Happy Trails Kristofer Gilje

In 2007, Kristofer Gilje began working for North Cascades Institute as a Facilities Manager at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. His previous experience working at Holden Village, a remote retreat center in the North Cascades wilderness, made him a perfect fit to help steward our campus on Diablo Lake in the heart of North Cascades National Park. Fourteen years later – the majority of which Kristofer served as Learning Center Director – he has decided to retire and spend more time with his family and home remodel odyssey in Bellingham.

It’s a departure that has us feeling some sadness, as Kristofer’s personality, companionship and leadership style have been such a reliable and grounding presence at the Learning Center. But through his hard work, intelligence and diligence, he has helped to raise the standards of how the Learning Center is operated – from the food service to building and systems maintenance, from use of vehicles and boats to risk management for all our programs, from upkeep of facility systems to how we respond to wildfires and the pandemic.

Kristofer also did an amazing job of working with our close partners at the National Park Service and Seattle City Light on a myriad of shared plans, programs and projects, as well as countless contractors and vendors over the years. He leaves the Learning Center a much better place than he found it, with systems in place we will rely on for decades to come, and he has certainly earned his retirement and next adventures!

After 14 years working for North Cascades Institute, I was still having fun. But I decided retirement might be more fun.  —KG

Since Kristofer impacted so many different people over the past 14 years — including staff and board members and dozens of graduate students — we thought the best way to celebrate his time at the Institute was to hear from many of those people from across the years. So, without further ado….

I first met Kristofer Gilje at his 2007 interview for a Facilities Manager at the Learning Center. Jeff Muse — the Learning Center Director at the time — and I met with him on campus in the Wild Ginger Library, and were immediately  impressed by his quiet, calm demeanor and the strong skills and experience from his years working at Holden Village. But it was what happened at the end of the interview when we discovered who Kristofer really was.

As usual, we asked all applicants if they had any questions for us. There usually were a few, mostly about benefits or housing. Kristofer looked me straight in the eye and said that he had applied to NCI “because of your mission.” Then he asked: “What is the role of maintenance in achieving your mission?” An hour later we were still talking, learning, and hopeful that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. Kristofer’s response taught me a lot about what it meant to lead an organization, and how to communicate the importance of that mission to everyone in the Institute. If we’re ALL here to support the mission, and we believe and act on that knowledge, it leads to a community that values everyone.

Thanks Kristofer. You’ve made an incredible difference in who the Institute is today.
– Saul Weisberg

Thank you Kristofer for all your service and for setting North Cascades Institute and the Environmental Learning Center up for long term success. You have so positively impacted countless staff, students, families, and communities. Thank you for your proactiveness, your calm, your steady hand, and wisdom. Thank you for welcoming so many of us onto the NCI team and into the North Cascades. Your support and kindness has meant so much. Your legacy is great. Thank you.
– Bec Detrich

Kristofer was the best boss I’ve ever had. I always appreciate his ability to contemplate all sides of an issue calmly and lead his staff to mutual agreement. He helped me become a better person by encouraging me to reach out to coworkers on a more personal basis and to put myself in their shoes to bring forth better relationships and to build a sense of community with my coworkers. Besides being on top of all issues at all times, he really brought forth the best in people to provide an atmosphere of community at the ELC. I hope he and Kristin are able to spend plenty of time traveling and visiting with their daughters. Really I just wish him the best and that he can do everything that he wants to do from here on out!
– Chris Nelson

Kristofer stays on the dock while campus visitors take the big canoe out on Diablo Lake; photo by Jodi Broughton

I can say that, over decades, every interaction I ever had with Kristofer felt grounded in his quiet kindness and his thoughtful, rigorous competence. His influence is reflected across the ELC and the Institute as a whole in all the areas he touched, whether buildings and grounds, the conservation easement, emergency protocols, sustainability practices, or practice of honesty. I wish him the very best in his retirement and hope to continue to cross paths.
– Maureen Ryan

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kristofer for the past 7-1/2 years. He’s as rock-solid as they come…very trustworthy, reliable, responsible and caring. He also has a great sense of humor if you can get him to let down his guard for a moment! I want to thank him for his leadership and support through the years. We’ve been through some trying times as an organization and Kristofer has been a big part of carrying us through. I will miss his competence, level-headed thinking, calmness and steady hand. Best wishes to you Kristofer! Enjoy your retirement – you deserve it!
– Cindy Lee

