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A Recipe for the Future: A visitor reflects on Youth Leadership Adventures

August 20th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Sioux Towner

I had the privilege to witness, for the second year running, Youth Leadership Adventures in action. North Cascade Institute really knows how to navigate the tremulous water of teens in America, all kinds of teens: The diversity of the group I listened to today demonstrated to me that the strength of our country lies in its variation. After five days of wilderness hiking, team building, mentoring and “public speaking” (within the group twice a day or more), the ups and downs of North Cascades National Park along Diablo Lake did its magic once again.

It’s called “Visitor Day”; what that means is that each participant shares challenges, accomplishments, thoughts and dreams with an eclectic group of interested people who could be donors, teachers, park employees, national forest employees, alumni from former leadership trainings. It is a melange of adults often as diverse as the participants. What happens during this day, in my experience, is nothing short of perfect. It is filled with a kind of authenticity that can only blossom in a safe and caring environment. How that environment gets made was my personal quest today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAParticipants transport themselves and their gear through a combination of backpacking and canoeing.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStewardship along the trails is an integral part of the Youth Leadership Adventures experience. The teens pack/canoe all their tools into the backcountry themselves.

I came up with several ideas based on what I heard from the group dubbed the  “Tree Huggers” (a name they gave themselves). The recipe goes something like this:

1.) Combine a group of total strangers — the more diverse, the better

2.) Provide for all their basic needs and no more

3.) Marinate in an atmosphere of wilderness and experienced staff

4.) Structure the days with meaningful work, challenges (nature usually takes care of most of that with rugged topography, weather, insects, wind, etc.) and the opportunity to talk to someone and be heard by all

Out of this relatively simple yet refined formula comes the most heartwarming stories of companionship, confidence, and insight — a backcountry utopia really. So many times we heard about some transformation that was incubating or starting to fledge. There were tears and laughter, questions and surprising answers. The unpredictability of the speeches was as refreshing as the environment, clean and pure — leaders in the making.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProtecting wildlife, protecting their food! Participants become experts at hanging their food and any other scented items, an important responsibility in the backcountry.
Leading photo: Youth Leadership Adventures participants harnessing the ancient power of fire.
 
All photos by Carolyn Waters, Youth Leadership Adventures instructor.
 

Chattermarks gives a huge “thank you” to Sioux Towner, both for heading out to experience the backcountry with the student-participants and for being inspired to write her reflections.

 

 

 

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We couldn’t do it without our INTERNS!

July 24th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

Summer is a burgeoning season at the Environmental Learning Center. Not only does the landscape itself come alive in a very real sense with turquoise waters, wildflowers, butterflies and access to the alpine, our program offerings expand to serve more participants through Youth Leadership Adventures, Skagit Tours and a varied suite of adults and family programs. The Institute’s composition of staff and graduate students multiplies as well. This summer, we are thrilled to include in our up-river community a special group of five individuals from the east and west sides of the country: INTERNS! These fine folks are motivated students enrolled in undergraduate institutions or culinary schools who are here through the North Cascades Institute’s Internship Program. Internship opportunities are focused in different program areas: Mountain School (spring/fall), Adult and Family Programming (summer), Youth Leadership Adventures (summer), and Culinary Arts and Foodshed Education (summer).

These internships offer exciting opportunities for undergraduate students to gain professional experience in environmental education and learning center operations in the heart of the North Cascades. Interns are supervised by program staff and work alongside Naturalists and Graduate Students, all of whom support interns as they gain hands-on, practical experience in teaching, program development, cooking, administration and operations.

The Internship Program is a crucial link that helps the Institute to fulfill one of its strategic goals of providing multiple, scaffolded experiences for young people along the Path for Youth. This summer, four of our five interns are Youth Leadership Adventure alumnae whose powerful learning experiences in the North Cascades have prompted them to return in order to help others engage with this place in similar ways as their own.

Please read on to meet our fabulous Summer 2014 Interns.

