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An Unforgettable Mountain School Adventure

March 30th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

The first week of the 2017 spring Mountain School season will be one not forgotten here at the North Cascades Institute Environmental Learning Center. After experiencing an unusually high amount of snowfall at the ELC this winter, many of us were eagerly anticipating signs of spring (and sunshine), hopeful that the last lingering patches of snow would be gone before our students’ arrival. However, winter was not quite ready to concede to spring. On March 6, the first day of Mountain School, we awoke to a winter storm warning in the North Cascades. While it certainly wasn’t the spring weather we had hoped for, it provided a rare opportunity to play and learn in the snow with our first group of students, the 5th grade class from Mt. Vernon’s Madison Elementary School.

Driving to the ELC for the first day of Mountain School. Photo by Angela Burlile

By midweek, the snow had subsided and we said goodbye to Madison Elementary and welcomed the AP Environmental Studies class from Mill Creek’s Henry M. Jackson High School. These high school students were here to participate in our Aquatic Investigations field-based science curriculum. Working in small groups, students designed their own study investigating the interactions between physical, chemical and biological components of the local watershed. Through site observations, groups developed a scientific question which they then answered using various data collection methods such as water chemistry testing, benthic macroinvertebrate samples and examination of physical stream characteristics. They then presented their findings in a symposium-style discussion with their peers and teachers.

Henry M. Jackson student, Taylor Gerould, searching for benthic macroinvertebrates in a partially frozen Diablo Lake. Photo by Angela Burlile

Henry M. Jackson student, Alina Ribeiro, taking a dissolved oxygen reading at Deer Creek near the ELC. Photo by Angela Burlile

What was meant to be a three day experience became a slightly longer visit. Although the snow had subsided earlier in the week, heavy rain followed and the combination pushed the avalanche forecast to high. Early Friday morning, instructors and staff awoke to an email sent by Kristofer Gilje, Operations Director at the ELC.

“There is a very large avalanche at mp 122.6, Brown’s Creek.  There is another smaller one on the dam road.  WSDOT is aware of our situation and will give us more information when it gets light.”

The avalanche covering Highway 20 in the Skagit gorge. Measured at over 40 feet tall and 200 feet long. Photo courtesy of WSDOT

» Continue reading An Unforgettable Mountain School Adventure

Highway reopened, students safely back home!

March 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

UPDATE March 13, 4 pm: After WSDOT successfully reopened one lane of Highway 20 today, the Henry M. Jackson high school students, teachers and parent chaperones were able to leave the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center to return home!

More updates later, but for now we want to say thank you to the great students, teachers and parents, to WSDOT and to our Environmental Learning Center staff for keeping everyone safe and sane with educational activities, community building and fun through this unexpected long weekend of Mountain School!

Avalanche closes Hwy 20, students and staff get unexpected weekend at the Learning Center

March 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

On Friday morning, March 10, the Washington State Department of Transportation closed Highway 20 seven miles west of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center due to a large avalanche across the road. This incident blocked the school buses that were due to pick up students from Henry M Jackson High School in Mill Creek, WA, who were participating in our Mountain School residential environmental education program. Forty-two students, seven teachers and parent chaperones and 21 Institute staff and graduate students are currently at the ELC until WSDOT crews can reopen the road; they are doing an assessment on Monday.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is a modern facility with 92 beds in three comfortable lodges, a dining hall, classrooms and other amenities, and we have plenty of food and supplies to get through the weekend. Everyone on site is safe, warm, well-fed and in good spirits. The Environmental Learning Center was deliberately sited away from avalanche paths and is not at risk for avalanches. We have two Emergency Medical Technicians on staff and our instructors are trained Wilderness First Responders. We are in close contact with our partners in the National Park Service and Seattle City Light and have contingency plans if any emergencies arise. Extreme weather conditions are a part of life in the mountains and North Cascades Institute has established procedures and risk management training to get through incidents like this.

Mountain School is a nationally-recognized residential environmental education program offered in cooperation with North Cascades National Park that brings local students to the North Cascades to learn about the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains. Mountain School was recently profiled by National Geographic and The Seattle Times calls it ” a national model for wilderness education on public lands.”

Report from KING 5 NEWS

LINK: www.king5.com/news/local/mill-creek-students-stuck-in-north-cascades-after-snow-slide/421620399

Contact WSDOT for more information about the road closure at (360) 707-5055 or visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/trafficalerts. We will post updates to our website at www.ncascades.org/roadclosure, on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ncascades and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ncascadeswa.


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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.”

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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 www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/passes/northcascades 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, www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/current-park-conditions.htm.

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 www.ncascades.org/support.

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 www.cfncw.org/fire.