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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All photos by author.
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.