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Behind the Scenes: A Visitor Day with Youth Leadership Adventures

April 20th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Guest post by Matt Dolge

My morning started off at 4:30am on August 9th, 2014 with a 3-hour solo drive to Ross Lake in the North Cascades. I had a lot of time to think about the day ahead yet had no idea how much this day was going to change my life. A month earlier I had accepted the invitation to participate in a day trip with Youth Leadership Adventures, which I had no prior knowledge of. But the offer to hike the North Cascades and explore Ross Lake on a guided boat tour was a chance I couldn’t pass on—and I’m glad I didn’t.

By 7:30am the sun was rising over the mountains peaks, which made the lake, sparkle like diamonds. At the trailhead an energetic group of strangers prepared for a hike down to the lake. The strangers were just friends that I had not met and they warmly welcomed me into their group. We tightened our hiking boots, stretched out the legs, and began to make our way down to the “Mule.” The hike was an easy scenic stroll on well-kept switchbacks. We took our time to observe wildlife, take photographs, and learn about the history of North Cascades Institute.

Once we reached the dam we could see that the lake stretched all the way up to the Canadian border. Being an avid hiker who has hiked 4 out of the Mighty 5, Utah’s National Parks I thought I had seen all the colors that nature could provide, but Ross Lake’s naturally blue-green color is surreal and the water is so clear that fish can be seen 10 feet below the water’s surface. This protected land is so pure and raw it cannot be reproduced through photographs.

Before boarding the Mule, which is a more of a barge than a boat, we discussed the activities for the remainder of the day. Amy Brown from North Cascades Institute leads the conversation and let’s us in on why we are here. “YLA is a hands-on outdoor leadership program focused on mentoring students in field science, communications, and public speaking. It is our goal to listen, learn, and support them in their passion for conservation”.

After about an hour on the boat we arrive at the campsite the youth leaders have called home for the past ten days. Their campsite is primitive with no running water or restrooms, but has an incredible view, sitting on a bluff which overlooks the lake. I mentally add this as a place to camp to my bucket list. We pick up the group of students and return to the Mule to troll northward to a secluded shoal. This remote area is heavily shaded with overgrown trees and lichens are thriving. It’s lunchtime and we break into small groups to learn why the youth have chosen to participate in YLA. It is at this point that I learn why I made the three-hour drive…

An Institute Board member talks with a YLA student

These youth leaders felt empowered to take responsibility for the environment and hearing them speak about conservation, sustainable practices, and stewardship was truly awe-inspiring. Standing before us were the next stewards of the environment. What they needed from us is support, leadership, awareness, and access to resources. What they already had was the determination to protect the environment; they just needed to know how to do it. Thanks to Youth Leadership Adventures these passionate environmentalist now have the leadership skills to make an impact in their local communities. Environmental activism doesn’t begin behind a desk or closed doors it begins in the North Cascades being inspired by youth who have the passion to become stewards of the environment.

A YLA student shares her story with the visitor group

Visit Matt’s blog here, and learn more about Youth Leadership Adventures here


Reflection and Action: the 2014 North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference

December 3rd, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

by Kelly Sleight, Graduate Student and YLC Planning Team member

The sun appeared on November 7th for the first time in weeks to greet the leaders arriving to attend the 2014 North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference. For three days, North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest hosted the fifth annual North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference at North Cascades Institute. Over sixty inspirational high school and college-aged participants, who travelled from various parts of the Pacific Northwest, arrived to see old friends, make new connections, learn about community action and environmental service, define their educational and professional goals, and enhance their leadership skills. These students were alumni of Youth Leadership Adventures, Student Conservation Association, and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities Program. The weekend would be packed full with hiking, learning, planning, dreaming, connecting, and inspiring!



Students gather and take in some of the sights around North Cascades Institute

Once everyone arrived and oriented a bit to campus we gathered into our small groups to get out on the trails and get the weekend underway. Groups headed out on to different trails to get some fresh air, but also spent some time reflecting on what brought them to the conference and ways to start working toward their future goals now. One student reflected on how important it was to “be the butterfly” from Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder. “When the man stepped on the butterfly in the past, the course of human history changed,” she said. “We are also butterflies, and our actions can change the future.” (See what I mean about inspiring?)


Students gather to discuss goals and work on Action Plans


Inspiring words from our keynote speaker Vanessa Torres

After a delicious dinner provided by the North Cascades Institute’s Chef Shelby, we heard from our keynote speaker, Vanessa Torres. Vanessa currently works as the Youth and Special Initiatives Coordinator for the National Park Service. She shared a beautiful and powerful story with us about finding her own connection to nature and the power of following your passion. Then as a community we gathered around for campfire before heading to bed. Saturday was sure to be packed with adventure and learning.

