Fall 2023 Institute Photo Round-Up!

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center may still be closed to the public after this summer’s Sourdough Fire, but there’s a lot going on at the Institute! We’re seeing our mission in action as we meet with high school students in the Youth for the Environment and People program. We’ve engaged dozens of adult learners in online classes and field excursions in Bellingham and at Baker Lake. You may have seen us out tabling and connecting with folks at events in our community. We are also working on facilities issues and using this unexpected pause to thoughtfully adjust operations so we can re-open stronger than ever in 2024.  Scroll on to get the full scoop!

YEP! Students Focus on Flooding

Local high school students participating in this fall’s Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) are exploring the topic of flooding as a local climate change impact. On two Saturday field days this October, they ventured out to learn from local experts and get inspiration for the climate action projects they will design and implement during the program.

On their first field day, students met with Jen Willup of the Swinomish Department of Environmental Protection to see areas on the Swinomish Reservation affected by flooding. Jen showed examples of how flooding can have positive impacts, like the restoration of the tombolo on the Kukutali Preserve and a specially designed rain garden helping to mitigate negative impacts from flood events and capture trash that would otherwise travel further into the water system. 

During their second field day, students met with with Public Works River and Flood Engineer Deb Johnson to walk along levees bordering the Nooksack River. They learned about recent flood events and saw firsthand some areas that were underwater in November 2021. They learned about the effects that levees have when water levels rise and heard about plans to create solutions for  communities to live safely alongside a flooding river. In the photo above, Molly Fay of Natural Systems Design leads the students in a clay-building activity to model different types of floodplains with Youth Leadership Manager Neal in the foreground.

Getting Out in the Community

Our work at the Institute doesn’t just happen in the woods! Recently you may have had seen us in more urban settings like Village Books in Bellingham for one of our Nature of Writing Speaker Series events.
Marketing & Outreach Assistant Britt has been working hard this summer and fall to bring the Institute out into local communities with engaging activities and conversation at farmers markets.
Tabling at a recent “pint night” at Wander Brewing in Bellingham was especially fun with a trivia tournament and $1 from every pint sold donated to the Institute!
We also spent a week celebrating John Miles’ new book Teaching in the Rain: The Story of North Cascades Institute with friends and alumni at 2 wonderful events—one at Village Books in Fairhaven and the other at Squalicum Boathouse on Bellingham Bay.
It was great to see many familiar faces from past and present, and such an honor to have Saul Weisberg and Tracie Johannessen lead conversations with John Miles. We also enjoyed hearing reflections from Institute alumni Eric Buher, Amy Brown, and Inna Mayer.

Grants Manager Althea and Adult & Family Programs Manager Lindsey attended the Tulalip Tribes’ annual Raising Hands Celebration in October. 

Raising Hands is hosted by Tulalip Cares to celebrate the recipients of the Tribe’s Community Impact Funds, which support nonprofits in the fields of arts & culture, education & youth, the environment, health care, public safety, and social services. They are long-time supporters of our Youth Leadership Adventures program and help fund transformative backcountry experiences for underserved youth.

Director of Inclusion and Community Partnerships Alma attended the 9th Annual Historical Black Colleges and Universities Environmental Justice Conference to recruit potential employees and participants for the Institute. The father of environmental justice, Dr. Robert Bullard inspired attendees to reach out to marginalized communities about the impact of climate change and how we must fight it now with innovative ideas.

Alma also attended a fundraiser for Outdoor Afro, a national not-for-profit organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. While there, she spoke on stage to acknowledge Outdoor Afro Regional Leaders who are really making an impact in their communities.

Mushroom Field Excursions

Over the course of just 8 days, Adult & Family Programs Coordinator Hannah hosted four different fungi-focused field classes this October—two with Erin Moore at Baker Lake and two with Evan Holmstrom at 100 Acre Wood in Bellingham.

On these forays, participants used all their senses including smelling mushrooms at various stages of decay, peering up close at gills with hand lenses, listening to the chalk-like crack of a Russula stipe, feeling the textural difference between pores and teeth, and even tasting Erin’s homemade lion’s mane jerky.

The past two weeks serve as a reminder that in spite of the closure of the Learning Center, we’ve gotten dozens of people outside to engage in experiential education this fall! And we’re busy planning a whole slate of learning opportunities for 2024—check out our class list for upcoming field excursions and online classes.

