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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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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!”

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Is there a trail here??

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We found it!

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

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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.

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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 http://ncascades.org/signup/youth/YLA. Full scholarships available!

 

 

 

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Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez

April 29th, 2015 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Indira Mejia-Chavez was born in Mexico, but her mom raised her and her two younger siblings in the Skagit valley, where she lives today. Her first experience with North Cascades Institute was in 2004 when she attended Mountain School with her fifth grade class. Now 21, Indira still has a vivid memory of that first experience with North Cascades Institute.

“Mountain School was a whole new world I’d never seen before…and it was pretty cool,” she remembers. “We were exposed to a natural setting, we made our own bracelets, tasted healthy food that we didn’t know could be made (because you know, it has to be bad for you to taste so good)!”

She recalls how going to Mountain School brought everyone in her class together more. The cliques that were already starting to form in her class were broken up by the trail groups; everyone was able to mesh together and bond.

And her favorite activity at Mountain School? Water quality testing!

“I really liked putting two and two together,” she explains, “if the water isn’t producing animals, then the water isn’t good quality. It just made sense. I still remember the guy that was leading us told me, ‘You’re very smart, you could be a scientist.’”

For a time, Indira thought she wanted to be a community police officer, but she realized that she wants to do something she loves, and share that love with others. Her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water quality. Although she is taking a break from school after several terms at Western Washington University, her current academic and career plans are at the intersection of biology, teaching, and water

Although Indira’s initial experience with Mountain School made a big impression, she didn’t stop there. In 2009, she participated in North Cascades Institute’s North Cascades Wild program. Two years later she was back at the Institute for our Cascades Climate Challenge program (the two programs are now combined into our Youth Leadership Adventures program).

Between the two courses, Indira spent over a month in the backcountry of the North Cascades pushing herself to overcome the challenges that everyone experiences when placed far outside their comfort zone and the familiarity of home and family.

“When I went on North Cascades Wild,” she says, “I spent a lot of time focusing on the negative – this is so hard, I wish we’d take a break – I complained a lot! With Cascades Climate Challenge, I knew what to expect and didn’t want to miss out on anything. It was so beautiful and I didn’t want to get distracted. I grew so much from the opportunity to lead others.”

» Continue reading Path for Youth: Indira Mejia-Chavez

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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…

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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.

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A YLA student shares her story with the visitor group

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

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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!

 

 

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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?)

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Students gather to discuss goals and work on Action Plans

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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

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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.