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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.

YLC SSP Photo

A New Culture: The 2013 Henry M. Jackson Youth Leadership Conference

November 22nd, 2013 | Posted by in Institute News

Hey leaders?!”

Hey what!?!”

It was that time of year again, when over 60 motivated teens and environmental professionals from throughout the Pacific Northwest converge on the North Cascades Institute to spend the weekend learning about community action and environmental service projects. On November 9 and 10, the North Cascades Institute, National Park Service and United States Forest Service hosted the fourth annual Henry M. Jackson Youth Leadership Conference. The conference brought together former participants from regional youth stewardship programs to help them define their educational and professional goals, introduce them to new people and opportunities, and enhance their leadership skills.

One student, Tatum Kenn, described the weekend in her evaluation at the end of the conference: “LIFE CHANGING. INSPIRING. EYE OPENING.”

APCulturalCompA break-out session titled “Cultural Competence and the Environmental Movement,” facilitated by Sarah Weigle, Program Coordinator for the Student Conservation Association, and Amy Brown, NCI’s Youth Leadership Manager. Photo by Andrew Pringle.

And BUSY.  There were 11 break-out sessions, exploring everything from “Leadership Styles” and “Opportunities with the Federal Government” to “Adventures Abroad” and “Camping 101.” There was a Student Success Panel, featuring six youth leaders who shared their stories and answered questions from the audience, and an hour of student-led dialogue on topics ranging from labeling genetically-modified organisms to human population growth and sustainability. There was an Opportunity Fair, where government, non-profit and for-profit environmental leaders assembled to network with participants about future jobs, internships and programs. The following organizations all graciously attended the fair:

Lewis and Clark National Historic Park

Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

McNett Corporation

National Forest Foundation

National Outdoor Leadership School

North Cascades Institute

North Cascades National Park Complex

Northwest Youth Corps

Seattle Parks and Recreation’s Outdoor Opportunities

Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group

Skagit Valley College

Student Conservation Association

Washington Conservation Corps

Washington Trails Association

Wilderness Awareness School

Additionally, Charles Thomas, Regional Manager of Youth Programs for the National Park Service Pacific West Region, flew in from California for the first day of the conference. Imagine if more national parks hosted annual events for youth leaders?

TatumKnotsLearning how to tie knots in “Camping 101.” Photo by Aneka Singlaub.
WatershedStudents freewrite during a break-out session, considering questions such as, “How can you live your life to be part of the solution? What are your strengths and challenges in terms of a more sustainable lifestyle? How does your connection to the natural world influence your behavior and lifestyle?”. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.
PowerTowerOne group hiked to the lookout spot above Buster Brown field, a perfect perch for inspiration. Photo by Aneka Singlaub.

In between such activities, participants were hiking and working on their “Action Plans” in small groups to outline their goals and objectives. The chance to get to know each other, reconnect with friends from past programs, do sunrise yoga and eat delicious food from the dining hall all made the conference a unique experience, as well.

Indeed, all these things were on the schedule, and happened, quite well. But more important is what happened in the hearts and minds of the student participants. Here is a sampling, gleaned from end-of-conference evaluations:

  • From Ariel Lunsford: “I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to come to this conference. I feel like I have found what I wish to do for the rest of my life. All the staff members were awesome and I have made many new friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everyone who helped make this all possible.”

 

  • From Elijah Yakimyuk: “This Conference is awesome! I gained so many resources and opportunities that made me realize that my wildest dreams now seem realistic in achieving.”

 

  • From Marisa Etzell: “A great opportunity to meet people who have been through a similar experience as you have, as well as network and connect with organizations who are looking for people just like you to hire!”

 

  • From Shekinah San Jose: “Take advantage of this amazing opportunity, take a risk and get out of your comfort zone, because you won’t regret it.”