My favorite memory is from a staff day 7 or 8 years ago. We were doing the typical environmental education ice-breaker games asking weird questions to help introduce yourself to the group. This time it was “What is your favorite kitchen utensil?” We hear the usual favorites like a paring knife, cast iron skillet or a fancy rice maker. Kristofer is near the end of the line and — with his usual pause and deadpan cadence — he says, “Smoke detector”. There is a moment of silence as people wonder if he is serious and then, when everyone realizes he is, loud laughter. Perfect Kristofer moment!
– Jeff Giesen

Kristofer, it’s been such a privilege to be able to work with you professionally as well as build a personal relationship with you over the years. I learned a lot from the many ways you put thoughtfulness into your decisions, humor into your work, and kindness into your relationships with co-workers and program participants. The Institute has been a huge beneficiary of your deliberate leadership. May retirement bring forth much rest, joy, and a fountain of new adventures with Kristen and your loved ones. (The deck is finally finished! Can’t wait to host you two and the bubbitt for “happy hours” once the weather improves.)
– SuJ’n Chon

As others have noted, Kristofer is calm, sober, cool as a night in Scandinavia and rather serious on the outside — reflective of his Norwegian heritage to be sure — but he has a lot of playfulness and sly humor on the inside. It’s always a joy when you are there to see the mischievous side come out, usually at unexpected times. And I always enjoyed learning something surprising about him – my favorite being the fact that he is an undercover Deadhead that used to travel around the country to see Jerry Garcia & company. That shared love has connected us. I passed along the occasional bootlegs of Dead shows to keep him company up at the ELC, but he declined when I asked if he wanted to “gift me” his old tie-dyed tour t-shirts he keeps in storage. “My daughters have already tried to get ahold of them, with no luck either,” he said with a smile. 

Thank you Kristofer for being such an incredible steward of our campus on Diablo Lake and for mentoring so many staff members and graduate students over the past 14 years, myself included. Your impact is truly incalculable and our organization will be living with your legacy for decades to come. I hope you will make it to the village of Gilje, Norway in your retirement – best wishes!
– Christian Martin

Best wishes for a long and well-deserved retirement! Thanks for all the work you did on the food program. Here’s to many new hobbies and endeavors!
– Dan Bullard

I have too many favorite Kristofer moments to choose just one, so here are several cherished memories I have:

  • After we would get a good snow Kristofer would ski around campus on old school skis that looked like they were acquired in the 70s
  • He use to habitually eat popcorn as an evening snack
  • Adam would play pranks on Kristofer. A common one would be a dooralanche, where he would tape up a garbage bag or butcher paper across the door and fill it with shredded paper. Kristofer would always laugh when he would open the door and a bunch of shredded paper would fall.
  • Another prank Adam would do was to hide a fart box, which would make farting noises when a remote was pushed. Sometimes when Kristofer’s door was closed Adam had hidden the box in his office and while Kristofer was on the phone or in a meeting Adam would trigger it. Kristofer would just calmly find the fart box and turn it off and would never say a word about it.
  • Seeing Kristofer show off his wife’s artwork and talk about his daughters. You could tell he was so proud.

Kristofer has been a steady presence at the Learning Center. In the face of imminent danger or catastrophe, he assumes command and is as cool as can be. Throughout my time there I spent time with Kristofer through avalanches, canoe rescues, forest fires, staffing, and organizational drama, and through it all Kristofer was steady, caring, and intentional with his leadership. I consider Kristofer a friend and family. His legacy is all the risk management policies and procedures he put in place. He has left a good foundation in place for the folks who follow. Many of us when going into a situation that needed some risk management would say “WWKD?” (What Would Kristofer do?)

My wishes for his retirement are that he cross country ski more, fills his time on the house projects he seems to enjoy, and enjoys spending time being with his family and friends.
– Katie Roloson

Kristofer monitoring the progress of the Goodell Fire in 2015; photo by Jodi Broughton

When I think of you, Kristofer, I think of a bulldozer. Remember that time that we taught a winter safety workshop to graduate students, maybe cohort 10? Towards the end of the workshop, you told the grads that if they were driving down the highway and there was an avalanche ahead of them, they should turn around immediately and head back. One sassy student asked “But what if there is also an avalanche BEHIND you?” You responded “Has anyone ever been in that situation?”. They shook their heads no. “I have,” you said with your typical calm. They leaned in and asked “What did you do?”  “Well, I was in a bulldozer.”From that point on, “I was in a bulldozer” became a synonym for bad-assery. 