Avarie Fitzgerald was inspired to start on a path of ecology and environmental education when she attended North Cascades Institute’s Cascade Climate Challenge in 2010. Since then, she has been studying environmental science as an undergrad at Portland State University, always looking for ways to climb trees, catch frogs and take hikes in the name of college credit. She is ecstatic to be back this summer as an intern for the Youth Leadership Adventures program and hopes to inspire youth as she herself was inspired four years ago. And be warned, as an Astoria, Oregon native, she is required to make at least one reference to The Goonies daily. (Because Goonies never say die).

AvarieAvarie Fitzgerald

Lorah Steichen spent the first few months of her life living at Wind Cave National Park and continued to explore National Parks and wild spaces across the American West throughout her childhood. She grew up where the mountains greet the sea on the Olympic Peninsula, but recently relocated to Eastern Washington to attend Whitman College where she is pursuing a degree in environmental studies and politics. Lorah is interested in examining the reciprocal relations between nature and society and is excited to observe these processes through the lens of environmental education as an intern at North Cascades Institute. Having herself benefited from a range of outdoor and environmental education experiences, Lorah is eager to help facilitate such opportunities for people of all ages visiting the Institute this summer.

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Lorah Steichen

Raised in zip-off pants and flannel shirts in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, Emily Petrovski cultivated a love for, and fascination with, nature early on. As a North Cascades Institute program alum, Emily jumped at the chance to intern with North Cascades Institute for the summer. She’s excited to be back in the breath-taking North Cascades, helping others to have the same wonderful experience she herself did. Emily will graduate from Western Washington University in August with a degree in Environmental Science Journalism. She loves exploring in the outdoors, taking photos, learning about almost anything science or nature related, and has a mild obsession with dogs.

Emily
Emily Petrovski

Kassandra Barnedt has grown up in the North Cascades enjoying the outdoors from childhood. She was often found running through mud puddles and building forts in the woods with her brother and sister. Six years ago her experience on an Youth Leadership Adventure course sparked her interest  in a career in the outdoors. Currently she is studying environmental education at Western Washington University where she is a senior. The most exciting place she has traveled was Denali, Alaska where she worked on a trail crew for the National Park Service. Currently she is excited to return to North Cascades Institute not as a student but as an intern, leading the same trips that inspired her.

kassyKassandra Barnedt

Donald Young loves exploring the forest. He developed an early love of nature by spending his summers exploring the forests of New England and attending summer camp in Maine. He assumed everything was bigger in Texas until he saw the trees, waterfalls and hydro electric dams in North Cascades National Park! Having spent the last seven years as an environmental educator working with young people, he is here this summer as part of the Farm to Table Culinary Internship and is excited by the challenges of cooking for large groups. Donald thinks that working with wonderful people and using organic fruits and vegetables from local farms are the two best things going on in the North Cascades Institute kitchen. Enthusiastic about American history and regional cuisine, he is looking forward to cooking up traditional American summer dishes. Shaker cuisine and culture are very great inspirations. It’s a gift to be simple! His goal is to create some Shaker inspired dishes in the kitchen this summer.

DonaldDonald Young

Thank you, interns!

Additional reporting by Aneka Singlaub, Youth Leadership Coordinator

Leading photo: Two of the North Cascade Institute’s interns are spending the summer on backpacking and canoeing excursions on Youth Leadership Adventures. Epic sunsets not guaranteed, but encouraged.
 
 

 

 

susmitaEmilyPetrovski

Youth Leaders Take on the World in the North Cascades

July 13th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

By Emily Petrovski

On a non-surprisingly gorgeous North Cascades day, donors and North Cascades Institute staff ventured out onto Ross Lake to visit Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA) participants. After enthusiastic choruses of “teamwork makes the dream work” from the YLA team, we boarded The Mule, put on our PFDs and were off across the beautiful turquoise lake. Participants chatted with each other and with visitors and enjoyed the beautiful weather.

Several participants got to take turns steering The Mule under the careful guidance of Ranger Mike Brondi. When the front gate of the boat was put down, they climbed on to take pictures and feel the spray of the water.

mule.RossLake.EmilyPetrovski  Visitors and participants chatted on the Ross Lake Mule.

We stopped briefly for lunch and ate in small groups. We got to hear about the participants’ experiences and adventures in the backcountry. They had varying levels of previous experience in the outdoors, many having never canoed before this trip. Smiles and laughter were not in short supply. Though we were on the water, the sun was hot and we traveled to Devil’s Creek, a sheltered river canyon on Ross Lake.

