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Mtn School Nat Geo Oct 2016

Mountain School in National Geographic magazine

October 3rd, 2016 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled to have been included in Tim Egan’s cover story for the October 2016 issue of National Geographic!

“In early fall I went to North Cascades National Park — the American Alps, chock-full of glaciers containing the frozen memories of wet winters past. A bundle of high peaks in Washington State, the park is one of the most remote places in the contiguous 48 states and also one of the least visited parks. But here, deep in the forested embrace of the upper Skagit River Valley, you can find the next two generations of Americans getting to know a national park. I heard hooting like owls and howling like wolves, coming from a circle of fifth graders and their wilderness instructors. The kids were from Birchwood Elementary in Bellingham, Washington, a school where almost half the students are nonwhite and most had never been in a national park. They were there for Mountain School, three days in outdoor immersion run by the North Cascades Institute. Their guides—staff naturalists, park rangers, graduate students—were all millennials. Without exception, the instructors thought the concern about their generation’s attachment to the land was valid, but overstated.

“It’s not like all of a sudden people are going to stop loving nature,” said Emma Ewert, who had gone to Mountain School and returned as an instructor. “But you do need the exposure, the fun of playing in the woods.” For that, perhaps, we should look to today’s parents, those afraid to let their children wander a little bit on their own.

The institute’s co-founder and executive director, Saul Weisberg, is a self-described Jewish kid from New York by way of Cleveland. He’s 62 now, wiry, with a bounce to his step. He learned to love the parks from his family, camping in a tent not unlike the one my folks used. He became a seasonal ranger at North Cascades and noticed a troubling pattern among visitors. “I don’t think I ever saw a person of color in the backcountry,” he said. He started Mountain School in 1990, partnering with the Park Service. About 3,000 students a year go through the program.

Though these kids lived only two hours or so away, this park was a strange new world for them. Many said it was the first time they’d been off the electronic leash of a family smartphone. “They have a very short attention span,” Ewert said.

At Mountain School, the instructors note changes in behavior over the few days the kids spend in the forest. They start to identify types of trees and small animals, and notice distinctions in sounds and smells. “Parents say, ‘What did you do to my child?’ ” said Carolyn Hinshaw, a teacher at Birchwood.

The parks director, Jarvis, is a big fan of Mountain School and similar programs, like Nature Bridge, which brings 30,000 students every year to a half dozen national parks. But he cautions that one visit does not a park lover make. “Something clicks, a light goes on, just by having some exposure,” he said. “I think it takes three touches for someone to change. A great first impression, but no follow-through, is not enough.” What’s needed, he said, is a broad cultural shift—a return, of sorts, to a time when outdoor exposure was a basic nutrient of American life.”

Read the rest of “Can the Selfie Generation Unplug and Get Into Parks?” at www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/10/unplugging-the-selfie-generation-national-parks.

Bianca Valles

Bianca Valles on the Path for youth

December 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Bianca grew up in Mount Vernon and graduated from Mount Vernon High School. She participated in North Cascades Wild, a precursor to our Youth Leadership Adventures program, during the summer of 2009.

“I can still remember all the emotions I went through when I got that phone call saying I was accepted to go on this trip.” Bianca recalls. “Pure shock, excitement, anticipation, and wonder overcame me. But once I actually got to go on the trip, my whole point of view of the world changed and many doors opened up for me.”

The following summer, Bianca went on to participate in a 3-week Watershed Ecology program in the Copper River Delta of Chugach National Forest, Alaska. In 2011, she returned to the North Cascades to attend the Youth Leadership Conference. All of these steps symbolize our concept of helping to nurture a “Path for Youth,” repeated experiences in the outdoors that reinforce and build upon each other
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“Once I viewed the beauty of the North Cascades, I realized something,” she says. “I actually want to help preserve this captivating place for many future generations.”

Bianca had a very surprising opportunity to do just that, in a very literal way. When the Goodall Wildfire blew up in the Newhalem Gorge, it began spreading towards our Environmental Learning Center. Two fire crews were called in, including Bianca working on the North Zone fire engine for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

“It was amazing returning to North Cascades Institute not as a wide-eyed student just starting to learn about nature and stewardship,” she explains, “but as a wildlands firefighter working for the USFS. It really felt like coming full circle, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without those early experiences with the Institute.”

