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2015 Youth Leadership Conference: A Confluence of Young Leaders

November 30th, 2015 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

By Emily Ford and Ginna Malley Campos

On Friday November 6th, a voice broke the frosty air: “Who wants to be a leader?!” Cheers echoed across emerald Diablo Lake and up the cloudy slopes of Sourdough Mountain. Sixty-one students from Washington and Oregon kicked off the beginning of an exciting weekend at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

The Youth Leadership Conference is an annual event where students with an interest in conservation as a career meet at the North Cascades Institute. The three day conference connects youth with major conservation partners through breakout sessions, projects, and wonderful discussions.

The sixth annual conference included students ages 14-22 who are alumni of North Cascades Institute’s youth programs (including Youth Leadership Adventures, North Cascades Wild, Cascades Climate Challenge, Mountain School and Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth Program) as well as other wilderness based programs such as Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities (O2), Student Conservation Association (SCA), Darrington’s Youth Forestry Institute (YFI), and InterIm WILD.

YLC 2015 Canoe

Canoeing on Diablo Lake

Students started the weekend by catching up with old friends from their various summer programs. Together, they enjoyed a weekend of learning about service, jobs, internships, college, and summer program opportunities as well as developing professional skills to excel. Highlights from the weekend include:

Small Group Hikes: Students explored near-by nature trails, played games, learned natural history, and reflected on their past, present and future experiences in the North Cascades and other public lands.

» Continue reading 2015 Youth Leadership Conference: A Confluence of Young Leaders

YLA Visit Day 2015 6

Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

November 9th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Murali Krishnan

This summer, on July 25th, 2015, I had a gift to learn from young high school kids. I was invited as an adult coach to observe and help in the Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA), an innovative program run by the North Cascades Institute(NCI). In turn, I got a lot more learning from the program as well.
Thanks to NCI, YLA is conducted for motivated high school students. According to the institute:

During summer expeditions, students canoe and or backpack, camp, and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science, communication skills, and public speaking. Upon returning home, students ages 16 to 18 in Science and Sustainability courses design and implement their own service projects in their home communities.

Incredible learning comes from a deep connection with nature. Now imagine being in the wilderness with no immediate access to transportation for miles amidst the mountains and forests filled with thick tall trees. And add to that this episode continuing for 8 or 16 days. Yes, the digital cameras may become dead weight after taking amazing pictures of nature and not being able to charge up. Yes, the cell phone batteries run out too. It is in this setting that about 8 students spent their summer in the North cascades. Better yet, I believe they invested their summer to connect with nature and discover themselves. And here is a fun video from the group.

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» Continue reading Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

YLA 2015 Group

Youth Leadership Adventures 2015: A Report from Ross Lake

November 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sabrina Freedman

Editors note: To put into context the Youth Leadership Conference held at our Environmental Learning Center from November 6-8, this article was written by one of our Youth Leadership Adventure leaders, Sabrina Freedman.  In it, she reflects on the growth she witnessed in her student trail group during their backcountry journey.

A remote basin in North Cascades National Park sits below two of its tallest peaks. Goode and Logan mountains are heavily glaciated, and are a remarkable and remote destination to park visitors and students on a Youth Leadership Adventures trip. This basin is so remote, that it is home to a wolverine monitoring station and a three-mile trail that terminates in high meadows with herbaceous plants and black bears galore.

YLA 2015 Mountain

Basin between Goode and Logan mountains.

The group of students on an 11-day backpacking adventure was unsure if they would find habitat for themselves in such a wild place. The nine students, all rising juniors, seniors or recent high school graduates had signed up for a 16 day field course focused in learning about climate science and sustainable practices. The students were from as far as Astoria, Oregon though many were from the Skagit and Nooksack flats in towns such as Mt. Vernon, La Conner, Sumas and Saxon.

Many students came for the great views and to have fun outside but also to complete their senior projects and to learn more about our changing climate. As the new group got together on the first day to hike over Cascade Pass with a collective 450 pounds of gear and food, they were amazed both by the beauty around them and by their personal strength. They were especially mesmerized by the glaciers.

» Continue reading Youth Leadership Adventures 2015: A Report from Ross Lake

YLC (1 of 1)

Youth Leadership Conference 2015 in the North Cascades; now accepting applications

September 3rd, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

Applications for our 2015 Youth Leadership Conference are now being accepted! The conference is held at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center November 6-8 and is open to students ages 14-22 who are alumni of our youth programs, including Youth Leadership Adventures, Mountain School, Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth, and Concrete Summer Learning Adventure.

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Information and application at Due date is Friday, October 2nd!

2012 YLC ©Jess Newley (2 of 5)

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Student learn leadership, love of nature on trips in North Cascades

July 24th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Jessi Loerch for the Everett Herald

Kang Pu stood at the back of a boat in a narrow, winding canyon off Ross Lake. Before him, a group of adults waited to hear his story. Kang, 16, began by saying he had been in the United States for just a year, he was still working on his English, and that it was hard for him to speak in front of a group.

His story, his eagerness to learn and his poise blew his listeners away.

Kang is from Burma. His mother died when he was young. At 13, he went to work in Malaysia to help support his family. While working, he missed his family and he wasn’t able to attend school. Getting an education was a priority for Kang, but he knew it was going to be hard in Burma.

Kang moved to Washington with his uncle’s family. He misses his family and his country, but he is getting an education at Foster High School in Tukwila.

He was in the North Cascades for Youth Leadership Adventures, offered through the North Cascades Institute.

The program takes kids, most of whom have little experience with the outdoors, backpacking or canoeing in the North Cascades in hopes of instilling a love and appreciation for wild places.

The students are racially diverse; many come from low-income families and, if they choose to attend college, will be the first in their families to do so. None of them know each other when they start the program.

That doesn’t last long, said Nika Meyers, the lead instructor on the trip. The trip Kang attended was eight days long. There were nine students and three youth leadership field instructors.

The group hiked a total of more than 30 miles carrying heavy packs. They helped with trail maintenance and learned how to treat water and cook in the backcountry. Along the way, they learned leadership skills and lessons about the natural environment.

» Continue reading Student learn leadership, love of nature on trips in North Cascades


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.


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.


“Whoops” of joy were heard through the Western Hemlocks as the front of the group reached Perry Creek campsite. 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.


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!”


Is there a trail here??




We found it!

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


Youth Leadership Adventures getting ready…

June 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

The energy of our youth programs is shifting to Youth Leadership Adventures as staff are preparing to lead 100 high school students in the North Cascades backcountry to canoe, backpack, camp and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science and public speaking. Last we checked, Kate, Matt & Co. were packing 924 backcountry meals, which includes 42 pounds of granola, 68 pounds of peanut butter and 330 pounds of trail mix. Yum.



NEWS FLASH: We still have a few spaces left in our 16-day Science and Sustainability courses this summer for students ages 16-18 from Washington and Oregon. The trip takes place July 15-30! Apply online at Full scholarships available!