The air immediately cooled as we turned into the creek, passing under a bridge. Trees and flowers grew out of rocky cliffs and water gently lapped onto the sides. A hush came over the group as they admired the reflection of the water dancing on the rocks. The entire place was a cool refuge on this otherwise hot day. Mike Brondi stopped The Mule and the students began their presentations.

YLA3Visitors and participants arrive in the sheltered Devil’s Creek.

They talked about what had brought them to the North Cascades and how their experiences here had affected them. Nearly all of them talked about wanting to share this place with everyone they knew and anyone who would listen.

Isaiah said he never imagined the trip would be as fun as it was. He thought they would be hiking or canoeing non-stop. But they had time to relax and enjoy the beauty around them. The group loved swimming, even though the lake is incredibly cold. After one particularly long day, they jumped into the frigid lake together and stayed in for a full 13 minutes. He said they must have set a world record with that.

Michelle said that with the friends she made on this trip, “I feel like I could take on the world.” She said she often felt like this experience was a dream she would wake up from. “But my imagination couldn’t come up with people as great as you,” Michelle said, pointing at her new friends.

Logan said his goal for coming on the trip was to gain a better respect for nature. “I like to see what others can’t,” he said.

David talked to us about how proud he was of the drains he built during restoration work on Big Beaver Trail. He felt a personal responsibility for them and didn’t want to work on anything else.

Miriel also told us how much she enjoyed doing the trail restoration with Ranger Lacey. “The natural world offers so much for me to learn and observe,” Miriel said.

JJ spoke about how nature was an escape for his sadness when he was bullied. “It just puts me at peace,” he said. He said the trip taught him how to be more confident. He told us how he enjoyed canoe racing Susmita and Matt, one of the trip leaders. JJ said he will take home confidence and leadership skills and more direction for his path to becoming a renewable resources engineer.

YLAkidsEmilyPetrovskiAssociate Director Jeff Giesen chats with participants Hayden and JJ.

Hayden, whose father works for the National Park Service, said this trip finally made him understand why people love places like this. “I learned why we need to preserve places like this and why people need to experience this,” Hayden said. During one night at Big Beaver campground, Hayden said he was able to relax, calm down and let everything go. He said he was entirely content and at peace in that moment, and never wanted it to end.

Beth talked about how she started to lose a sense of nature and self as she grew older. This experience has helped her regain that. “It’s just been the perfect experience to get out of my head,” she said. Beth said that being here makes you realize you’re part of something bigger.

YLA.Ross.EmilyPetrovskiTeam “BNT” poses for a photo on The Mule during visitor day.

Susmita, who moved to the United States from Nepal three years ago, canoed for the first time on her Youth Leadership Adventures trip. It was also her first time working on trail restoration. She said that while making the trail, she realized how strong she is.

After student presentations and questions from the visitors, we headed back out onto the lake. Visitors and participants continued to chat and admire the scenery around them. The YLA group was dropped off at their campsite at Green Point. As the sun glittered on the water, we waved goodbye to these young people who had grown to love the North Cascades just like we had.

teamBNTEmilyPetrovskiTeam BNT waves goodbye as visitors depart.

All photos by author.

Leading photo: Susmita laughs during introductory games on visitor day.
 

Emily Petrovski is the Environmental Learning Center intern this summer. She loves photography, dogs, pikas and the great outdoors. When not working she can be found exploring in the mountains or taking accidental naps.

 

 

 

matt k. Carolyn Waters

Preparing for Summer in the Backcountry

June 24th, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Ed. note: Youth Leadership Adventures started their first session last Thursday, June 19. But instructors have been zipping around the Environmental Learning Center for the past two weeks, working to ensure the program will run smoothly through mid-August.

By Carolyn Waters

The Youth Leadership Adventures staff have assembled at the Environmental Learning Center to prepare for a summer of backcountry courses. Here’s a sneak peek into what it takes to get everything in order, along with some interesting stats about our provisions.

