Diabsud Confluence Property in Marblemount.

The Land as a Teacher: Land Stewardship at the Confluence Property

There’s no getting around it, being a graduate student at the North Cascades Institute’s M.Ed Program is a lot of work. With all-day classes and seminars, dense reading, writing and project assignments, and keeping up with work study, it’s easy to forget that we live in such a unique and beautiful place. Some weeks, taking a few hours to get out for a hike or paddle on Diablo Lake feels like a luxury, particularly in the dark days of Winter. However, this master’s  program is not like many others, and most of the students that choose to spend a year in the mountains do so to connect more intimately with the land than a typical on-campus program might offer. Fortunately for those of us who prefer to take our education outdoors, the M.Ed Program offers us opportunities to get some hands-on land stewardship experience right in our own backyard!

The Confluence Property, located at the confluence of Diobsud Creek and the Skagit River in Marblemount, has been under constant evolution since it was purchased by the North Cascades Institute in 2014. The land serves as a home for graduate students, a garden that supports the Institute’s Foodshed Initiative and an outdoor classroom for students to learn about and participate in sustainable agriculture and land stewardship.

The land is a powerful teacher. And as an educator, I love facilitating learning experiences that connect people and land directly. Often, that looks like designing experiences that involve interaction and engagement, and getting out of the way.

-Graduate Program Director Joshua Porter

Graduate Program Director Joshua Porter

Last Fall, the C18 Graduate Cohort was busy with a variety of projects that do just that. With an accumulated 95 hours of labor over several weeks in October and November, we have contributed to several projects including: finishing the fall harvest from the garden, building a plot for a greenhouse for continued gardening through the winter, organizing and leveling the tool shed, removing invasive plants, fencing fruit trees in the orchard, clearing brush for recreation space and building trails for access to the confluence and phenology studies.

Graduate Student Spencer Gee harvesting carrots in the Confluence Garden.
Graduate Student Carson Yach fencing some trees in the Orchard.
Graduate Student Christine Sanderson clearing sod for our greenhouse.
Graduate Student Dianna Green

In addition to being a great outlet to get our hands dirty and relieve some grad-school stress while improving the land we call home, The Confluence Property has also served as a great opportunity to observe changes on the land through phenology. Phenology is the study of seasonal changes in biotic and aboitic elements in our environment, such as plants and water, throughout the year.

Graduate Students Adam Brayton and Ali Burdick collecting phenology data. Photo by Amy Fitkin

Each week, students take time to collect data on various plant samples, take pictures, and record relevant information such as weather and wildlife sign. The data we collect is combined with the data collected by past cohorts that allow us to monitor changes in our environment not just from season to season, but also from year to year. This provides us the ability to analyze shifts in climate and ecosystem composition over longer time periods, notice patterns and make predictions about the future. So far, C18 cohort has entered over 261 data entries and 175 different species observations to add to our growing phenology almanac!

Having the ability to intentionally observe and document seasonal changes has been powerful. It is an exciting connection between observer, the natural world and cohorts that have come before us.

– Graduate Student Nicola Follis

Devil’s Club in Fall.
Devil’s Club in Winter
Vine Maple in Fall
Vine Maple in Winter.
Skagit River in early Fall
Skagit River in late Fall

It has been a blast to watch this property evolve under the stewardship of our cohort, but the work is far from over. Spring will bring new changes to the land, and with it opportunities to advance the projects we’ve started, re-plant the garden, and record all of the exciting changes in the natural environment.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for an update later this year!


  1. Darcy Page

    Thank you C18 for all your hard work on the land at the confluence. Also the barn looks amazing!

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