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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

“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.


A Call to Education toward Resilience

December 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

by Liz Blackman, Cohort 14, Institute Master of Education candidate

The shift was abrupt. It came with little warning. As smoke billowed up the Newhalem Gorge and filled the tiny mountain town of Diablo, I had 20 minutes to grab everything I could. I felt an adrenaline rush unlike anything I have ever experienced: a heart-pumping, exhilaration-fueled energy that poured out like a shield against the danger all around me.

The Goodell Wildfire started out small, but on a hot and dry day in August, winds picked up and fanned the flames into the canyon toward Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. The order to evacuate came sudden, and for the first time in my life, I was a refugee from natural disaster, an increasingly common occurrence as our global climate continues to change. I evacuated from my home of over a year with everything I owned piled in my car.

Along with a caravan of other evacuees who were now blocked from heading west on Highway 20, I traveled east over Washington Pass, and into evacuation zone after evacuation zone with much of central Washington on fire. I didn’t slow down enough to feel scared until I woke up in Seattle the next morning, far from my North Cascades home, and realized all that was still in jeopardy.

With long hours, and living far away from other people and services, we had become like family at the Learning Center – working, learning, playing, crying, laughing and growing together. During the fire, this family of mine was scattered to the wind, our roots shaken as the flames closed in. It didn’t feel right to be away from this home even though my graduate school residency was scheduled to be over and I would soon be moving to Bellingham anyway. So I drove back up Highway 20 until I reached the comforting basecamp that was the Marblemount Blue House.

61008 HWY 20

The Institute purchased this old ranch house on the Skagit River to house five staff and graduate students. Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
The Blue House was now buzzing with frenzied activity. As I approached I saw sixteen recently arrived graduate students from Cohort 15 standing in a circle along with several Institute naturalists, Learning Center operations staff and the program team. The relief that flooded me at the sight of so many members of my community was immense.

A busload of stuff

The Blue House was now an anthill of human activity. The hayfield turned into a gridlocked parking lot of Subarus filled with haphazard piles of well-loved odds and ends. Blue House residents like Max and Dylan served as comforting leaders and a welcoming hospitality team. They directed bathroom traffic, weed-wacked to create camping sites, streamlined kitchen and living spaces for communal use and generally guided the rest of the wide-eyed refugees through the logistics of close-quarters life. Kitchen staff Coleen, Derrick, Kristi and Kent breathed comfort into the food they produced with the tenderness all of us craved in our time of disorientation. Kevin, Lindsey and Joshua on the program team alternated between taking charge and meeting the infinite needs of a bevy of homeless staff and students.

Honey Do


Never in my life have I seen such resilience as it emerged during those first few days following the fire. The extended North Cascades Institute “family” offered homes, supplies and endless messages of support. Sedro-Woolley office staff worked late into the night developing contingency plans for fall programs and getting information out to the public. And our crew at the Blue House improvised spectacularly.

» Continue reading A Call to Education toward Resilience


Rain eases wildfire threat, SR20 reopens, evacuation lifted

August 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center received 2.5 inches of rain over the last 48 hours, and more is expected through Friday! All of the wildfires in the Upper Skagit Complex are diminished and the Goodell Fire is no longer considered a significant threat to the Environmental Learning Center or Diablo. The Washington State Department of Transportation opened State Route 20 at noon on Sunday, August 30, and our evacuation order was lifted. North Cascades Institute is currently working to reopen the Environmental Learning Center and assume normal operations, including the start of Mountain School as scheduled on September 14.

As Learning Center Director Kristofer Gilje remarked, “This all ended as fast as it started.”



We still have concerns about travel in the Newhalem Gorge. Even during non-fire years, this much rain brings debris down onto the roadway. The DOT is keeping the road clear, but take special care when traveling through the Gorge. You may encounter rocks and trees on the roadway, and be prepared to turn back or to be delayed in your return. Temporary, intermittent closures may be required for helicopter and heavy equipment work on power lines and towers. For the latest updates, visit or contact the North Cascades Highway Hotline at (360) 707-5055.

North Cascades National Park reopened the Newhalem Visitor Center and many campgrounds and trails. For current park conditions visit,

North Cascades Institute thanks each and every one of you for the continued outpouring of support. You’ve helped us evacuate the Learning Center safely, opened your homes to our displaced staff, voiced your concerns and sent us countless messages of hope. We continue to be grateful for you, for our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service and for the firefighters, first responders, National Guard, U.S. Army servicemen and women and others working on the wildfires across Washington State.

