View from Diablo Lake Overlook, August 5, 2023; photo by Britt Coy

Sourdough Fire closes Learning Center through 2023

You may have heard about the Sourdough Fire burning in the North Cascades from local news or social media, and we want to share directly with you an update on how it is impacting our Environmental Learning Center staff and programs. 

The fire started with a lightning strike on July 29 on the lower flanks of Sourdough Mountain above Diablo, in close proximity to the dam and the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. As of August 24, nearly 6,000 acres have burned in steep and rugged terrain, and fire personnel have been battling the blaze with helicopters, scooper planes, drones and ground crews. At the request of the National Park Service, staff evacuated the Learning Center on August 2. Displaced staff resettled with family, friends and staff and we canceled several weeks of summer programs.

Smoke from Sourdough Fire seen from campus; photo by Hannah Black

We don’t know when the fire will be contained or even put out, but it is clear to us that the local area is not going to be safe for us to welcome people back to the Environmental Learning Center for quite some time. On August 11, Whatcom County issued a Proclamation of Emergency, noting that “this incident is unpredictable and is not expected to end until winter rains.”

With the safety of participants and staff as our priority, we have reluctantly decided to cancel all Environmental Learning Center-based programs for the rest of 2023. This includes adult and family programs, Skagit Tours, conferences and retreats, and Fall Mountain School.

View from Diablo Dam Road; photo by Eric Buher

This has been an excruciating decision for our Board of Directors and Leadership Team to make, but ultimately a necessary one because of safety concerns, campus operations and logistics, and the need to provide both staff, partners and customers advance notice and predictability. We will be using the rest of the year as a time to bolster our programs and strengthen our capabilities, and we will continue to offer programs Field Excursions, Online Classes and the Nature of Writing Speaker Series in Bellingham.

This year was envisioned to be the year we would finally “return to normal” after years of disruption triggered by the COVID pandemic, which makes the sudden Learning Center closure all the more difficult. However, we recognize that fire is a natural and often beneficial process in the ecosystem, and we trust that the place we have all come to love will regenerate. The Environmental Learning Center plays a central role in furthering our mission and we look forward to once again welcoming visitors and participants to the shores of Diablo Lake next year and for many years into the future.

Structure protections at the Environmental Learning Center; courtesy of NPS

We are grateful to the many professionals working under intense conditions to fight the Sourdough Fire and keep the Learning Center and our neighbors protected, and impressed by the clear communication and coordination that is coming from North Cascades National Park and Seattle City Light partners and community of upriver friends.


Thank you for your support.
Please consider making a donation at  to help us weather this storm and continue our mission to inspire environmental stewardship in 2023 and beyond.


Environmental Learning Center cancels programs for the rest of the year,” Cascadia Daily News 8/25/22

How wildfires are impacting outdoor recreation in Washington,” Crosscut 8/24/23

North Cascades Highway reopens, Sourdough fire to burn many more weeks,” MyNorthwest 8/22/23

Sourdough fire pauses Environmental Learning Center operations,” Cascadia Daily News 8/11/22

See our Flickr album Sourdough Fire 2023 for more photos.

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