 

  • From Seth Wendzel, of Seattle Parks and Rec’s O2, Outdoor Opportunities: “The Youth Leadership Conference was a confluence of great individuals and entities. The location is one of the better locations to be in the Pacific Northwest. Being an AmeriCorps intern in Experiential and Environmental Education, I was surrounded by so many opportunities to further partnerships and prospect future career opportunities. I look forward to mentoring the two students I was paired up with and encouraging them in the real world.”
 APSuccessYadira Lopez, a college student and former participant in NCI’s Cascade Climate Challenge, shared her experience as a leader during the Student Success Panel. In her evaluation, she wrote that the Youth Leadership Conference is “an awesome way to spend the weekend, and connect with old friends and new people. You learn about yourself a bit more too!” Photo by Andrew Pringle.
APEarthParticipants on the earth, of the earth, and in front of the earth. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
APgroupLeadership, rain or shine. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
APBridgeTyler Nixon, another participant on the Student Success Panel and leader with Teen Science Café, advised:”Just go and find out for yourself. It is worth it.” Photo by Andrew Pringle.

Having the chance to spend the weekend with so many teens and young adults inspired to seek solutions to global problems was inspiring in itself. Jeff Giesen, Associate Director of the North Cascades Institute, reflected on the importance of these opportunities in a recent email:

“The Saturday I spent at the conference was magical….I had countless conversations today with our staff, partners and youth about how amazing it is to be in the National Park, at the Learning Center and with so many people that care….I did my spiel about us having three missions and when I got to the ‘Save the World’ part, not a single youth laughed. It made me pause. A few adults laughed, but the kids sat there in understanding. We really have created a new culture of youth, a counterculture of sorts. These kids get it. We need to do more of this kind of work.”

ApCampfire2Closing ceremony. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
Leading photo: Masyih Ford, Co-master of Cermonies with Kassandra Barnedt, facilitates the Student Success Panel. Photo by Andrew Pringle.
 

Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She was excited to be able to present about some aspects bioregionalism at this year’s Youth Leadership Conference.

 

YLC reunion

Wilderness, Zumiez and Hope: Youth Leadership Adventures Reunion 2013

October 16th, 2013 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

Story and photos by Liza Dadiomov.

As the temperature outside gets cooler and the leaves turn vibrant hues of yellow, red, and orange, I find myself hunkered down indoors and the memories of my summer become distant. However, on September 28, I had the chance to reunite with students that participated in Youth Leadership Adventures in the North Cascades this past summer. Reconnecting with the students and their families brought me back to the incredible communities we formed in the backcountry of the North Cascades just a few months ago.

Over 100 people attended the reunion, including students, their families, North Cascades Institute staff, graduate students and our hosts for the day: Tom Campion and Zumiez staff. Zumiez is an action-sports retail company with stores all over the US and Canada. Tom Campion, Zumiez co-founder and renowned advocate of wilderness preservation, graciously offered their headquarters in Lynnwood, WA for the big event.

YLC reunionAlumni, families, and North Cascades Institute staff all reflected on their summers.
 

The morning began with a warm welcome by Campion and Aneka Singlaub, North Cascade Institute’s Youth Leadership Coordinator. Following an icebreaker game, Campion shared some of his passions with the audience. He reflected on a wilderness experience he had as an eighth-grader and the impact that left on his own life. He continued with a story about his and others efforts to save the spotted owl, a critically endangered species that lives in old-growth forests. Campion’s more recent work has been in the preservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

While sharing breathtaking photos and stories of this remote wilderness and the threats that ANWR faces, Campion asked the students, “What does wilderness mean to you?”  Some of the answers included, “A place that makes me feel small,” “Falling out of a canoe into Ross Lake,” and “Home.” Campion concluded by sharing the hope he feels for the future because of the spotted owl saga and the amazing students sitting in front of him.

YLC reunionTom Campion and some Youth Leadership Adventures students.

» Continue reading Wilderness, Zumiez and Hope: Youth Leadership Adventures Reunion 2013