Sharing My Love of the North Cascades
Written by former NC Wild Student and Remarkable Young Leader, Kassandra Barnedt
The North Cascades – untouched, wild, remarkable, friendship, beauty, but most importantly life changing. Every trip to this mystical place is unique, but somehow these trips bring each one of us back to the same place. My journey with the North Cascades National Park began with family outings as a small child to the Newhalem Visitor Center. As I grew, so did my interest, and I began participating in youth programs. The North Cascades Wild Summer Youth Program was my first experience enjoying the wilderness of the North Cascades.
North Cascades Wild 2009 was two weeks of backpacking, canoeing, and hiking amongst breathtaking mountains and refreshing waterfalls. We also summited Desolation Peak at the north end of Ross Lake. The scenery was inspiring and the learning opportunities were great, but the thing that keeps everyone coming back were the relationships we formed while out in the wilderness. Something about the wild brings everyone together. Barriers are broken down and people learn to work together despite their differences. After this amazing two week journey I was left craving more of the North Cascades.
Searching for more opportunities to be involved with the North Cascades, I applied for an eight week job with the Youth Conservation Corps at the North Cascades National Park Nursery. We worked with National Park employees Mike Brondi and Cheryl Cunningham in the Marblemount Nursery. I learned about seed collection, invasive species, revegetation, and how to clear roads. We even cleaned campsites and had the chance to work with staff in other maintenance areas. The summer was well worth the hard work. Again the next summer I could not resist and I applied to work as the Youth Conservation Corps Crew Leader.
I’ve heard from people that I was a natural leader but actually leading a group of people, especially those older than you, can be frightening. Being the Youth Conservation Corps Crew Leader was a fantastic opportunity and I grew immensely as an individual. It was stunning to see the changes in each person I worked with as the summer progressed. It was even better to share a little bit of my passion for the outdoors with them. In particular, I worked with one older girl who absolutely believed that plants were boring and of no importance. After the summer season, she came up to me and said, “Don’t tell anyone this, but I actually think plants are pretty cool. I’m even thinking about getting my own plant book.” That was the best feeling to know that a little bit of my passion had rubbed off on her. It made that summer feel like a success. When you work outdoors, there are those days when you are worn out and don’t think you can take it any longer. Everyone’s attitudes are horrible and you feel like you are getting no where. That one person who lets you know you’ve changed their perspective makes everything worthwhile.
Working as the Youth Conservation Corps Crew Leader reassured me that I wanted a future career working with the environment and teaching. I was unsure of job shadow opportunities so I e-mailed North Cascades Wild Program Coordinator Amy Brown. She helped me set up an opportunity to job shadow Mountain School at the Environmental Learning Center. I arrived at the Environmental Learning Center early on a Thursday morning and found myself in the grad room waiting for the instructors to arrive. There I met graduate student Kiira Heymann, my guide for the next two days. Unlike traditional job shadows, I was given the chance to shadow three leaders. To start my day I began by shadowing Kiira. We met the group of kids she was leading, geared up, hit the bathrooms, and headed out on the trail. During Mountain School the kids spend as much time outdoors as possible rain or shine, and boy did it rain that day! The rain and wind just kept on coming nonstop, but the kids did not seem to care one bit. Of course we convinced them that rain gear was the cool thing to be wearing. After hiking for a while we stopped to take a look at animal prints. The kids were handed rubber footprints and given a book to compare prints and discover what animal could have made them. We discussed the shape of the print and the size. The kids loved it.
Later that afternoon I switched groups to shadow another instructor, graduate student Colby Mitchell. He was especially great with the kids. I learned so much from him, mostly not to put such a tight grip on children. He would answer questions and grab their attention. He gave direction but without tons of rules. I watched the kids respond well and they respected him. He would talk or give directions and they all listened as if he had a huge bag of candy! Seeing him and the kids interact was a great learning experience.
As the day went on, nocturnal leaders took over so the diurnal instructors could get some rest. As you can imagine keeping track of eight to ten kids can be tiring, let alone managing for their safety outdoors all day! Evening activities were incredible – a campfire, cultural legends, stories, and ridiculously hilarious songs. For the rest of the week one could hear kids everywhere singing….”Rock the mullet rock rock the mullet!”
The next morning and afternoon I shadowed another graduate instructor, Chris Kiser. She had a group of students who were a bit of a handful. She was able to hold the kids’ attention and direct the group very gracefully. The most meaningful experience shadowing her was watching the group on their silent hike. The kids got to experience nature on their own while still feeling safe and prepared. It was refreshing to see these young students so curious and inquisitive about their natural surroundings. The entire week was great and definitely a learning experience for me. The best job shadow I could have asked for! I said my goodbyes knowing that I would get to return in a few short weeks for the 2011 Youth Leadership Conference.
Kassy and her small group of leaders during their final reflection hike during the 2011 Youth Leadership Conference. Photo by Kiira Heymann.
The Youth Leadership Conference, held at the Environmental Learning Center, was a time of reflection and planning for me. A time to look back on all the experiences I’ve had in the North Cascades and a time to plan ahead to the future. There were workshops and opportunity fairs, an evening campfire, groups games and events. The best part of the conference was the people. You just can’t help but be inspired when you spend three days with others who love the outdoors as much as you do. The weekend left me energized and ready to jump back into everyday life once again with a fresh perspective and will power. This is the gift that the North Cascades always leaves me with. Beyond that gift, the wilderness leaves every one of us with strengthened relationships. The people who first taught you, those you’ve worked with, and the students you are now teaching. In my mind nature not only shows us its beauty, inspires us, and allows us to find peace, but brings us together in deep and lasting friendships. Wild places allow us to complete almost impossible goals and face life’s most difficult challenges.
Leading photo of Ross Lake taken from atop Desolation Peak. Photo by North Cascades Wild 2009 participant.