Happy 30th Birthday Mountain School!

2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Mountain School! Over the past 29 years, more than 30,000 youth from Northwestern Washington State have traveled up the Skagit River on Highway 20, past bald eagle sentinels and berry farms, to experience an unforgettable three days and two nights in the mountains with their school class, teacher and chaperones. Mountain School is offered every spring and fall in cooperation with North Cascades National Park to introduce students to the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains that exist practically in their backyard.

We know from interactions with 29 years of Mountain School alumni that this educational program has been a transformative experience for so many people in our community. We want to hear YOUR stories! Students and teachers: Please share your favorite Mountain School memories  in the comments below…

Read a reflection from John Lahey, 5th Grade Teacher at Centennial Elementary, Mt. Vernon, WA

Read a reflection from Kelly Kuplen, 5th Grade Teacher at Roosevelt Elementary in Bellingham, WA

My first experience was that my son and husband were in one of the very first Mountain School experiences (maybe the first?) in the old army tents at Newhalem. But my favorite Mountain School story stems from a Hispanic student I worked with at the elementary school I worked at. She wasn’t going to go. I said she would love it and it would be such a great experience for her. She said, “What if I get lost?” I said you can hug a tree and they will find you. She told me she didn’t even hug her dad, why would she hug a tree? The young lady had a very difficult home life and never smiled and was usually negative about everything! I convinced her to go and loaned her warm clothing, sleeping bag, etc. After the three day experience, I was waiting for her at school and I will never forget the look on her face. The biggest smile I had ever seen on her face! I truly believe for 3 days she was extremely happy and able to relax and enjoy herself. Mountain School made a difference in her life, at least for those three days.

— Patricia Jorgensen


  1. Terri Hawke

    As the first NCI Mountain School intern and later North Cascades National Park Mountain School instructor it warms my heart to know that something so amazing and impactful has continued for 30 years. My memories of cooking dinner in the army cook tents in the rain; the kids doing the evening play at the Newhalem amphitheater; the drive up to the Thunder Creek trailhead for the 3-mile hike into Neve Camp and back; the powerful connections with the students formed in just a couple of days; and all of the wonderful activities and smiles will stay with me forever. Heck, I think I still have some of our hand-drawn teaching tools around- I loved it that much! Keep up the excellent work my friends.

  2. Caitlin Powers

    My Mountain School internship helped me realize my passion for teaching! I have so much gratitude for this special place! Surrounded by a rich, intensely beautiful landscape as well as knowledgable team members I was given a sense of purpose I carry with me to this day. Grateful our city schools have an opportunity to experience North Cascades National Park up close and personally, while expanding their knowledge of earth science and community. Thank you Mountain School!

  3. Ann Acosta

    My experiences of Mountain School start with the early tent experience as a student teacher attending WWU and participating on my first ever time in the wilderness and learning so much from my mentor teacher and Cascades teachers. When I began my teaching career at LU in Burlington I was all excited to now take my classroom of students along with me.

    So have been blessed to have had the tent experience and then onto the beautiful lodges and grounds we now share as staff. I believe our students hands-on-experience is so valuable and my hope is that this program continues for generations. I know when we temporarily were not able to afford the program for our district it was a tragedy and a major loss to our students educational needs.

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