Geneva presenting a fifth grader with their tree cookie name tag. Each student receives their very own to decorate and keep forever.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: November 12 2017

Highway reopened, students safely back home!

March 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

UPDATE March 13, 4 pm: After WSDOT successfully reopened one lane of Highway 20 today, the Henry M. Jackson high school students, teachers and parent chaperones were able to leave the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center to return home!

More updates later, but for now we want to say thank you to the great students, teachers and parents, to WSDOT and to our Environmental Learning Center staff for keeping everyone safe and sane with educational activities, community building and fun through this unexpected long weekend of Mountain School!

Avalanche closes Hwy 20, students and staff get unexpected weekend at the Learning Center

March 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

On Friday morning, March 10, the Washington State Department of Transportation closed Highway 20 seven miles west of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center due to a large avalanche across the road. This incident blocked the school buses that were due to pick up students from Henry M Jackson High School in Mill Creek, WA, who were participating in our Mountain School residential environmental education program. Forty-two students, seven teachers and parent chaperones and 21 Institute staff and graduate students are currently at the ELC until WSDOT crews can reopen the road; they are doing an assessment on Monday.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is a modern facility with 92 beds in three comfortable lodges, a dining hall, classrooms and other amenities, and we have plenty of food and supplies to get through the weekend. Everyone on site is safe, warm, well-fed and in good spirits. The Environmental Learning Center was deliberately sited away from avalanche paths and is not at risk for avalanches. We have two Emergency Medical Technicians on staff and our instructors are trained Wilderness First Responders. We are in close contact with our partners in the National Park Service and Seattle City Light and have contingency plans if any emergencies arise. Extreme weather conditions are a part of life in the mountains and North Cascades Institute has established procedures and risk management training to get through incidents like this.

Mountain School is a nationally-recognized residential environmental education program offered in cooperation with North Cascades National Park that brings local students to the North Cascades to learn about the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains. Mountain School was recently profiled by National Geographic and The Seattle Times calls it ” a national model for wilderness education on public lands.”

Report from KING 5 NEWS


Contact WSDOT for more information about the road closure at (360) 707-5055 or visit We will post updates to our website at, on our Facebook page at and on Twitter at


Rain eases wildfire threat, SR20 reopens, evacuation lifted

August 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center received 2.5 inches of rain over the last 48 hours, and more is expected through Friday! All of the wildfires in the Upper Skagit Complex are diminished and the Goodell Fire is no longer considered a significant threat to the Environmental Learning Center or Diablo. The Washington State Department of Transportation opened State Route 20 at noon on Sunday, August 30, and our evacuation order was lifted. North Cascades Institute is currently working to reopen the Environmental Learning Center and assume normal operations, including the start of Mountain School as scheduled on September 14.

As Learning Center Director Kristofer Gilje remarked, “This all ended as fast as it started.”



We still have concerns about travel in the Newhalem Gorge. Even during non-fire years, this much rain brings debris down onto the roadway. The DOT is keeping the road clear, but take special care when traveling through the Gorge. You may encounter rocks and trees on the roadway, and be prepared to turn back or to be delayed in your return. Temporary, intermittent closures may be required for helicopter and heavy equipment work on power lines and towers. For the latest updates, visit or contact the North Cascades Highway Hotline at (360) 707-5055.

North Cascades National Park reopened the Newhalem Visitor Center and many campgrounds and trails. For current park conditions visit,

North Cascades Institute thanks each and every one of you for the continued outpouring of support. You’ve helped us evacuate the Learning Center safely, opened your homes to our displaced staff, voiced your concerns and sent us countless messages of hope. We continue to be grateful for you, for our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service and for the firefighters, first responders, National Guard, U.S. Army servicemen and women and others working on the wildfires across Washington State.

Your financial support is another way to help us in this tumultuous time of program cancellations and restructuring, lost revenue and displaced staff. Thank you for making a gift today at

We also encourage you to support families in need on the eastside of the state. The Community Foundation of North Central Washington has compiled a list of resources at



North Cascades Wildfire updates

August 25th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

Yes, Washington State is on fire; and we’re still here. We are posting updates on the Upper Skagit Complex wildfires and their impacts on the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and North Cascades Institute on our website at and Facebook page at Additionally, we are uploading photos and maps on our Tumblr at


State Route 20, the Learning Center, Newhalem, Diablo and most North Cascades National Park facilities remain closed to the public. Wildfire conditions are changing rapidly, and the Institute is working with our partners around-the-clock to keep on top of things. It is becoming clear that the range of impacts to the Institute and our operations will have both near-term and far-terms impacts.


We are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from Institute supporters, partners and friends over the past week. Thank you.


Photographs from the Goodell Creek Fire in North Cascades National Park Complex on 8/19/15 by RyanLF. He writes, “I was one of the last cars to make it though the North Cascades Highway yesterday. The smoke was so thick it blocked out the sun. Lots of debris on the road and ash in the air…Hopefully they can get it under control soon.”