Nick Englefried on Sourdough Mountain

Reconnect Earth: Activating the Next Generation of Environmental Advocates

This article was written by Nick Engelfried. Nick is an alumni of North Cascades Institute's M. Ed Program, Cohort 16. He is now the founder of Reconnect Earth in Bellingham, Washington. Take a look at the good work a recent graduate is doing!

I’ve devoted the last three years of my life to figuring out how to combine two of my greatest passions: environmental activism and environmental education. In 2018 I took a big step on this journey by founding a new nonprofit organization based in Bellingham, Washington focused on this goal. But I couldn’t have reached that point without the year I spent at the North Cascades Institute.

I spent most of my twenties as an activist fighting to move our economy off of fossil fuels. I organized people to attend public hearings, coordinated rallies, and even risked arrest a few times. I met many amazing people through these experiences, and found the work immensely rewarding in some ways. But eventually I began feeling burnt out.

Nick in his activist days at a rally in Missoula.

Why, I wondered, did working to protect the environment so often involve separating myself from the natural world as I spent my time coordinating conference calls and running meetings? Surely, there must be a way to combine saving the planet with spending time outside in wild places—and encouraging others to do the same? These questions led me to become an environmental educator.

In 2016 I entered the M.Ed. program in Environmental Education, a partnership between North Cascades Institute and Huxley College at Western Washington University. I learned to help people form connections to outdoor places I hoped would inspire them to care for these places more deeply. I also learned about how to manage a functional nonprofit organization. By the time I graduated I felt ready to launch Reconnect Earth, a nonprofit that takes teenagers and young adults outside to learn about the natural world and how to protect it.

Student on Chuckanuts Fall Trip.

During Reconnect Earth’s first field season last fall we ran weekend day trips that took groups of WWU students to parks and wild places in and around Bellingham, where they learned about local ecology while discussing social and environmental issues and how to take action on them. We explored the Chuckanut Mountains, observed migrating salmon, and visited the site where a branch of the Trans-Mountain Oil Pipeline crosses beneath the Nooksack River. Each trip ended with a letter-writing workshop where students wrote to local decision makers about climate change.

Trans-Mountain Pipeline at the Nooksack River.

A central tenet of Reconnect Earth’s philosophy is wild places and “wilderness” areas are not separate from the world of human activity. These places are the sites of ongoing conflicts over resource extraction, Indigenous sovereignty, and colonialism. This makes outdoor landscapes a perfect setting to learn about environmental and social justice issues that affect our everyday lives. Every Reconnect Earth trip includes a discussion about the human history of the area and the Indigenous peoples who have lived there since time immemorial.

Reconnect Earth’s weekend trips are continuing this winter and spring. Meanwhile, we’re ramping up for an even more ambitious season this summer. In Summer 2019 we’ll be taking groups of students on backpacking trips in the North Cascades where they’ll not only learn about the area and its inhabitants, but engage in training on activist skills they can take home to their communities. Having spent over a decade as an activist myself, I know how valuable these kinds of training experiences can be.

Letter Writing Workshop on RCE Fall Trip.

Starting an organization from the ground up has been lots of work; and preparing for this summer’s trips has been even more. But I’m excited to report that things are in place so that beginning in early February, we are accepting applications for our summer trips! These programs are open to college students and other self-identified young people ages 16 and up.

Students Hiking on Chuckanuts Fall Trip.

You can learn more about Reconnect Earth here. And if you have a young person in your life who wants to change the world while experiencing beautiful wild places, encourage them to apply for our summer program here.


  1. Jodi Broughton

    Wonderful to see you putting your ideas, passion, and skills into practice, Nick. Thank you for being a changemaker!

  2. Saul Weisberg

    Turning dreams into reality! And having fun at the same time. Good work!

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