Photo by Stephanie Friesen

Winter 2023 Institute Photo Round-Up!

December’s first snow may have fallen on a quiet amphitheater, but we’re busy in every corner of the Institute—literally and figuratively! Operations and Housekeeping teams are still working hard to clean up the Learning Center after this summer’s evacuation while others are busy updating curriculum for fifth graders, supporting high schoolers working on a climate action project, and publishing new field excursions and classes for adults. We’re also busy fundraising and hiring all sorts of open positions to set us up for our return to programs in 2024. To celebrate it all, we even gathered for some friendly competition and flexed our bowling skills in an end-of-year party.

Photo by Chris Nelson

What’s Happening in Mountain School

Phoenix and Caitlin, coordinators on our Mountain School team, were able to represent North Cascades Institute recently at the Outdoor Schools Washington Conference. This was a chance for educators to come together to collaborate, learn, and be inspired by what other organizations are doing to engage children in the outdoors.

Coming from a culture of outdoor education she experienced in the Northeast, Phoenix appreciated meeting other outdoor educators who have deeper roots in Washington. “When I moved to the North Cascades for this work, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I realized I was always catching up! Going to this conference helped me fill in some gaps and find more resources for meeting students’ needs in this region.” Phoenix also enjoyed being able to share ideas and experiences from her own work—like night hikes and other activities she guides at the Learning Center!

The Mountain School team is also working hard to revamp our programs for fifth graders in the coming year and beyond. Featured large in the updated curriculum are new—and especially relevant—lessons on wildfires. Students will learn how wildfires start and spread, as well as some ways to manage them.

Few tools show off rigorous thinking as well as a white board scribbled full of notes, as Mountain School Manager Baylee demonstrates while keeping track of the team’s work to revamp old lessons.

The Mountain School team is also aiming to create more consistency in the program schedule and lesson plans to ensure that all students get the same experience while at Mountain School. We are excited to see these plans in action when we welcome students back to the Learning Center next spring!

YEP! Students’ Flood Awareness Project

Earlier this month, high schoolers participating in the Skagit cohort of Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) completed their climate action project. The focus they chose for their project was flood preparedness after identifying it as a key issue from the historic November 2021 flood.

Photo by Neal Smeltzer

Using information provided by Skagit County, students created a tri-fold brochure about flood impacts and preparedness titled Flooding In Skagit County: How flooding affects us and how we can prepare. Before passing them out, students employed an especially tasty marketing strategy—attaching the brochures to cookies and brownies they baked themselves!

Photo by Neal Smeltzer

Originally, the plan was to distribute brochures while tabling as a group at a community event. However, in response to threatening forecasts of an atmospheric river across the region in early December, students fast-tracked their timeline and passed out the brochures to community members ahead of the flooding of the Skagit River. We are so inspired by these young climate action leaders!

New Classes and Field Excursions

After months of brainstorming, spreadsheeting, phone calls and emails, following up, notes-to-self, and detail wrangling—phew!—our Adult & Family Programs team have given us a bevy of new learning opportunities for 2024.

Scroll through the long list at and you’ll spot fresh takes on fan-favorite topics—birding, art, tracking, photography, and wolves—plus some new timely topics like wildfire and grizzlies in the North Cascades. You can even hop aboard the sailboat Orion to explore the San Juan Islands with us! We’ve also published dates for next summer’s Family Getaways so be sure to check that out as you’re setting up your 2024 calendars.

Year End Fundraising

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you received our fireweed-themed fundraising letter in the mail earlier this month. These were assembled by a cheery crew representing the Development, Marketing and Registration teams: Kayla, Althea, Stephanie, Catherine, Darcie, Christian, Britt, Kim, and Jodi (behind the camera).

Photo by Jodi Broughton

It has been wonderful to witness the generosity of our many friends and donors at the close of this challenging year. If you haven’t already donated, there’s still time to make your gift online. Thank you!

Board of Directors Wrap Up 2023

The Board of Directors and the Leadership Team met in person this November at Breazeale Interpretive Center at Padilla Bay Reserve to have their last meeting of the year, discuss future endeavors, and dive a little deeper on equity, diversity and inclusion.

Photo by Jason Ruvelson

The Board and Leadership Team gave appreciation to members who are terming off: Michael Liang, Nan McKay, Gerry Cook, and Dunham Gooding. A hearty Thank you! to these individuals for their contributions and dedication to the Institute!

Photo by Jason Ruvelson

The aquarium exhibits at the Interpretive Center also provided some fun diversion for attendees in between sessions!

Photos by Jodi Broughton

Clean-up Continues

Staff have continued working to address the impacts of the Learning Center being unoccupied during this summer’s evacuation period while the Sourdough Fire burned. In Sundew Learning Lab, the intrusion of mice necessitated the removal all the program supplies, donating or tossing impacted items, cleaning out and sanitizing the cabinetry, and then reorganizing everything.
Photo by Alexis Hager
The most unfortunate part was cleaning out the refrigerator preserving bird specimens that were awaiting taxidermy. The Learning Center had been without power for much of August and many of our bird specimens had thawed and never fully refroze.
Photo by Kate Little
We love this timelapse video Lexi took showing the progress made by Lindsey, Hannah, Lexi, and Kate—from mayhem to the final mopping!

Elsewhere on campus, the guest lodges got an upgrade with new mattresses for the bunk beds. Originally scheduled for delivery during our evacuation of the Learning Center, the mattresses had to be dropped off at Chris’ house instead. This meant that he and Kate had to load 80 mattresses into a Uhaul and drive them upriver from Burlington to the Learning Center—and then load up the old ones and drive them back downriver. Kate says, “after moving each of these mattresses multiple times, I was certainly pretty sore!”
Photo by Kate Little

Institute housing in Marblemount also got an upgrade—and not a moment too soon as snow began to fall at the Blue House. Here we have Amparo, Kate, and Chris enthusiastically welcoming the new heater.

And One Last Photo

Pizza party, bowling balls, silly sweaters, and even some sequins—Happy Holidays from everyone here at North Cascades Institute!

Photo by Stephanie Friesen


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

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