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LEED by Example

April 25th, 2016 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Sasha Savoian, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

We are the North Cascades Institute. And if you are reading this blog you are somehow affiliated with or are curious about our organization devoted to environmental education. You may know us through Mountain School, Adult learning programs, Snow School, Youth Leadership Adventures, Family Getaways, Stewardship Events, Kulshan Creek Programs, our M.Ed. Graduate Program, Skagit Tours or perhaps you stumbled upon us hiking or driving Highway 20 beneath the steep contour of Sourdough Mountain. You may or may not know that our mission is to “conserve and restore Northwest environments through education.” No matter your age, we believe that place-based education in the rain drenched mossy, cascade cut forests or heather dotted, steep rocky alpine landscape makes a lasting impression. Our programs speak for themselves, but you may or not know about our sustainability efforts.

How effective is an organization that does not employ its values on a daily basis? The North Cascades Institute embodies what we believe sustains the vitality of this ecosystem and beyond. Our unique location, one hour from a grocery store and an hour and a half from a hospital, create obstacles that we are always navigating with different paddles.

But to give you a glimpse into how we operate sustainably at the base of the Cascades, let me tell you how we, this community of 50+ people, attempt to tread lightly while serving nearly 5,000 clients at 1200 feet.

Thirty years ago, Saul Weisberg and friends crafted an idea while hiking and climbing the silent, ancient peaks in the North Cascades National Park. The idea was for an educational institution which eventually led to the serendipitous construction of the Environmental Learning Center 11 years ago. The arduous details aren’t as important as the intention behind them. Change through education.



The Environmental Learning Center is LEED Silver certified by the U.S. Green Building Council based on our level of sustainability! LEED certification is awarded to buildings that are efficient, use less energy and water and create less impact on the environment both in the construction process and during operation. Our foundation is one of recycled structures upon which we expanded.

  • We respect our environment! Most of our buildings are built upon preexisting foundations for minimal impact to native vegetation and landscape, which still thrives today. Our campus is built into the landscape, working with naturally occurring barriers, slopes, and light.
  • We support local economies! Local and regional materials were used in construction of our facility.
  • We recycle! Salvaged wood was used to craft the front gate, the maple flooring in one of the classrooms and the heart pine flooring in staff housing.
  • We care about you! The woodwork inside of the buildings at the Learning Center does not contain composite wood like particle board or plywood that can contain formaldehyde in glues.
  • We used the natural landscape to our advantage in the construction of the buildings on campus. Windows are south and west facing when possible to absorb as much light as possible.

» Continue reading LEED by Example


Celebrating 30 & 100 Years Birthdays!

March 9th, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

As we ready for our 30th spring and summer of offering outdoor explorations and learning adventures in the North Cascades, we acknowledge another important anniversary too: the Centennial of the National Park Service! On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that created the agency that today stewards 410 units, of which 59 are national parks. We are fortunate in Washington State to have three of the best ones! Learn more at and

We’ll be celebrating this important milestone this year by co-presenting Terry Tempest Williams reading from her new book The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks at the Mount Baker Theater on June 15 and hosting a free Anniversary Picnic at the Learning Center on July 17. North Cascades National Park has a slate of special offerings too, including a NatGeo Centennial BioBlitz May 20-21 and a Centennial Photo Scavenger Hunt; learn more on their website.

In other news, we just opened for registration two dozen more Learning Center classes and Field Excursions on our website, including Hart’s Pass Wildflowers, Backpacking for Women, Hawkwatching at Chelan Ridge, Ross Lake Canoe Adventure and several photography and geology classes. We are also signing folks up for Family Getaways, Base Camp (check out our new online calendar of available dates) and Skagit Tours. View the calendar below to see what’s coming up, visit or call our friendly registrars at (360) 854-2599 for more information and to sign up.

2016 Learning Adventures: Now Registering!

April 22-24: Ross Lake Revealed: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe
April 29-May 1: Skagit Canoe Adventure
May 7-8: Exploring Yellow and Jones Islands by Boat and Boot
May 8: Snakes and Amphibians of the Methow Valley
May 14-15: Exploring Sucia Island by Boat and Boot
May 20-22: Stewardship Weekend at the Learning Center
May 27-29: Blockprinting and Bookbinding
May 28: Sauk Mountain Wildflowers
June 3-5: Wild Edibles on Lopez Island
June 3-5: Spring Birding East and West of the Cascades
June 10-12: Watercolors in the North Cascades
June 10-12: Adventures NW Photography Workshop
June 18: Geology: Cinder Cones and Crater Lakes of Mt. Baker
June 24-26: The Artful Map
July 1-3: Fourth of July Family Getaway
July 8-10: Best Hikes of the Cascades I
July 8-10: Beaver Ecology in the Methow

Many more classes, pricing and registration at >>

Teacher clock hours, scholarships, student and military discounts and academic credit may be available >>

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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!


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

Join us this summer in the North Cascades

July 20th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

The glorious summer weather that makes Western Washington one of the best places in the country to be finally arrived on July 4! North Cascades Institute is offering programs to people of all ages every day of the week at our Learning Center, on Diablo, Ross and Baker Lakes, up Highway 20, out in the field….we are everywhere!