Bianca is a student at the Evergreen State College about to obtain her dual major in Cultural and Environmental Studies. She hopes to travel to third world countries in order to teach English and raise awareness about the impacts that different groups of people have on their environments and how we all connect to the natural world and each other.

Seattle Times cover

North Cascades Institute in The Seattle Times: “Mountain School makes the magic of the wilderness real for kids”

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

We are thrilled with The Seattle Times‘ story on Mountain School, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and the Institute’s 30 years of environmental education in the North Cascades. It appeared as the cover story in the Times‘ Pacific Northwest Magazine on August 9, 2015 and features a wealth of amazing photos, many quotes from MS students and teachers and an interview with our founder and executive director Saul Weisberg.

 

“DO NOT LET the sly grin fool you. Nika Meyers is not joking around.

Out here amid the firs and ferns and tiny birds and devil’s club above Diablo Lake, she makes certain things clear to her young charges. Today’s lesson on getting in touch with the earth? It’s not some cute metaphor. It is exactly that: On your knees, boys and girls. Right down there with the spiders and rotting leaves and — Holy Crap! Is that a centipede?
This is how it’s done at Mountain School: One pair of happy, grubby, fifth-grade paws at a time. Multiply by 2,800 kids from 53 schools this year alone, stir, and enjoy.

The concept behind the school, run by nonprofit North Cascades Institute, sounds simple: In a three-day mountain camp experience, imbue in school children a visceral connection with this special place — the thumping, mountainous heart of Northwest wilderness. Make its magic real to them at a micro level, in the hope that some of them will feel the pull to return as powerfully as a salmon headed home to spawn. Slip into their consciousness rudimentary skills of a naturalist — the ability to observe and make the same personal connections to other wild lands.

Oh: Also do this without boring the amped-up, digitally dependent kids out of their skulls.

Mountain School still represents what Saul Weisberg espoused from the beginning: A chance for Northwest kids to get out in nature — many of them spending nights away from home for the first time — and go home with mountain air embedded in their hearts. While the Institute’s unofficial mission has always been to “save the world,” it’s official task is to put people and nature together and stand back in awe watching what happens. It can’t happen without the dirty hands.”

 

Read Ron Judd’s excellent story on our Mountain School program at www.seattletimes.com!

And watch a 4-minute video by Steve Ringman at http://bcove.me/5b5mbuaz!

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Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Nika Meyers, Youth Leadership Adventures Field Instructor

Our journey into the wild started with an incredible boat ride on the Mule boat on Ross Lake to Little Beaver where the views of the North Cascades were in full force and the stories told by boat captains Gerry and Rob were in full supply. The dramatic vertical relief of the mountainsides shot up into the crisp air, Nohokomeen Glacier filled our rear view and the glassy surface of the lake rippled in our wake.  We had 18 miles to go on boat and then a 4.6 mile hike into Perry Creek for the night.

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At Little Beaver we filled up water, ate our lunch, did some stretches, adjusted our packs and reiterated the importance of dealing with a “hotspot” before it turns into a blister. We hoisted our heavy packs onto our backs and began the first hot climb up and away from Ross Lake. What an introduction to backpacking!

There was a mix of emotions during the first two hours: the beginning of pack rash, sweat dripping from many different body parts, beautiful views and getting to know and trust each other.

“I am not sure if this is what I was expecting,” said one student, just before another accidently kicked a squirrel that ran across the trail at the wrong time.

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“Whoops” of joy were heard through the Western Hemlocks as the front of the group reached Perry Creek campsite. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
We finished off the day with a sponge bath in the stream, mac n’ cheese and peas in our tummies and a bear-hang dangling our 7 days of food from the sky.

To develop leadership skills, improve communication and learn many important hard skills, each student had the opportunity to serve in different job roles throughout the course. Each day we had two leaders of the day, two cooks, two cleaners, a camptender, a scientist, and a community journalist. By working together we were reminded about the importance of being open minded, to share skills and experiences with respect and curiosity, and the value of being a good leader and a good follower.  We were challenged to be assertive, practice patience and share affirmative and constructive feedback to help us be a strong group.

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Our leaders of the day woke us up to the sound of running water and wind in the trees as we were ready to go meet some of the National Park trail crew staff for a day of brushing along the trail. With weed whips (swizzle sticks), loppers and handsaws in hand we worked our way through 6 feet tall brush shoots revealing the tread way once again to the human eye. “Wow! There is a trail here! Who would have guessed?!” One student said. “Before I did this I always thought that trails were just always there right where you needed them. I never thought about the fact that someone actually does take care of them or they would disappear. I will never look at a trail again in the same way!”

