Institute reopening with Spring + online author readings!

When the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago and schools, businesses and gathering places suddenly shut down, North Cascades Institute was forced to close their Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake and cancel most of their educational programs for the year. That meant no Mountain School for Whatcom and Skagit county’s 5th graders. No Family Getaways or Skagit Tours in North Cascades National Park. Weddings and conferences scheduled at the wilderness venue were called off and their robust schedule of classes and field excursions exploring the natural and cultural history of the region was cancelled.

But in the trying months ahead, the environmental education nonprofit scrambled to create new ways to reach out and creatively connect people to the outdoors. Their instructors turned their favorite learning activities in to online lesson plans for teachers, parents and students in the new “Mountain School at Home” project (over 17 lessons in English and Spanish so far). Others created videos on topics like Springtime in the North Cascades, How Raptors Hunt and How to Compost.


The Institute also began to offer their classes online for the first time, sharing in-depth presentations on topics including geology, watercolors, wildfire and orcas.

For an organization that specializes in face-to-face learning with people in the great outdoors, pivoting to online teaching was a challenge, but a necessary one to meet the times. And there were hidden benefits too: they could reach people all around the country who wanted to learn about grizzly bears or glaciers in the North Cascades, and the cost and convenience of the Zoom classes made for more equitable access to their offerings.

This spring, with vaccines rolling out and restrictions being lifted, the Institute has reopened the Environmental Learning Center, with programs like Base Camp and Family Getaways running at reduced capacity and with coronavirus safety plans in place for their campus.

The Institute’s online learning continues as well, with classes on nature photography, wolves, sustainability, corvid mythology and other topics open for registration.

Their annual Nature of Writing Speaker Series with Village Books continues as well, with free online author readings over the coming weeks.

For National Poetry Month, Olympia-based poet and retired Washington State Department of Ecology environmental scientist Bill Yake shared his new book Waymaking by Moonlight: New & Selected Poems on April 22, and also contributed a “Poetry from the Porch” video and a blog post on his writing process.

Portland-based writer and teacher Kim Stafford also presented from his new collection Singer Come From Afar on April 27 (which contains the wonderful poem “Advice from a Raindrop” – “Sure you’re small, just one part of a storm that changes everything” – and a plaintive song to the Orca clan named “Earth Totem”). Stafford too shared a Porch video and a blog post.

Next up, the series welcomed Lyanda Lynn Haupt and her new book Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit. Yep, Haupt too shared with us a poetry reading video.

You can find videos of Yake, Stafford and Haupt sharing their books on Village Books’ YouTube channel!

Coming up, we are excited to host Robert Michael Pyle reading from Nature Matrix: New & Selected Essays and a special event called “An Evening with Saul Weisberg & Friends” that will feature the Institute’s co-founder and executive director Weisberg in conversation with colleagues William Dietrich – the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author — and John Miles, environmental historian and former dean of Huxley College of the Environment. Details and free registration here.

Weisberg is retiring in June after 35 years of leadership at the Institute, and the event will celebrate the Institute’s journey from an idea that was dreamt up around a campfire in the early 1980s to a nationally-recognized, 60-person organization that reaches more than 10,000 people every year.

Whether in sunshine or rain, downvalley or up in the mountains, in person or from the comforts of your couch, North Cascades Institute is back with a diversity of pathways to help people everywhere better appreciate, understand and enjoy the natural world all around us.

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