Total number of Youth Leadership Adventure courses offered this summer: 11
Number of students who will participate in Youth Leadership Adventures this year: 107 (including two undergraduate interns and three graduate students)

yla food Carolyn WatersFood is separated out for each course prior to packing in buckets.

Gallons of trail mix to be consumed during 2014 Youth Leadership Adventures: 85

Number of days one person could be well-fed with the food we’re packing: 1,344

Number of days one bear could be well-fed with the food we’re packing: 1 (just kidding!)

Greatest number of tents we will set up in one night this summer: 20

Number of raincoats available for students to borrow: 43

kaci prep Carolyn WatersGraduate student and instructor Kaci Darsow inventories gloves for students to borrow.
sabrina by Carolyn WatersInstructor Sabrina repairs a water filter hose.
annabel food Carolyn WatersGraduate student and instructor Annabel Connelly inventories hiking socks for students to borrow.
yla bins Carolyn Waters
Empty buckets, ready to be filled with all of the summer’s food.
sabrina prep Carolyn WatersSabrina, program instructor, counts backpack rain covers.
aneka food Carolyn WatersAneka, program coordinator, and Sabrina, program instructor, consider massive quantities of trail mix.
matt computer Carolyn WatersLead instructor, Matt, checks the gear spreadsheets.
 
Leading photo: Matt, lead instructor, is ready to eat all of the dehydrated chili.
 

All photos by author.

Carolyn Waters is a Youth Leadership Instructor. She is also a former graduate student and fulfilled many other roles for North Cascades Institute. Now, she is thrilled have returned to the peaks and valleys of the American Alps.

 

 

 

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Getting ready for summer: Gear repair day with McNett

May 15th, 2014 | Posted by in Institute News

As summertime approaches, Aneka, Matt and Amy — our amazing Youth Leadership Adventures team — have a lot to get ready for. After several months of outreach and promotion of this unique backcountry stewardship and leadership program for high school students, they’ve received over 120 applications to fill 11 trips. Next up, they’ve been working closely with resource and recreation managers on Ross, Baker and Diablo lakes to develop engaging itineraries for completing volunteer stewardship projects, developing outdoor leadership skills, and learning about environmental issues. Another crucial step in getting ready for the upcoming summer is to attend to our cache of gear that we loan the students on the trips — many of the young people have never camped, paddled or backpacked before so are in need of outdoor equipment like tents, waterproof clothing and backpacks.

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Matt sorts through new outdoor gear donated to Youth Leadership Adventures by McNett.

The McNett Corporation, an outdoor equipment company based in Bellingham, has been a crucial supporter of Youth Leadership Adventures over the past years. They’ve helped us by reaching out to other equipment companies to solicit gear — last week they dropped off a huge load of tents, sleeping bags, rain gear, cooking equipment, rain boots, fleece hats, Nalgenes, and sunglasses — as well as working directly with our staff to keep the gear we have in good shape. Utilizing McNett’s Gear Aid care and repair products like ReviveX boot cleaner, FreesoleTenacious Tape, Seam Grip and ReviveX Durable Waterproofing, our team spent a day with their staff at McNett headquarters repairing boots, sewing clothing, sealing jackets and other important maintenance. Reduce, reuse and recycle in action!

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Here is a report from the McNett Gear Aid blog:

Everyone dreams of attending summer camp.  The fresh mountain air, crystal clear lakes, and the friendships formed along the way.  For many kids North Cascades Institute helps make those dreams a reality. Through NCI Mountain School, kids learn to be better stewards of the environment as well as learn valuable outdoor skills like hiking, backpacking, and Leave No Trace principals.  Many of the kids who attend programs at NCI aren’t equipped with the appropriate outdoor gear or have little to no outdoor experience. NCI provides gear for all of those who can’t afford to bring their own. Things like boots, backpacks, and tents take a beating.  Buying new gear every year would be a huge expense for NCI. That being the case, McNett® has stepped up to provide NCI with the training and repair products to help get their gear back on the trail. Last week NCI brought us their entire stock of beat-up boots, broken backpacks, torn stuff sacks, and even their rain jackets. We spent the afternoon out in the sun chatting up their staff about how to make various repairs in the field, while working hands-on to repair the things they brought with them.