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Is there a trail here??

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We found it!

» Continue reading Backpacking Beavers in the North Cascades : Youth Leadership Adventures Trip Report #1

Owen Painter, MS, by Cam Painter

“When we say…….

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

….’Mountain’, you say, ‘School!'”

Mountain!!

School!!

Mountain!

School!

It has been another successful season here at Mountain School, the North Cascades Institute’s flagship program through which naturalist-educators have welcomed 4th-12th graders to the North Cascades since 1990. It was an extra long spring season, stretching from February 18 to June 12 due, in large part, to having to reschedule three schools from the government shut-down last October.

Program Outreach Coordinator Codi Hamblin, who is also a former graduate student from Cohort 10 and former editor of Chattermarks, supplied the numbers:

  • Total number of Mt School participants (students, teachers chaperones): 2,588
  • Total number of Mt School students only: 1,445
  • Schools (both public, private, and home) attended from western and eastern Washington: 34

 

Some of the schools attending Mountain School this spring received scholarship assistance from North Cascades Institute. The scholarship is dependent upon an individual school’s demonstrated need as provided by the state’s Office of Superintendent Public Instruction. This helps to ensure a variety of schools can attend Mountain School regardless of a community’s need.

But enough words. Buff Black, a photographer and parent-chaperone from Bellingham’s Silver Beach Elementary, generously offered to share his images with Chattermarks. A select few are shown below, organized loosely following the A, B, and C‘s of our most popular three-day curriculum, “Ecosystem Explorations.”

 

Day 1: Abiotic (“not living, never will live, and never has lived”)

 

kevinbigmapSenior naturalist Kevin Biggs facilitates a lesson on the Big Map about the orographic effect.
tylersourdoughsignGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Tyler Chisholm helps orient her trail group to where they are in the forest and where they’re going.
kevinecosystemboardAn ecosystem is made up of both biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”) and abiotic components. This is the foundational concept of “Ecosystem Explorations.”
40 - Kaci and Dancer Solstice © Buff BlackGraduate student and Mountain School instructor Kaci Darsow helps entertain approximately 65 hungry 5th graders before they slowly descend on the dining hall.
pillowfightInstructors go home after either a diurnal or nocturnal shift (which only lasts till about 9:15pm, at the latest). But apparently pillow fights are a popular ritual in the lodges. Who knew?

 

Day 2: Biotic (“living, will live, or has lived”)

 

22 - Yasmin and Blindfolded Juliette Find the Right Tree © Buff BlackSilver Beach students work on team-building skills while learning to use senses other than sight to get to know some of the plants in the forest community through the popular “Meet-a-Tree” activity.
30 - Head Dunking in Sourdough Creek © Buff BlackSeveral trail groups tend to visit “The Waterfall” on Sourdough Creek on Day 2, doing trail lessons and games throughout the 3.5 mile round-trip hike. Head-dunking in the snowmelt-fed creek is often requisite.
37 - Food Waste Warriors and Chef Hard at Work © Buff BlackThe Food Waste Warriors and Chef Kent defeat Valuta Wastoid once again with their fresh, local food and penchant for composting in Mountain School’s nightly rendition of dinner theater. Waste not!
43 - Guide Kaci and Cougar Clan Get In Touch with a Wolf Skull © Buff BlackThe evening Ranger Program uses “Mystery Skulls” to hone students’ observation skills while teaching them about carnivore adaptations and wildlife of the North Cascades.
42 - Ranger Dylan and Cougar Clan Talk about Carnivores © Buff BlackRanger Dylan, kindly borrowed from the National Park Service (a primary partner of the North Cascades Institute), chats with a student during the small group discussion portion of his program.

 

Day 3: Community (the plants, the animals, and their interactions)

 

50 - Guide Tyler Leading an Eyes-Closed Trust Hike © Buff BlackTyler’s all smiles leading a trust line for her trail group.
32 - Cougar Clan and Sourdough Creek Waterfall © Buff BlackWe made it!

