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Plight of the Pollinators

November 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Kay Gallagher, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort

Imagine yourself walking down to the local summer farmer’s market down by the town square. It’s the first warm day and you cannot wait to make a large juicy bowl of fruit salad for lunch. Summer time in the valley is your favorite, all winter you have eagerly anticipated the first fruits of the season. With your list in hand that you scribbled down this morning, juicy red tomatoes, green zucchini, bright yellow summer squash, perfectly round peaches, you set Chinese Teapots.


Produce from the local Twisp Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

After a short walk, you arrive at the farmers’ market, ready to fill your basket to the brim. You walk around and notice the usual vendors. The local bakery selling loaves of freshly made artisan bread, the various craftsmen selling their woolen blankets and knit scarves, the goat farmers selling their savory cheeses and assorted dairy products. Then you notice there are no fruit stands. No vegetable stands. There isn’t so much as a rogue berry in sight. Where are the fruits of summer you have been dreaming about since that first warm day of spring? It’s almost as if they have vanished overnight. They’re not there.


The colorful mosaic landscape of Patterson Mountain. Photo courtesy of Kay Gallagher

You leave the farmer’s market quite perplexed, and decide to hike your favorite summer trail instead. On your drive to the trailhead you can picture the lush mountain sides and vast fields full of a colorful array of wildflowers from last summer, you can visualize the river coursing its way through the landscape in the valley below, with animal life whirring and scattered about. You arrive at the trailhead, and hop out of the car, eager for your adventure in the colorful mosaic. As you begin to hike, you notice that things aren’t as colorful as they used to be. There aren’t nearly as many wildflowers, the earth seems dry and crumbly with serious signs of erosion along the river bank below. The landscape is made up of various shades of brown. The air is noticeably quieter, without the hums and whizzing of winged insects flying about. The chatter of birds is absent, and the silence seems a little eerie. It’s a little too quiet. Something is missing, and then you realize …” Where have all the pollinators gone?”

» Continue reading Plight of the Pollinators

Weekly Photo Roundup: November 19 2017

November 19th, 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.

It’s that time of the year where the precip rolls in and you either embrace it, or settle down inside for learning and traditions. Graduate students in the M.Ed Residency are currently doing a little bit of both as the days get shorter, and the sky a bit grayer.

Pictured: Zoe Wadkins, Tanner Johnson, and Marissa Bluestein

Taking advantage of the season’s first heavy snowfall, graduate students in the 17th Cohort made their way to Mt. Baker during the weekend for a celebratory snowshoe. Woohoo to Snowvember!

Tanner Johnson and Marissa Bluestein having a good time

They toasted trail hot cocoa to another successful year of snowpack. Some even went skiing on Mt. Baker – one of the reasons why they were drawn to the North Cascades in the first place. Below are photos from their adventure.

Nate Trachte, C17, Becky Moore, C16, and Naturalist Natasha Way go touring up Mt. Baker enjoying the fresh powder a week before the resort opens; photo by Charlee Corra

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: November 19 2017

Welcome New Graduate Students, part 3

November 6th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

This is part three of graduate student introductions. Here is part one and part two of the series. 

The goal of this series is to welcome the Class of 2019, and learn more about why they chose the Master of Education degree program through the North Cascades Institute. Below are the reasons folks are here, and what they hope to take away from a year-long residency. They have also shared their most memorable experiences so far. Enjoy!

Liz journaling with a view of the North Cascades; photo by Montana Napier

Liz Grewal:

I had to decide which direction to take my education in. At first, I considered a master’s degree in ecology, but then I felt inspired to study environmental education. Researching different options and programs, I remember gasping aloud with excitement when I came across the Graduate M.Ed. program through the North Cascades Institute. I felt like I’d found my people: people who are passionate about connecting others to nature through place-based education. After visiting in January 2017, I knew that the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center was exactly where I wanted to be. I appreciated the kindness and openness of the community. It was my first time visiting the North Cascades, and I was taken aback by the beauty of the landscape. This is the only graduate program that I applied to because its mission aligns with my goals in environmental education.

» Continue reading Welcome New Graduate Students, part 3

Welcome New Graduate Students, part 2

November 1st, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

This is part two of graduate student introductions. You can find part one here. 

The goal of this series is to welcome the Class of 2019, and learn more about why they chose the Master of Education degree program through the North Cascades Institute. Below are the reasons folks are here, and what they hope to take away from a year-long residency. They have also shared their most memorable experiences so far. Stay tuned for the final installment!