Your financial support is another way to help us in this tumultuous time of program cancellations and restructuring, lost revenue and displaced staff. Thank you for making a gift today at

We also encourage you to support families in need on the eastside of the state. The Community Foundation of North Central Washington has compiled a list of resources at



Firecrews arrive at the Learning Center

August 28th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

The Goodell Fire in North Cascades National Park has expanded and totalled 6,716 acres on Aug 27, burning on both sides of State Highway 20 and the Skagit River near the town of Newhalem, the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center and Newhalem campground. The fire also continues to creep eastward up Newhalem Gorge along both sides of Gorge Lake in the direction of Diablo and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

We were much relieved when firefighting crews arrived on campus on Aug 26 to begin resource protection activities. The Learning Center is a hive of activity with fire crews on site, including three engines from Darrington, Index and Concrete. Crews have begun installing water pumps in Diablo Lake and hoses and sprinklers throughout campus and surveying the campus  for vegetation removal to create defensible space.



» Continue reading Firecrews arrive at the Learning Center

Diablo Dam

View from Diablo Dam

August 22nd, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

A view looking west from Diablo Dam down the Skagit River Gorge towards Newhalem and the Goodell Creek Fire from Wednesday 8/19, 3:15 pm. By Institute graduate student Joe Loviska. We’re posting more photos from the wildfire at North Cascades Institute updates are at and on our Facebook page at


Anniversary Celebration Picnic cancelled, wildfire update

August 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

We regretfully have decided to cancel our Anniversary Celebration Picnic and all related activities at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center on Saturday and Sunday, August 22-23.

The Goodell Creek Fire burning near Newhalem unexpectedly grew yesterday, State Route 20 was closed down and the decision was made to evacuate the Learning Center as a precaution. The Learning Center isn’t in imminent danger and all of our staff, graduate students and guests were able to leave the area safely. With this said, there are many uncertainties that we are actively monitoring and conditions in the upper Skagit Valley are uncomfortably smokey.

We also feel it is not appropriate to host a celebration at this time as we are deeply saddened by the loss of life of three firefighters in Twisp yesterday, and by the injuries sustained by four others. We send our condolences to all of the family and friends of those impacted by these traumatic wildfires.

Our focus at North Cascades Institute is making sure that our displaced staff and graduate students are taken care of and to provide any assistance we can to our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service.

We still hope to celebrate the milestones of the Learning Center’s 10th anniversary and Mountain School’s 25th anniversary and we will keep you posted as plans progress.

~ North Cascades Institute staff and board

Useful Links for North Cascades Wildfire Info

Live wildfire updates from King 5

Wildfire map

Incident Information System

Washington DOT Travel Alerts

North Cascades National Park Current Conditions

Diablo Dam webcam

Nehalem Visitor Center webcam

Chelan & Okanogan Complex Fires Fly Through 8-20-2015 @ 3:30AM

Photo by Jason Ruvelson

Facing Climate Change – The Tinder People

Fires and floods: North Cascades federal lands prepare for climate change

November 20th, 2014 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Hannah Hickey, University of Washington News and Information

In a country that boasts an awe-inspiring system of national parks, the Pacific Northwest may be especially lucky. But even remote parks and forests can’t escape the problem of human-induced climate change.

Future shifts could affect everything from how people access the parks to what activities are possible once they arrive – not to mention the plants and animals that call those places home.

For a report released this week, University of Washington scientists worked with federal agencies to pinpoint natural resources sensitive to a warmer climate in the North Cascades region, and outline detailed management responses to minimize the adverse impacts on land and in water.

The report, “Climate change vulnerability and adaptation in the North Cascades region, Washington,” was led by the U.S. Forest Service’s Portland-based Pacific Northwest Research Station.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
It is the largest climate change adaptation effort on federal lands to date.

The partnership took a wide view for managing federal lands in the North Cascades. Participants in the North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership were the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, the North Cascades National Park Complex and Mount Rainier National Park. The UW’s Climate Impacts Group provided scientific expertise.

“It‘s critical that we work across agency boundaries to ensure that techniques for responding to climate change are effective,” said editor David Peterson, a UW affiliate professor of environmental and forest science and a research biologist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station.

In a region famous for its snowy peaks and lush greenery, the report emphasizes impacts related to hydrologic systems. Watersheds in the North Cascades are expected to become increasingly dominated by rain rather than snow. This will cause more fall and winter floods on much of the roughly 10,000 miles of roads in the North Cascades.

“Events like the floods of 2006 that closed Mount Rainier National Park for six months affect both access and infrastructure,” said Randy King, superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park. “If there are techniques that can reduce the damage, we need to take a hard look at them.”


» Continue reading Fires and floods: North Cascades federal lands prepare for climate change