Read the rest at https://www.mcnett.com/gearaid/blog/repair-day-with-north-cascades-institute.

Watch a video of this transformative backcountry program for high school students at http://youtu.be/26Lwq6gfufk.

Photos courtesy of McNett, except for photo of Matt sorting gear by Aneka Singlaub.

YLA.CM.inchworm NCI archives

Make a Love Connection: Biophilia in the North Cascades

February 14th, 2014 | Posted by in Life at the Learning Center

Five pairs of fifth graders are scattered on the Buster Brown Trail. In each pair, one is blindfolded with a colorful bandana, being carefully – the teacher hopes — led in a circuitous route by their partner.

“Remember, when you start to head off the trail toward your tree, make sure to not step where other people are stepping, and try hard to avoid the plants!” This is what I, or another Mountain School instructor, will inevitably say, loving this lesson but feeling the nagging omnipotence of the leave-no-trace ethic.

The students are mindful, taking care to not crunch the Mahonia and Salal understory. The blindfolded student is led to a tree. Maybe it’s a Doug fir, with its thick “bacon” bark (or akin to the cracked top of a pan of brownies, for the vegetarians). Other naturalists tell me bats can roost in there, when the tree is old and the bark is deeply furrowed, though I haven’t been lucky enough to encounter that yet. Perhaps the student is escorted to a paper birch, its thin, peeling bark being a telltale give-away of its arboreal identity. There’s always the vine maple, as well, dressed in moss and reaching from the mid-story canopy with its flexible, green branches.

peeling bark K. RenzCould you tell this tree with your eyes closed? Photo by Katherine Renz.

“Okay, start heading back to the trail!” After five or ten minutes, the students reconvene briefly to trade bandanas and head out a second more time. I enjoy watching them “meet a tree”, as this exercise is called. They use only touch, smell, taste and hearing – and these last two are arguable since, respectively, I don’t encourage students to eat unidentified plants, and the trees aren’t usually feeling loquacious. Can you find your tree? It’s a fantastic lesson in sensory awareness, considering it activates four of most peoples’ less dominant senses. What does your tree feel like? What about the plants at the base of the trunk? If you hug it, can your hands connect? Is there a smell if you scrape at the bark a little or crunch the leaves? If you knock on the trunk, does it make a notable sound? What did the ground feel like beneath your feet as you were led, without sight, through the fallen logs and leaf litter of the understory?

We come back together in a circle, everyone’s eyes open, and “debrief” the details the students relied upon to find or, sometimes, not find, their tree. This is one of my favorite lessons, and the students tend to recall it fondly as well. On the evaluation sheets their classroom teachers fill out at the end of the three days, they usually rave about it, saying it helps open their students up to a deeper level of observation, care, and empathy for the natural world.

» Continue reading Make a Love Connection: Biophilia in the North Cascades

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Youth Leadership Adventures 2014: now accepting applications

February 4th, 2014 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

North Cascades Institute is excited to announce that Youth Leadership Adventures are now accepting applications for Summer 2014. This transformative program features a range of summer adventures for high school-aged students ages 14-18 in the wilderness of the North Cascades, as well as a fall Youth Leadership Conference, year-round mentorship and stewardship opportunities.

During 8- or 16-day summer expeditions, students canoe, camp, backpack and complete service projects in the North Cascades backcountry – including Ross, Diablo and Baker Lakes – while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science, communication skills and public speaking. 

This partnership program with North Cascades National Park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest connects youth to wild places while instilling a sense of responsibility and ownership so they can make a difference in their home communities. Participants will make new friends, gain confidence and leadership skills, enhance their resume and college applications, earn community service hours, and explore the North Cascades wilderness, all while having the best summer of their life!

As part of North Cascades Institute’s commitment to making our programs accessible to students from all backgrounds, Youth Leadership Adventures are offered on a sliding scale based on participant needs and generous scholarships are available. North Cascades Institute will work with every family to find a price they can afford.

More information and applications are available at www.ncascades.org/youth. Applications are due March 28 and must include Participant Information and Essay Questions, Reference Form and Scholarship Application (if applicable).

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Please contact North Cascades Institute if you have questions: (360) 854-2599 or nci@ncascades.org.