Charlee and Zoe Wadkins paddling the Skagit River

Charlee Corra:

I feel most connected to learning when I can do it outside in an experiential setting. So I looked for an opportunity to join a learning community with people committed to becoming effective educators. I also wanted first-hand teaching experience through Mountain School. The North Cascades Institute offers a rich and immersive program emphasizing place-based learning, nonprofit skill development, and Pacific Northwest natural history. To top it all off, who wouldn’t want to do a year-long residency in the breathtaking North Cascades National Park?

The obvious answer to what I hope to gain during my time at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is to develop my skills as an environmental educator. But on a deeper level, I am here to learn about who I am and to uncover the most meaningful way for me to give back and serve the larger community, especially through an environmental and social justice lens.

» Continue reading Welcome New Graduate Students, part 2

Weekly Photo Roundup: October 28 2017

October 28th, 2017 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

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.

It is fall-tastic here in the North Cascades! Below is a collection of beautiful color from around the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. The changing leaves are a celebrated occasion, as we transition into the colder months ahead.

Photo by Liz Grewal

Graduate student Liz Grewal’s realization of the week: “Seasons are real. I just had to leave the Bay Area to experience them.”

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: October 28 2017

Place-based Learning Course: Paddling the Skagit River

October 16th, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

In August, my cohort and I began our 7-quarter educational journey of earning our Master of Education degree. We are the 17th Cohort of students in the Graduate M.Ed Residency program through the North Cascades Institute and the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University.

Before beginning our year-long residency at the Learning Center, we engage with the natural and cultural histories of the North Cascades region through field excursions. This intensive six-week course includes canoeing on the Skagit River, learning about local communities and sustainable agriculture, hiking in alpine areas, cohort community formation and a culminating 10-day wilderness backpacking experience. 

Below are pictures from the paddling portion of our Place-based Learning Field Course, along with excerpts from our group journal. Enjoy!

Big Canoe and Community August 9, 2017:

“With a little less smoke in the sky, Cohort 17 loaded into the Salish Dancer for a paddling orientation to Diablo Lake and the surrounding area. Before the canoe left the dock, we heard and saw two peregrine falcons – the fastest member of the animal kingdom – amongst the rocky cliffs of Sourdough Mountain.

» Continue reading Place-based Learning Course: Paddling the Skagit River

Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

September 15th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Written by Master of Education graduate Sasha Savoian

Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop are two of the most heavily-visited trails off Highway 20 in the North Cascades range, offering access to the unique subalpine ecosystem blanketed in blooming heather in the late summer months.

On the eastern flank of the mountains, the trail to Blue Lake winds through engelmann spruce forest singing with golden crowned kinglets and dark-eyed juncos, into a meadow thick with clustered white valerian, dangling meadow rue, purple lupine, and bell-shaped jacob’s-ladder. It then crests above treeline with spectacular views of Liberty Bell Mountain, Cutthroat Peak and Whistler Mountain toward the northwest. As altitude-loving larch trees appear, pink and white mountain heather pierce the edges of rocks along the trail leading to the aptly-named Blue Lake, where mountain goats are often spotted grazing on subalpine foliage 6,200 feet above sea level, a mere 2.2 miles from the trailhead.

Maple Pass in the North Cascades. Photo by Sasha Savoian

Maple-Heather Pass Loop travels 7 miles from the trailhead and back again through a shady forest of subalpine fir and spruce trees. Pacific wrens sing to an open with talus fields catering to furry hoary marmots and peeking pika. Grey crowned rosy finch and clark’s nutcracker songs slide through larch trees above while hearty heather beckons below, filling gaps between rocks among dotted saxifrage, bugle-shaped penstemon, splayed phlox and deep red indian paintbrush atop 6,600-foot rocky Maple Pass–one of the best views of the North Cascades.

But this dynamic alpine ecosystem is fragile! With their woody stems and short growing season, heather is easily crushed. It takes only 50 booted steps to destroy plants that take upwards of 1,000-5,000 years to establish as a successful colony. Heather plants stabilize soil, prevent wind and water erosion, trap nutrients and control temperature in the soil to promote growth of other alpine vegetation.

Restoration projects on Blue Lake and Maple Pass Loop began in 2012 when the Methow Valley was chosen as one of 14 designated sites as part of the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes, Unforgettable Experiences established to connect people and their communities to their forests and watersheds through community engagement and collaboration.

» Continue reading Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes