Gerry Cook: Why I Named North Cascades Institute in my Will

As a third-generation North Cascadian and Upper Skagit River resident who spent over 40 years working with the North Cascades National Park, my life has been driven by this belief. As a long-time board member and instructor with the North Cascades Institute, I aspire to live each day in a way that gives back to the natural and human community around me.

I remember one morning taking a group of high school students up Ross Lake to Lightning Creek trailhead where they were beginning a 5-day backpacking trip. I was at the helm of the Park’s workboat, the Ross Mule. The lake was calm, morning mist slowly burning off as the day warmed. I looked over this group of young people heading into the North Cascades for the first time, most of them on the very first backpack and canoe trip of their lives. I could see a mix of emotions: excitement, hesitation, social awkwardness, fear, and awe at their surroundings as the boat chugged up-lake deeper into the wilderness.

These were not the kind of backpackers or explorers that one often sees in the National Park. They were students with a myriad of backgrounds. Maria was a first-generation Mexican American living in Mount Vernon—her parents immigrated from Oaxaca in 2008. Boggi, a refugee from Bhutan, spoke several languages, both formal and tribal dialect, as well as English and wanted to be the first person in her family to attend college. I let a tall, cheerful young man steer he Mule for a little while—his family recently arrived from Afghanistan and this was his first time ever on a boat.

As I dropped them off at the trailhead, unloading heavy backpacks and five days worth of food, I knew in my heart that they would be different—both individually and as a team—when I saw them again next week. I feel like I am one of the luckiest people in the world, to have this experience with young people in a place I have called home all of my life.

I have been able to be a part of North Cascades Institute’s Youth Programs and personally witnessed the power of diversity—youth of every size, age, gender and color—in the North Cascades backcountry cooperating, exploring, making discoveries and getting to know their true selves, often for the first time in their young lives. They will return as stewards of the planet. I see the Institute leading the way into the future where our survival depends on our species working together in an inclusive world. I know of no better place to invest in our shared future than North Cascades Institute.

Not long after my wife, Hannah, and I retired, we realized that we had everything we needed and it was time to make a personal commitment: Naming the Institute in our will. We made this decision because our experiences with the young people who participate in summer programs always give us hope in the next generation. These Institute programs, such as Youth Leadership Adventures, teach kids how to find their way as environmental stewards, and they do so in a way that ensures the impact of what they experience stays with them for a lifetime.

As members of the Headwaters Club Legacy Circle, we are providing sustainability for Institute programs to continue long into the future. It is also our way of giving hope to future generations who will be able to participate in the Institute’s programs because of our gift.

You, too, can consider this opportunity to name the Institute in your estate plan.

Members of the Legacy Circle have made the decision to change the world around us for the better. Your commitment to this way of change is what will make the Institute’s work last a lifetime. Please consider joining me in this effort.

Gerry Cook
North Cascades Institute Board Member and lifetime volunteer


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