I appreciate the calm with which you approached situations. You taught those around you that you don’t need to be loud to be a leader (though it is always okay to stand on a rock and proclaim, “I am in command”). You were an important part of the work and living environment at the Environmental Learning Center for so many years and you will be missed. I wish you well in your next adventure: retirement!
– Tanya Anderson

Kristofer leaves a big legacy with the Institute community and at the Environmental Learning Center, and I am grateful for his many years of dedicated service to that place and the people who lived and learned there. As a graduate student and later staff member based at the ELC, I recall Kristofer’s kind smile and twinkling eyes beneath an otherwise serious demeanor. I loved his stories of adventure and stewardship of place; his commitment to finding balance between work and family life was an inspiration to me. Kristofer could take a mundane topic and make it interesting simply by speaking about it with sincerity and passion. His winter maintenance of campus was legendary, particularly his roofalanche warnings. Campus fire drills and building searches were another source of entertainment – I’ve never met anyone who takes the safety of people and place as seriously as Kristofer. And thank goodness, too – he was the proverbial ‘father’ and ‘guardian’ of the ELC and cared for us all. A favorite Kristofer memory occurred during one of those exceptionally long winter months at the ELC. Cohort 13 had put together a group playlist for staff and grads. Kristofer, unsurprisingly, chose a Grateful Dead song. I don’t recall the exact one – perhaps “Box of Rain” – but when it started to play, Kristofer began to dance with arms outstretched in an airplane posture, balancing and swaying on one leg, as if flying. 

Kristofer–wishing you all the best in your retirement. May it be full of family, fun construction projects, canoeing on the water, and inspiration in wild places.
– Christen Kiser

Selecting one memory of Kristofer from my years of being coworkers and friends is extremely difficult. I have so many fond memories of working with him and witnessing his impact on the Environmental Learning Center community. Kristofer is a quiet, stoic individual when you first meet, but once you get to know him, you realize he’s intentional, warm-hearted, and quite funny. You just never knew when Kristofer was going to crack a joke unexpectedly. As my friend Max — another fellow Minnesotan (Kristofer is too!) — arrived for staff training, the three of us took a walk around campus chatting about our home state. As we passed by some shrubs alongside the recycling shed, Kristofer turned to us and said, “Do you know how you can identify a Dogwood?” in the most serious demeanor. We both looked puzzled, thinking he was testing our naturalist skills out of the blue. We both shrugged and Kristofer got a huge grin on his face: “By its bark.” The three of us burst out laughing together. While Kristofer kept our ELC community grounded, safe, and aligned, it is these moments that Kristofer will be remembered the most. He is a gem of a human and the ELC community is better off having had him as its leader. Kristofers legacy of risk management will continue to have a positive ripple effect on ELC operations for years to come. His approach to risk management and planning is something I know that myself and countless others have taken with them beyond the shores of Diablo Lake.

I hope your retirement is filled with plenty of paddling, craft beers, and risk management! You’ve earned it, Kristofer. Can’t wait to see you on the Gunflint Trail.
– Matt Kraska

I remember my first week of work as a naturalist at the Environmental Learning Center. A few days in, I received a tour of the office from the Operations Director, Kristofer Gilje. He was an approachable guy, maybe in his early 50’s, dressed in jeans, light hikers, and a t-shirt under a thick button-down with a collar. He appeared calm, and Scandinavian. He didn’t look like he did a lot of hugging outside his family, but that didn’t stop any of us from wanting to give him a squeeze. 

The part of the office tour that stands out in my memory was when we got to the copy room. Obviously, we covered the copy machine itself- the extra paper, binders, stapler, etc. Kristofer seemed to be nothing if not thorough. We opened drawers, looked in cabinets, learned about log sheets and material request forms… and then we got to the laminator. Instead of diving into the nuts and bolts of where the plastic covers are kept, what temperature to set the machine to, Kristofer instead offered us an observation about the very essence of the machine. He explained to us that  “This is the laminator. It is a machine that takes recyclable paper and turns it into landfill waste. Use it sparingly.”

This sticks with me because it’s funny- but also because in retrospect, it told me a lot about this man that I would end up working with every summer for the next eight years. He would prove to be hilarious, but only when it was appropriate, and usually with a straight face. If you could get HIM to laugh, you were rewarded with a booming, guttural, “HUH-HUH-HUHH” that filled the room no matter the size. He provided us training and leadership at the facility over the years, and always did so with the essence of things in mind. He didn’t just teach you how to drive the vehicles that the organization owned – he taught you how to be a driver for the organization in any vehicle. He didn’t just teach us what to do in response to a catastrophe on campus, he gave us the tools to work effectively as a team to respond to incidents big and small. We all had the tools to help a child poop in the woods, and we also knew where the AED was in the dining hall. 

One of the administrative pieces of The North Cascades Institute that fell under Kristofer’s oversight was Risk Management. In my time with him, this is where I saw Kristofer really shine. It wasn’t just because of his excellent technical writing skills, but also in the frame of reference that he offered his training and writing. He drilled home in me that activities, situations, and things cannot be safe or unsafe. Every choice we make has risk associated with it, and the management thereof is what needs to be assessed and considered. It was Kristofer’s job to determine how the organization as a whole would deal with the risks associated with CHOOSING to walk into the woods with participants, with CHOOSING to teach people how to paddle a canoe in a glacial lake, with CHOOSING to bring whole classrooms of children into the wilderness. It was clear that he felt we choose to do these things because we believe they are worth it. We assess the risks of each activity objectively, and manage our programs accordingly so they continue to be worth it.  

His trainings and writing have helped shape not only how I approach canoeing in high wind or driving in the snow, but also how I approach big life decisions, and how I offer support to others. He didn’t teach me the nuts and bolts of managing risk. He taught me to be a better manager, and dare I say, a better person.  A big fat HUG to you KG. Congrats on retirement and good luck! I feel grateful to have lived with you in a tight community in the woods.
– Kevin Biggs


  1. Bec

    Wow! What joy, humor, strength, kindness, leadership, and friendship you have brought to us all! You came for the mission and over your 14 years helped to magnify and bring that mission alive for thousands. So great to read all the stories, memories, and impact!

  2. Martin Mehalchin

    Congrats and best wishes Kristofer! The place won’t be the same without you.

  3. Jodi Broughton

    As a member of the leadership team, I witnessed Kristofer’s thoughtful and wise decision making, his calm and decisive communications during several intense times (including the 2015 Goodell fire that came close to the Learning Center; and of course, COVID), and his incredible problem solving and creativity. I always appreciated his style of training, i.e. for risk management and driving, and his desire to create and maintain strong community. He was a trusted and respected leader within the Institute. I wish him all the best in his retirement and hope to see him at the Learning Center, a little more relaxed! : )

  4. Nan McKay

    The accolades, thanks and appreciations of Kristofer are on point and so well deserved. He has made a positive and lasting contribution to the Institute. Kristofer, I thank you for your leadership, insight, calm approach, careful analysis and caring attitude. May the wind be at your back.

  5. Carter McBride

    So much gratitude for having had an opportunity for our paths to meet Kristofer. I most remember relaxing with you at campus on a cold winter night before some meeting just talking about our presence here in this world of ours and sipping on a little libations. That conversation and space, for me, made the world just a little bit better.

    Cheers to you and yours as you venture into a new segment of your life journey Kristofer.

  6. Brad Tuininga

    Congrats, Kristofer! Thanks for your many contributions and years of serve to the Institute. We are better because if it!

  7. Michael Aronowitz (Seattle City Light)

    Kristofer – Congratulations on your retirement! I always enjoyed collaborating with you, and you helped make the ELC a better place. All the best.

  8. Andriana Fletcher

    During my early days at the ELC, I didn’t know how to end a meeting or conversation with Kristofer. He was so stoic and quiet but when he said anything, you listened. He was our Yoda at the ELC. He would make one great point about something and you’d expect him to continue but nope. He’d sit back, rest his hands up to his face in a pyramid formation and wait for you to say something. Like I said, so stoic.

    At this point in our conversations I usually ended a meeting with standing up, shuffling backwards while snapping my fingers and pointing finger guns at Kristofer. I’d smile and say something along the lines of, “Okie dokie!” That didn’t last for long, probably because I found different ways to embarrass myself but I’ve always admired his patience.

    I learned so much from Kristofer about risk management and facilities. There were many events and programs that kept folks on their toes but you’d never see Kristofer not calm. Some of my favorite memories were helping plan the bi-annual Risk Management Day at the ELC. At the start of the day Kristofer would say with a little smile, “Risk Management Day is my FAVORITE day.” And it truly was.

    Thanks for being so great, Kristofer. Congratulations on your next chapter in life!


    You have all been fortunate to spend the last 14 years with Kristofer. I am glad that you have known the stoic side and the mischievous side of this great man. He has been both during the 60 plus years I have known him.

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