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Seasons In the Skagit: Winter

January 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Hello and welcome to 2017 everyone! I am very pleased to greet you in the new year and share with you some of the changes we have recently seen in the Skagit. As we start winter and a new cycle around the sun I invite you to embrace the beginning of our calendar year and perhaps start phenological practices of your own. Welcome to winter!

Highway 20 is very quiet in the upper Skagit. Massive icicles are hanging from the rocks in the Gorge. Most of the trees are bare and almost no birds are heard singing in the branches. Winter has settled into the Skagit Valley. As fall ended and winter began we saw some notable phenological events in our watershed:

  • Nov. 19: Four Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feeding on fish carcasses across the river from Cascadian Farms. Eagle sightings are increasing.
  • Nov. 21: Washington Pass on SR 20 closed for the winter.
  • Nov. 25: Mt. Baker Ski Area opens for the season.
  • Dec. 3:Daniel Dubie (C16 M.Ed. graduate student) saw approximately 20 Bald Eagles at the Samish Flats!
  • Dec. 4: The first snow fell at North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center.
  • Dec. 8: Nine Bald Eagles spotted on the drive between the Blue House and the ELC, two of which were juveniles.

Although it may seem quiet in the valley and upriver there are still many things changing around us, whether we notice them or not.

» Continue reading Seasons In the Skagit: Winter


Baker Lake cleanup, by canoe!

October 8th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Join North Cascades Institute, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities North Sound Baykeeper Team and the United States Forest Service for an annual trash cleanup at Baker Lake on Sunday, October 12, from 9 am-5 pm.

Past cleanups have collected inflatable mattresses, beverage containers, busted lawn chairs, towels, coolers, fishing gear and poles.

“North Cascades Institute is supporting this event with volunteers and canoes because, as an environmental education organization, we value our public lands and our ability to bring people to places like Baker Lake for education and outdoor experiences. It’s our classroom! Stewardship is a powerful tool to connect folks to the natural world. A clean up like this has really tangible results and people can feel good about what they have done,” said Katie Roloson, Program Manager at the Institute.

Registration is required and a number of canoes will be supplied on a first come, first served basis. People who own canoes are encouraged to bring them and are also asked to register. No experience required.

Registration for Whatcom County residents: contact Lee First at RE Sources at or (360) 733 8307.

Registration for Skagit County residents: contact Katie Roloson, North Cascades Institute, at or (206-526-2564).

Entering the Ethereal Forest

April 12th, 2012 | Posted by in Adventures

UPDATE MARCH 2014: Join us the weekend of March 28-30 for a brand new Field Excursion: “Ross Lake: Exploring the Drawdown by Canoe” with Institute naturalists and North Cascades National Park geologist Jon Reidel! This class will explore the geologic history of the Ross Lake area during the annual drawdown, a period when the lake is lowered by Seattle City Light and vast new terrain becomes exposed. This unique landscape has been shaped by glaciers, the Skagit River and the Skagit Hydroelectric Project, and a wealth of natural history phenomena emerge every spring when the hidden landscape is revealed.

Info and registration at or 360-854-2599. Sign up today to guarantee your spot!

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This past weekend dawned sunny and warm in the North Cascades, an unexpected delight for those of us electing to live out the winter in the solitude of the snow-capped peaks and hushed forests around the Environmental Learning Center. Although spring has reportedly been blooming down along the Skagit Valley, our world has remained snowy, rainy, and cold. And if by chance we forget, the closure of Highway 20 just a few miles to our east reminds us it is so. Eager to take advantage of the sun and rare blue skies, a group of 6 of us – staff, grads, and friends – decided to canoe up into the big drawdown of Ross Lake and spend a night under the stars.

We began our 22 mile canoe trip first in the wind-chopped waters of Diablo Lake, some of us (myself included) wondering what we were getting ourselves into. After an hour of paddling, we reached the boat dock at the end of Gorge Canyon, and hitched our canoes to a few wobbly, old, and very janky wheel gurneys in order to portage our boats up and over 540 ft tall Ross Dam to Ross Lake. It was a haul to say the least, and a huffing and puffing adventure at that. On the other side we were greeted by a stunning view of Jack Mountain, and chose to have lunch at the water’s edge, mesmerized by the beauty mountains in every direction.

Kai Girard portaging one of our canoes up the service road between Diablo and Ross Lakes. Photo by the author.

Surprisingly, the wind died down on Ross Lake, and our group paddled along in excited anticipation for every new peak and vantage awaiting us around each corner. It wasn’t long before Ruby Mountain came into view, a delight for me after months of barely glimpsing the tip of it, concealed as we are so far below along Diablo Lake. The water was glass, and each canoe of two spread out along its width as if responding to the naturalness of its quiet and its calm. It felt good to be out on water, moving ourselves by the strength and consistency of our paddles.

» Continue reading Entering the Ethereal Forest