Leadership Team at the Learning Center

Our Leadership Team recently visited campus to check progress on projects and assess damages needing repair before we reopen campus to the public.

Operations Director Maria showed the team the location of one of the significant leaks that Facilities Manager Chris has been fixing under pavers in the main walkway. Our radiant heating system was one of the major maintenance issues we have faced after limited operations access to the Learning Center was restored. We’re using this opportunity to work on several facilities upgrades.

Eric, Maria, Jason, Jeff, Bec and Jodi discussed how to deal with our compost operation since the existing system is now broken.  

Seattle City Light installed barriers at the recommendation of the Burned Area Emergency Response plan, to protect public access areas from potential rockfall, rolling debris and overland flow at the base of burned slopes. 

During their visit, the Leadership Team also confirmed that longtime friend of the Institute, Elvis the Raven is still keeping a watchful, though lonely, eye on campus.

The Big Cleanup Begins

After two long months without access to the Environmental Learning Center, Institute staff has finally been able to make trips to campus to start cleaning up the facilities.

After a full assessment of our buildings and grounds, we compiled a master list detailing issues needing attention before we can re-open. Learning Center Manager Kate color-coded tasks in red, yellow and green to help rank projects according to priority and then we got to work. At the top of the list: fix leaks, deep clean spaces affected by mice, and get our fire alarm system checked.

Check out the dramatic before (above) and after (below) resulting from efforts by Phoenix, Kate, Caitlin, Hannah and Baylee in the room housing all the gear for field programs and Mountain School.

Neal and Kate worked on cleaning and putting away gear from this summer’s Youth Leadership Adventures trips that were cut short when the fire broke out. It was also a good opportunity to sort and donate items that had been lingering unused in the cabinets for several years.

In addition to dealing with the dust and ash that has settled in campus buildings, Housekeeping Coordinator Amparo has been at the front lines of our battle with mice. During our absence, little creatures have found and created routes into many of the buildings and even chewed inch-wide holes through a few doors. [Rest assured the only species residing indoors when we re-open will be human.]

It has been—and will continue to be—a long process of cleaning and reorganizing at the Learning Center, and we offer a huge shout out of thanks to everyone doing that hard work.

Mission: Canoe Rescue!

A big item, literally, on our list of chores has been retrieving and taking care of our many canoes that were left on Ross and Diablo Lakes when we evacuated the Learning Center this summer.

Neal, Hannah, Kate and Baylee went on an adventure to Ross Lake to “rescue” six of the Institute’s tandem canoes. Usually, these canoes would make the journey back to the Learning Center after the Youth Leadership Adventures season. But, due to the Sourdough Fire, the final YLA trip had to be canceled and the canoes spent the last days of summer along the shores of Ross Lake.

Ross Lake Resort staff helped our crew bring the canoes across Ross Lake, and then loaded a trailer to drive both our staff and the canoes down to the bottom of the haul road. From there, Neal, Hannah, Kate and Baylee enjoyed a late-season paddle to the Learning Center where they stored the canoes safely for the winter.

Normally, our big 18-person canoes are also taken out of Diablo Lake at the end of the summer, but this season they had to wait longer than normal and consequently collected quite a bit of rainwater.

Kate, Lindsey, and Hannah bundled and booted up to tackle the task of scooping water out of the canoes.

Says Kate: “Normally we’ll bail in shorts and sandals, as the water in the canoes heats up under the summer sun, but this time things were higher stakes after the first snow of the season!” 

And One Last Photo

Costumes, potluck, and hamming it up at the office—Happy Halloween from the North Cascades Institute!

Thank you, everyone who has supported the Institute in these difficult months since the Sourdough Fire—we are so grateful to many individuals, organizations and partners who’ve sent heartfelt encouragement and financial support!


  1. Saul Weisberg

    A big THANK YOU and heaps of gratitude for everyone who is working hard to pull the Learning Center back together after the many challenges this fall.

  2. Connie bowser

    I am impressed with all the cleanup and work the has been done. The only thing I missed out on was a tour of Diablo Lake tour. Thanks for all the work that you have done. I love the work you do. Connie Bowser

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