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Restoring Our Treasured Landscapes

October 9th, 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 Chinese Teapots 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 Chinese Pu-erh Tea 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.

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Lessons from Desolation: Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades

September 1st, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Rebecca Zhou, Youth Leadership Intern 2017

12 days, 12 miles by canoe, 35 miles by foot, and a group of 12 girls. During the 12-day Science and Sustainability trip with Youth Leadership Adventures, students and instructors alike had the opportunity to dig deep and learn something about themselves. I believe that the fact it was an all-female identifying trip really helped with that. It helped create a safe space for each person to learn, grow, and be vulnerable with one another.

One such example of this includes our Challenge Day hike up Desolation Peak. Each Youth Leadership Adventures trip has a Challenge Day, or an exceptionally difficult day of physical activity. Instructors frame Challenge Day as an opportunity for students to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and grow both as individuals and as a group. On this Challenge Day hike, we gained 5,000 feet of elevation over the course of the 7 miles of trail from Lighting Stock Camp, and then we turned around and hiked back. Many students had never been on a hike before, much less a hike of Desolation’s magnitude. Even for myself as an intern instructor, this was a challenging hike.

The day started off cold and crisp at an early 5:00 am. We ate our granola, did our morning stretches, tucked things under the vestibules of our tents. Shortly after we set off we hit our first bump in the road–finding the way to the trailhead! All twelve of us stumbled groggily into an occupied Lightning Creek Camp trying to figure out if we had to pass through the camp to get to the trailhead. Eventually, we found our way. By 8:00 am, we got to the Desolation Trailhead. The overall spirit of the group was cheerful and excited. Everyone was determined to reach the goal that was decided unanimously the previous night: get to the summit. 

» Continue reading Lessons from Desolation: Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades

Our Water, Your Future: The Story of Climate Change and the Skagit River

August 20th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Jihan Grettenberger, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort.

What do you love about the North Cascades and the Skagit Valley?

I love the burning feeling in my legs as I hike up the switchbacks on the trails that travel through thick forests of Douglas Firs, Western Hemlocks, and cedars. The sounds of the forest bring me bliss. The birds calling in the distances, the winds rushing over tree tops, and the buzz of bees pollinating plants. Most importantly I am in awe by the abundance of water. In the spring, the North Cascades fills with raging creeks from snowmelt and from lookout points I can see snow covered peaks. I know summer is coming when Diablo Lake changes from a greyish blue to a vibrant aquamarine color.

Diablo Dam with Pyramid Peak in the background. Photo courtesy of Jihan Grettenberger 

How important is water in the North Cascades?

The North Cascades is water rich and named after all of the cascades that flow through the landscape. In the winter, snow piles up on the mountaintops; in the spring the snowpack melts, supplying water to the streams; in the summer glacier melt feeds our alpine lakes and dam reservoirs. The rainy fall then replenishes our dry summer soils and increases the flows in our rivers.

Thanks to our abundant water supply and diverse ecosystems, the North Cascades and Skagit Valley have all five native Pacific salmon species. Eagles soar through the sky, ospreys hunt, and wolverines dig deep dens in the snow. When the supply and timing of water changes in the mountains, it also changes the watershed. People, agriculture, hydroelectric production, plants, and creatures, all depend on reliable water sources to thrive.

» Continue reading Our Water, Your Future: The Story of Climate Change and the Skagit River

Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report: Stewardship Weekend at North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center

August 16th, 2017 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The Youth Leadership Ambassadors program is an extension of our Youth Leadership Adventures summer program. The goal of the program is to further develop leadership and outdoor skills, facilitate service and stewardship in our local communities and ecosystems, and provide college preparedness support to high school students from Skagit and Whatcom County. While serving as Ambassadors, students will participate in work parties, attend field trip and receive 15 hours of college access curriculum. Ambassadors will contribute blog posts covering their adventures throughout the year here on Chattermarks.

Appearing for the first time on Chattermarks are Mia Villaluz, Tavish Beals and Maria Nuno, who share their experience participating in the Stewardship Weekend event at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center

Youth Leadership Ambassador: Mia Villaluz

The North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center is the place people can go to participate in North Cascades Institute functions and classes. It is also a place that graduate students attend. Some people go here for fun! It is a multipurpose, beautiful piece of land. It sits just above Diablo Lake and has amazing views of the mesmerizing North Cascades mountain range. For me, the purpose of the stewardship weekend was to have fun first and foremost and to get outdoors and meet new people, while making a positive impact on the people and places around us. It was to help those who have helped all of us.