» Continue reading Reflection and Action: the 2014 North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference

The Gift of Mountain School

June 10th, 2012 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

[Mountain School has officially ended for the spring season! On Friday afternoon, Institute staff and instructors waved a bittersweet goodbye to 5th graders from Mountain View Elementary, raising their arms and voices in celebration for another great spring spent with youth in the outdoors. By way of offering a parting perspective and ode to this spring’s Mountain School experience, Kristin Smith, a two-time Mountain School student and passionate participant in the 2011 Youth Leadership Conference, recounts her most recent learning adventure in the shadow of the Cascade mountains. ]

The soft light of morning greets me as I emerge from Fir Lodge, a perfect match for the brisk mountain air. I tug my navy beanie more securely about my ears and turn my eyes upward – an instinctive urge well known to any mountain dweller and sprung from years of gazing at high peaks. Dawn is painting the lofty heights of Colonial and Pyramid peaks, setting their somber flanks aflame with pale rose light. I pause to savor the moment, craning my neck to more clearly see the peaks striated with snow. These mountains have a majesty all their own; something in the way the forested hills at their feet fall in a haze of vibrant green towards the turquoise waters of Diablo Lake, while high above snowfields evoke the vestige of an echo of the ancient glaciers that once covered this valley; something running in the cold young water of Sourdough Creek as it leaps eagerly towards the valley floor. There is no place on earth like this one, and I know it will always hold a special place in my heart.

View of Colonial and Pyramid Peaks from the Environmental Learning Center campus.

This is the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. This, for a precious three days, is home. This is the gift of Mountain School – the reason we’ve come. And the day has only just begun.

» Continue reading The Gift of Mountain School

Experience the Second Annual Youth Leadership Conference

January 29th, 2012 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Andrew Pringle, Skagit District Interpreter, North Cascades National Park Complex

The second annual Youth Leadership Conference, hosted by North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park Complex and Mount Baker-Snoqualamie National Forest at the Environmental Learning Center in North Cascades National Park took place November 11th-13th, 2011.

The event brought together more than 60 diverse high school and college students from across the region who had recently participated in stewardship programs on public lands in the North Cascades Ecosystem. Fourteen different organizations partnered to present the students with a range of new opportunities.

In addition to the three host organizations, they included Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, The Student Conservation Association, Western Washington University, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group, Northwest Youth Corps, The Oregon Zoo, Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Alderleaf Wilderness College and The Wilderness Awareness School.

These partners are developing the next generation of public land stewards and agency employees. By deliberately connecting existing programs and partnerships, they are creating a continuum of meaningful experiences, a pathway to stewardship. This is in support of National Park Service’s “A Call to Action”, which charts a new direction for the National Park Service as it enters its second century in 2016.

Ultimately, these partners hope to create a constituency of engaged citizens, no matter their profession. The Youth Leadership Conference is one stop along this pathway. Students can sign up for educational programs and learn about getting into college, seeking out internships and applying for jobs. The three-day event is fun and inspiring, and now you can enjoy the experience in this new video:

North Cascades Youth Leadership Conference 2011

Sharing My Love of the North Cascades

December 5th, 2011 | Posted by in Odds & Ends

Written by former NC Wild Student and Remarkable Young Leader, Kassandra Barnedt

The North Cascades – untouched, wild, remarkable, friendship, beauty, but most importantly life changing. Every trip to this mystical place is unique, but somehow these trips bring each one of us back to the same place. My journey with the North Cascades National Park began with family outings as a small child to the Newhalem Visitor Center. As I grew, so did my interest, and I began participating in youth programs. The North Cascades Wild Summer Youth Program was my first experience enjoying the wilderness of the North Cascades.

North Cascades Wild 2009 was two weeks of backpacking, canoeing, and hiking amongst breathtaking mountains and refreshing waterfalls. We also summited Desolation Peak at the north end of Ross Lake. The scenery was inspiring and the learning opportunities were great, but the thing that keeps everyone coming back were the relationships we formed while out in the wilderness. Something about the wild brings everyone together. Barriers are broken down and people learn to work together despite their differences. After this amazing two week journey I was left craving more of the North Cascades.

North Cascades Wild 2009 trip at lighting stock camp.

Searching for more opportunities to be involved with the North Cascades, I applied for an eight week job with the Youth Conservation Corps at the North Cascades National Park Nursery. We worked with National Park employees Mike Brondi and Cheryl Cunningham in the Marblemount  Nursery. I learned about seed collection, invasive species, revegetation, and how to clear roads. We even cleaned campsites and had the chance to work with staff in other maintenance areas. The summer was well worth the hard work. Again the next summer I could not resist and I applied to work as the Youth Conservation Corps Crew Leader.

» Continue reading Sharing My Love of the North Cascades