Chris Kiser, Mountain School Program Coordinator, reflects on the season:

This spring, nearly 35 schools and 1.500 students from all over the Puget Sound and East and West sides of the Cascades came to the mountains to experience and explore the magic of this place, leaving as more cohesive groups with expanded understandings of the local ecosystem and their role in it. Closing campfire ceremonies at the end of the Mountain School program always bring this home for me, as students share out loud an unselfish wish for their community. Often, these wishes focus around Mountain School being available to every 5th grader, or continuing to care for wild places so that National Parks like the North Cascades will be protected now into the future. I can’t think of a better example of the Institute’s mission to conserve and restore Northwest environments through education in practice than the words of these young people.

34 - Crouched Cougar Clan Portrait Looking Up © Buff Black
Leading photo: Representing Omak Middle School from Washington’s east side, Owen Painter gets creative with the spillway on Diablo Dam. The “Dam Walk” is one of the evening activities during springtime Mountain School, a privilege granted by our partner, Seattle City Light. It is often a unique experience for the students to get to walk across a 389-foot-tall dam and learn about hydroelectric power generation in a national park. Photo by Cam Painter.
 
All photos by Buff Black (except the lead).
 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She wishes to extend a huge thank you to all the Mountain School students, teachers, and chaperones; to Buff Black for his beautiful photography; to Chris Kiser for her extraordinary organizational capacity; and to her fellow Mountain School instructors. Schooooool’s out, for, summer!

 

 

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Getting ready for summer: Gear repair day with McNett

May 15th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

As summertime approaches, Aneka, Matt and Amy — our amazing Youth Leadership Adventures team — have a lot to get ready for. After several months of outreach and promotion of this unique backcountry stewardship and leadership program for high school students, they’ve received over 120 applications to fill 11 trips. Next up, they’ve been working closely with resource and recreation managers on Ross, Baker and Diablo lakes to develop engaging itineraries for completing volunteer stewardship projects, developing outdoor leadership skills, and learning about environmental issues. Another crucial step in getting ready for the upcoming summer is to attend to our cache of gear that we loan the students on the trips — many of the young people have never camped, paddled or backpacked before so are in need of outdoor equipment like tents, waterproof clothing and backpacks.

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Matt sorts through new outdoor gear donated to Youth Leadership Adventures by McNett.

The McNett Corporation, an outdoor equipment company based in Bellingham, has been a crucial supporter of Youth Leadership Adventures over the past years. They’ve helped us by reaching out to other equipment companies to solicit gear — last week they dropped off a huge load of tents, sleeping bags, rain gear, cooking equipment, rain boots, fleece hats, Nalgenes, and sunglasses — as well as working directly with our staff to keep the gear we have in good shape. Utilizing McNett’s Gear Aid care and repair products like ReviveX boot cleaner, FreesoleTenacious Tape, Seam Grip and ReviveX Durable Waterproofing, our team spent a day with their staff at McNett headquarters repairing boots, sewing clothing, sealing jackets and other important maintenance. Reduce, reuse and recycle in action!

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Here is a report from the McNett Gear Aid blog:

Everyone dreams of attending summer camp.  The fresh mountain air, crystal clear lakes, and the friendships formed along the way.  For many kids North Cascades Institute helps make those dreams a reality. Through NCI Mountain School, kids learn to be better stewards of the environment as well as learn valuable outdoor skills like hiking, backpacking, and Leave No Trace principals.  Many of the kids who attend programs at NCI aren’t equipped with the appropriate outdoor gear or have little to no outdoor experience. NCI provides gear for all of those who can’t afford to bring their own. Things like boots, backpacks, and tents take a beating.  Buying new gear every year would be a huge expense for NCI. That being the case, McNett® has stepped up to provide NCI with the training and repair products to help get their gear back on the trail. Last week NCI brought us their entire stock of beat-up boots, broken backpacks, torn stuff sacks, and even their rain jackets. We spent the afternoon out in the sun chatting up their staff about how to make various repairs in the field, while working hands-on to repair the things they brought with them.

Read the rest at https://www.mcnett.com/gearaid/blog/repair-day-with-north-cascades-institute.

Watch a video of this transformative backcountry program for high school students at http://youtu.be/26Lwq6gfufk.

Photos courtesy of McNett, except for photo of Matt sorting gear by Aneka Singlaub.

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The Snow and The Shining

March 7th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

A small avalanche across Highway 20 just east of Newhalem at milepost 121 had residents of the Environmental Learning Center stuck at home Monday morning through Thursday morning of this week. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was waiting until avalanche danger had decreased to assess the situation and clear the snow and debris. The highway is now passable up to its regular winter closure at milepost 134, seven miles east of Diablo Dam.