Youth Leadership Ambassadors exploring the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. Photo by Mia Villaluz

Ambassadors were involved in all the Stewardship Weekend projects, from clearing trails to spreading wood chips in our amphitheater space. Photo by Tavish Beals

The North Cascades Institute is a nonprofit organization that creates amazing opportunities for people from all walks of life, ages 5 to 95, and it doesn’t stop there! The stewardship weekend was an awesome opportunity to get outside. We each participated in different activities to better the property We removed invasive species, did trail clearing, spread wood chips, leveled out gravel, made buildings firewise, and much more. Overall, we all got to know one another a little bit better, we met new people, ate great good, and made even better memories. I personally helped with the wood chips and trail clearing. It was a lot of hard work, but I pushed myself and had a blast meeting new people and working within my group, getting to know each person on a deeper level. The whole weekend was so exciting and each day  was beyond beautiful.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Ambassadors Trip Report: Stewardship Weekend at North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center

New hand-illustrated North Cascades National Park map

June 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

Xplorer Maps Releases Hand-Illustrated North Cascades National Park Map, Donates Percentage of Map Sales to Ongoing Park Support

MISSOULA, MT – Xplorer Maps, the creators of hand-illustrated maps of national parks and travel destinations throughout the world, announced today that it has released the newest fine-art map, North Cascades National Park, highlighting jagged peaks topped by more than 300 glaciers, cascading waters in forested valleys and abundant wildlife.

Purchase online now >>

World-renowned artist Chris Robitaille, co-founder of Xplorer Maps, illustrated the map using an antique, old-world style and featuring the iconic images from the national park located in Washington. The map features geographic marvels like Mount Shuksan and the Picket Range while paying homage to hikers, skiers and bikers who enjoy the park’s many recreational opportunities.

The map was produced in partnership with North Cascades National Park Service Complex and the North Cascades Institute, a conservation nonprofit based in western Washington that works to inspire and empower environmental stewardship through transformative experiences in nature.  Xplorer Maps will donate a percentage of proceeds in perpetuity from map sales to the Institute to support youth education opportunities to help create the next generation of public lands stewards.

» Continue reading New hand-illustrated North Cascades National Park map

Spring Wildflowers in the Upper Skagit

May 19th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Spring has come here in the upper Skagit River valley and our April showers have indeed brought May flowers. With the increase of daylight and clear days, the valleys in-between the still snow-covered mountains have turned bright shades of green. The shorelines along the river and its reservoirs are in great contrast against the dark, evergreen hue of the high slopes. While the waking up of the forest rejuvenates even the deepest winter doldrums, there are surprises along the forest floor that bring spring’s energy forth for those willing to go look.

Calypso orchid (Colypso bulbosa) on Sourdough Mountain Trail. Photo by Dan Dubie

Our spring wildflower bloom has begun and is now in full swing. A few weeks ago, as the spring sun started to warm the floors of our valleys and deep forests, the first plant harbingers of spring began to grow. Just as our migrating birds returned to their homes for the summer, our resident perennial and annual wildflowers began their annual strive for life. Quickly after the snow leaves, the first herbaceous flowers to arise are those with energy reserves stored in corms or “bulbs” beneath the ground. These flowers quickly get to work, growing a few leaves and showy flowers that attract the early spring flies and solitary bees. Examples of these are the glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflora), which is known to sprout through snow; the amazingly small calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa); and the bright white western trillium (Trillium ovatum), which shines like a light on our deep, moist forest floors.

» Continue reading Spring Wildflowers in the Upper Skagit

Photo Roundup: May 14 2017

May 14th, 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 Alex Patia

North Cascades Institute Naturalist and graduate M.Ed. alumni, Alex Patia, snapped this photo of a Canada goose watching over her goslings near his front lawn in the town of Diablo. Canada Geese love to hang out on open lawns as they can feed on grass and (especially with their young) easily spot any approaching predators. These birds mate for life and pairs stay together throughout the year. Most Canada Geese do not breed until their fourth year.

Diablo Lake from the overlook off Highway 20. Photo by Angela Burlile

The North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center is right on the shore of Diablo Lake and it has been a fun little practice of watching it slowly change with the seasons. Much of the water in this lake is fed by glaciers in Thunder Creek Basin. Skagit gneiss (a mineral) or as we tell Mountain School students, ‘glacial flour’, is eroded by ice and flows down glacial streams, entering Diablo Lake. As the sun hits these tiny rock particles suspended in the lake, they reflect off this beautiful jade green color. In the spring and summer when runoff is higher, the lake gets brighter! The top photo is from this past week, the middle photo from December and the bottom photo from last July.

» Continue reading Photo Roundup: May 14 2017