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Behind the Scenes: A Visitor Day with Youth Leadership Adventures

April 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Guest post by Matt Dolge

My morning started off at 4:30am on August 9th, 2014 with a 3-hour solo drive to Ross Lake in the North Cascades. I had a lot of time to think about the day ahead yet had no idea how much this day was going to change my life. A month earlier I had accepted the invitation to participate in a day trip with Youth Leadership Adventures, which I had no prior knowledge of. But the offer to hike the North Cascades and explore Ross Lake on a guided boat tour was a chance I couldn’t pass on—and I’m glad I didn’t.

By 7:30am the sun was rising over the mountains peaks, which made the lake, sparkle like diamonds. At the trailhead an energetic group of strangers prepared for a hike down to the lake. The strangers were just friends that I had not met and they warmly welcomed me into their group. We tightened our hiking boots, stretched out the legs, and began to make our way down to the “Mule.” The hike was an easy scenic stroll on well-kept switchbacks. We took our time to observe wildlife, take photographs, and learn about the history of North Cascades Institute.

Once we reached the dam we could see that the lake stretched all the way up to the Canadian border. Being an avid hiker who has hiked 4 out of the Mighty 5, Utah’s National Parks I thought I had seen all the colors that nature could provide, but Ross Lake’s naturally blue-green color is surreal and the water is so clear that fish can be seen 10 feet below the water’s surface. This protected land is so pure and raw it cannot be reproduced through photographs.

Before boarding the Mule, which is a more of a barge than a boat, we discussed the activities for the remainder of the day. Amy Brown from North Cascades Institute leads the conversation and let’s us in on why we are here. “YLA is a hands-on outdoor leadership program focused on mentoring students in field science, communications, and public speaking. It is our goal to listen, learn, and support them in their passion for conservation”.

After about an hour on the boat we arrive at the campsite the youth leaders have called home for the past ten days. Their campsite is primitive with no running water or restrooms, but has an incredible view, sitting on a bluff which overlooks the lake. I mentally add this as a place to camp to my bucket list. We pick up the group of students and return to the Mule to troll northward to a secluded shoal. This remote area is heavily shaded with overgrown trees and lichens are thriving. It’s lunchtime and we break into small groups to learn why the youth have chosen to participate in YLA. It is at this point that I learn why I made the three-hour drive…

An Institute Board member talks with a YLA student

These youth leaders felt empowered to take responsibility for the environment and hearing them speak about conservation, sustainable practices, and stewardship was truly awe-inspiring. Standing before us were the next stewards of the environment. What they needed from us is support, leadership, awareness, and access to resources. What they already had was the determination to protect the environment; they just needed to know how to do it. Thanks to Youth Leadership Adventures these passionate environmentalist now have the leadership skills to make an impact in their local communities. Environmental activism doesn’t begin behind a desk or closed doors it begins in the North Cascades being inspired by youth who have the passion to become stewards of the environment.

A YLA student shares her story with the visitor group

Visit Matt’s blog here, and learn more about Youth Leadership Adventures here

Reflections on the Upper Skagit: Ross Lake by Boat and Boot

December 18th, 2011 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Written by Special Guest Blogger Elisabeth Keating.

On a cool Thursday evening in late July, a group of adventurers gather at the Environmental Learning Center for the 24th (and possibly final) year of one of North Cascades Institute’s most popular courses: Ross Lake By Boat and Boot a three-day exploratory workshop on the people and places of the Skagit River Valley, led by Gerry Cook and Bob Mierendorf. Both Bob and Gerry have had celebrated careers with the National Park Service – Bob is in his 25th year as the North Cascades National Park Archaeologist, and Gerry, recently retired from 44 years as a Park employee, has been a North Cascades fire lookout (1967 and 1971), a Park designer and architect, and an instructor and captain of the Ross Lake Mule. Bob and Gerry have led this class since 1997, labeled fondly by those who know them as The Bob and Gerry show.

At orientation, Bob welcomes us to what he and Gerry call Up River University: Nature’s classroom in general, and the floating classroom on board the Ross Lake Mule in particular. In our handout is an essay about the history of the area’s indigenous people, a map of today’s current Ross Lake, the class field itinerary, and a timeline of key events in the Upper Skagit reaching back 24,000 years to the present day. Before the creation of the dams along the Skagit River in the first half of the 20th century, the heart of the North Cascades was so rugged and inaccessible that few outsiders ventured in.

Looking out across the great expanse of Ross Lake on board the NPS Mule.

Gerry gives us a brief orientation to our home for the next few days – The Ross Lake Mule built in 1968. The North Cascades National Park inherited the NPS Mule from Katmai National Park in Alaska in 1976. The Mule hauled tons and tons of sand, gravel, cement, and materials of all kinds until it met its most noble calling: a floating wilderness classroom for students and adults.

» Continue reading Reflections on the Upper Skagit: Ross Lake by Boat and Boot

Rock On, Gerry!

November 16th, 2011 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Gerry Cook caps 44 years of service with the US National Park Service with a beautiful retirement party at Eagle Haven winery

Story by special guest Elisabeth Keating.

On a sparkling October evening at a winery in the foothills of the North Cascades, over 300 friends and family members gathered to celebrate Gerry Cook’s 44 years of service to North Cascades National Park and to wish him well in his future adventures. Gerry has served the park in many roles since 1967, working initially as a ranger and a fire lookout in 1970 at Desolation Peak, 1971 at Sourdough, and 1972 at Copper.

And as a designer, Gerry’s buildings and shelters grace many campgrounds and gathering places throughout the Park, including the viewing platform and Goat Shelter at the Visitor Center, shelters at the Environmental Learning Center trails, the Hozomeen Shelter at the north end of Ross Lake, and many accessible campsites. He’s currently designing and building the Park’s West Portal Entrance, a beautiful and unique sculpture that will be completed in the spring of 2012 and will evoke the mountains, rocks, water and glaciers that set the North Cascades apart from other wild regions of the country.

I recently asked Gerry which creation was his favorite. “Of all my design projects, I enjoy the Rock Shelter at the North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem the most as it feels the most creative. The “West Entrance Portal” has been fun and different.” The Rock Shelter is also where Gerry and his wife Hannah were married.

Climate Challenge students explore Native American history at Gerry’s Rock Shelter. Photo by Elisabeth Keating.
The Hozomeen Shelter is another beautiful creation of Gerry’s. Photo by Elisabeth Keating.

» Continue reading Rock On, Gerry!