What did the closure mean for life at the Learning Center? Graduate students couldn’t leave, and staff who live down valley in Newhalem and Marblemount couldn’t come up. Residents had to increase their awareness of their daily actions, since they already live at a remote facility (defined as 60 miles or more from definitive medical care) and now had even fewer options for help if need be. But by far the worst consequence was the cancellation of Mountain School. Two Bellingham elementary schools, Wade King and Northern Heights, could not spend their three days exploring ecosystems in the North Cascades as planned. The avalanche was the second time this school year that both schools thought they were coming but were prevented by outside forces (the first was during the government shut-down last October). They are troopers! Both have been rescheduled.

During this time, Senior Naturalist Kevin Biggs could not get to work from Marblemount for two days, but was offered the opportunity on Wednesday to be take the extra seat of the Seattle City Light helicopter and be flown up to participate in trainings. Here are a few aerial photos from his exciting journey.

avalanche!kevinbiggsThe avalanche on Highway 20, milepost 121. Photo by Kevin Biggs.
diablointersection.kevinbiggsGorge Lake and the town of Diablo. Photo by Kevin Biggs.
aeriallakekevinbiggsAbove one of the tunnels on Highway 20 between Newhalem and Diablo. Photo by Kevin Biggs.

The resident graduate students chose to make the best of the snowed-in situation and efficiently cross two things off their “Wintertime To-Do List” simultaneously: “Make a Blanket Fort” and “Watch The Shining”. Raiding both their backpacking supplies and the office, they constructed a fort in the Wild Ginger Library by stringing up tapestries and sheets with parachute chord and industrial strength binder clips.

blanket fort K. RenzTyler Chisholm and Katie Komorowski put their construction and interior design skills to use on a recent dark and stormy night. Photo by Katherine Renz.

And really, as practicing environmental educators the grads were simply exemplifying one of the seven “Children and Nature Design Principles” as described by award-winning author and educator David Sobel in his book, Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators. Among principles such as “Animal Allies” and “Hunting and Gathering” is “Special Places”: “[There] appears to be a universal tendency for children to create or find their own private places,” Sobel writes. “I believe the creation of these places serves many developmental purposes for children. The fort is a home away from home in nature; it provides a bridge between the safe, protected world of the family and the independent self in the wider world of adolescence. These places also serve as vehicles of bonding with the natural world, allowing children to feel comfortable in the landscape, connected to it, and eventually committed to acting as stewards of it.”

So, really, the blanket fort was an exercise in preparation for facilitating the next generation of ecological stewards.

people in fort k. RenzAll smiles, bright lights, three bags of popcorn and a jar of nutritional yeast. This is before the film. Photo by Katherine Renz.

With each cushion and sleeping bag of the Special Place Blanket Fort in order, it was time to watch Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 screen version of Steven King’s psychological horror novel, The Shining (1977), a feature film we had been planning on watching during a snowstorm since we’d moved to the isolated Environmental Learning Center way back in the sunny days of September. This activity also be considered related to our studies, in multiple ways: it taught us how not to act when you’re stuck in the mountains with a lot of writing to do; it showed us one of our sister Cascade peaks, Oregon’s Mount Hood, which towered over the backdrop for the exterior shots of the movie’s haunted Overlook Hotel, known in real life is called the Timberline Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in the late 1930s; and it encouraged further cohort bonding, as any good horror movie will do.

the shining twins k. renz“Come and play with us, forever, and ever, and ever……”. The creepy ghost sisters of The Shining, as seen in the Wild Ginger Library-cum-independent movie house. Photo by Katherine Renz.

The road is open, the snow is slowly melting, and the grads have transitioned from fort-building to prepping lesson plans. We look forward to Mountain School resuming next week and watching the landscape morph, day by day, in to spring.

slush on diablo katie rolosonDiablo Lake from the shore at the Environmental Learning Center, Monday morning. Program Manager Katie Roloson said this was the first time she had ever seen the lake so completely covered in slush. It’s almost hard to imagine it having its characteristicly jewel-green, milky blue summertime hue. Photo by Katie Roloson.

 

Leading photo: Chunks of ice float on Diablo Lake in the shadow of Colonial and Pyramid Peaks on the weekend preceding Monday’s avalanche. Photo by Katie Komorowski.
 

 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program and co-editor of Chattermarks. She is happy to say that The Shining is less terrifying by the third viewing.