Exploring the Upper Skagit

Back row, left to right: Jacob Belsher, Elise Ehrheart, Sarah Bernstein, Mollie Behn, Susan Brown, Katie Tozier, Kiira Heymann, Erin Soper, Ashley Kvitek, Alex Patia. Front row, left to right: Emmanuel Camarillo, Colby Mitchell, Jess Newley, Christen Kiser
On June 21st, fourteen new students in North Cascades Institute’s graduate residency program started their first quarter of classes at Western Washington University. In late August, they will move to the Environmental Learning Center to start a one-year professional residency, working towards a Master of Education in Environmental Education and a Certificate in Leadership and Nonprofit Administration.
The three courses that students take the first summer are all taught by professor John Miles, creating a cohesive summer block that is a combination of classroom time and field excursions to local public lands. During their first week of classes, students explored the Lower Skagit River and the Puget Sound. During the second week, students journeyed to the Environmental Learning Center to study the Upper Skagit River.

As they traveled along the Skagit River, students met with several staff members of North Cascades National Park and the United States Forest Service, gaining new perspectives on the management of public lands. An evening discussion of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac encouraged students to continue thinking about the relationship between humans and the environment.

Students check out a frozen osprey.

A highlight of the first summer is the overlap between cohorts. While cohort 11 starts classes at Western, cohort 10 is deeply immersed in the residency. As a part of their natural history class, cohort 10 students each give a two-hour presentation to the incoming cohort. During this field excursion, Teresa Mealy taught students about salmon in the Skagit River ecosystem, and David Strich presented on eagles and falcons.
Cohort 11 prepares to head out on the lake.

A field trip isn’t complete without an adventure, and for cohort 11 this adventure came in the form of an all-day canoe trip on Diablo Lake in voyageur canoes. The group paddled up the gorge to Ross Dam, spotting wildlife and learning about the history of the Skagit River hydroelectric project along the way. Strong winds in the afternoon tested the group’s strength, skill and cooperation. Everyone’s efforts were rewarded by a black bear with two small cubs that sauntered by the dining hall at dinner, providing an exciting end to the day.
Students paddle the Salish Dancer through the gorge

For some students, it was their first time visiting the Environmental Learning Center. Others canoed for the first time. Still others had never seen a black bear before. All students learned about public lands, Leopold’s Land Ethic, and the natural and cultural history of the Upper Skagit. For me, it was refreshing to see my home through new eyes and regain appreciation for the unique beauty of the North Cascades.


  1. Meghann

    Welcome C11!

  2. Colby

    Thanks Meghann (and all the NCI staff, current grads in residence). Its great to be here and feel so at home!

  3. Kelsi

    It makes me reflect back on my first time at the ELC ~ I wish you all the best, C11, and am looking forward to meeting you at the reunion (hopefully)! ~Kelsi, C9

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