If you, perhaps in the company of friends or family, want to get in to the North Cascades over the next couple of months to learn about the ecology of this special place, enjoy the views of towering peaks and rushing rivers, exercise your creative muse or simply relax and unwind at our lakeside retreat, we most certainly have a program just right for you. Read on to find out what’s coming up next, browse our catalog online or request one to be sent to you in the mail, or simply call our friendly registrars for a personal consultation at (360) 854-2599.

There truly is nothing like summer in the Northwest and we’re here to help you and your loved ones make the most of it with memorable experiences full of learning and adventure!

P.s. If you are just passing through for the day, or exploring on your own, you can still connect with the Institute by visiting one of our bookstores and gift shops located along Highway 20 in Sedro-Woolley, Newhalem, Marblemount, Stehekin and on Diablo Lake. We offer high-quality outdoor apparel, camping gear, beautiful posters and postcards, field guides, recreation maps, kids’ activities, permits and more, with all proceeds going back to support Institute programs!

Coming up at North Cascades Institute

Family Getaways in the North Cascades, July 20-22 and August 3-5

Northwest Naturalists Retreat, July 27-30

Digital Wildflower Photography with a Pocket Camera, August 14-16

Cascades carnivores and our Changing Climate, August 17-19

Diablo Creative Arts Retreat, September 6-9

Diablo Downtime, September 14-16

Street Smart Naturalist in Seattle, September 15

Sourdough Speaker Series: Edible Pacific Northwest, September 29-30


» Continue reading Join us this summer in the North Cascades

News release: North Cascades National Park Ready for Spring and Summer Visitors

May 19th, 2012 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Days are growing longer and birdsong is filling the mountain air as the North Cascades awaken from the long winter. With the Washington State Department of Transportation having recently reopened the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20), North Cascades National Park Complex is ready to welcome you.

The Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount and the North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem are both open for the season. Until June 30, backcountry adventurers looking for information and free permits for overnight stays in the backcountry will find the doors of the Wilderness Information Center open Sunday to Thursday between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and Friday to Saturday between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. From July 1 until September 6, its hours will increase to Sunday through Thursday between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and Friday tthrough Saturday between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m.

A Park Ranger at Sourdough Lookout ready to welcome visitors.

The North Cascades Visitor Center near Newhalem is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. through June 30, and 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. July 1 through September 8. Visit with knowledgeable park rangers who can help you plan a trip or view the exhibits to learn about the complex ecosystems of the park. Easy hiking trails will take you to the banks of the Skagit River and to viewpoints looking into the heart of the Picket Range.

Explore historic Newhalem and the Skagit Information Center. Beginning May 25, the center will be open Friday through Sunday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. From June 15 through September 3, the center will open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for Skagit Tours. Offered in partnership with Seattle City Light and the North Cascades Institute, a selection of tours are available that explore the natural and human processes at work in the upper Skagit Valley. Learn more and register for a tour at

» Continue reading News release: North Cascades National Park Ready for Spring and Summer Visitors

See the wild side with new North Cascades tours

August 10th, 2011 | Posted by in Field Excursions

Seattle City Light’s Skagit Tours has added a guided van-and-hiking day tour of its Skagit hydroelectric project and nearby falls, gorges and viewpoints of the North Cascades. Photo by Jessica Haag.


By Mike McQuaide Originally published in The Seattle Times, August 3, 2011

Atop Diablo Dam, in the heart of the North Cascades, Sara Beaver unscrewed the top of her water bottle and, holding it out at arm’s length, prepared to demonstrate the dam’s unique anti-gravity properties.

“I’ve never tried this before,” said the North Cascades Institute naturalist, “but I’ve heard that it’s impossible to pour water down the front of the dam.”

Holding her bottle over the edge of the 389-foot-high dam, she tilted the bottle and poured. But instead of the water falling straight down as the law of gravity, as well as personal experience, would lead one to expect, the water sprayed horizontally, right back at her. Almost like she was squirting herself in the face with a garden hose.

Explanation for this “Mythbusters” myth confirmed-type moment? Westerly winds barreling down narrow Diablo Gorge run head-on into the front of the dam’s massive concrete wall (at one time it was the highest dam in the world) and have nowhere to go but up. So does something relatively light, like water from a bottle.

“It’s kind of a microcosm of the weather out here,” offered Daphnie Leigh, an interpretive ranger with North Cascades National Park, who was also with us atop the dam.

“Clouds coming in off the Pacific Ocean hit the mountains and, just like the wind has nowhere to go when it hits the dam, they rise and eventually cool, releasing all their moisture in the form of snow and rain.”

Ah, learning. Cool. We were spending our day on North Cascades Expeditions, a new-this-summer tour, combining van rides and short hikes, offered as part of the Skagit Tours operation of Seattle City Light, which operates this hydroelectric dam. Like Beaver, Leigh was providing various and sundry answers to the area’s hows, whys, whats and whens on this six-hour guided foray through this truly spectacular Upper Skagit-North Cascades part of the world.

» Continue reading See the wild side with new North Cascades tours