The folks at the North Cascades Institute are brimming with excitement to welcome the public back to its campus on the shores of Diablo Lake starting Sept. 25, 2020.
“It will be the first time we’ve been open since March, and we’re really excited,” said Christian Martin, the institute’s marketing and communications manager.
The Institute will be bringing back its Base Camp program on weekends through Nov. 15. In light of COVID-19 safety precautions, the offerings will be modified and capacity is limited to 12 people each night.
“We’ve thought through everything we can to open safely,” Martin said, which includes take-out meals instead of meals served in the dining hall and limited access to other campus facilities.
While Base Camp’s educational programming is usually lead by instructors, this fall’s learning adventures will be self-guided, Martin said.
Since fall is the time people head to the North Cascades to see the larches – conifers whose needles turn a brilliant gold in autumn – Martin says programming will include hikes to see the larches along with natural history information for people to learn more about these spectacular trees.
“We’re excited to give people a safe option to visit the North Cascades,” Martin said. “And it’s a great morale booster for us. Our passion is getting people outside and connecting them to the natural world.”
In addition to welcoming the public back to their campus on Diablo Lake, the North Cascades Institute is also offering unique online courses that feature their talented instructors and naturalists.
Upcoming opportunities include classes on the Creative Process Sept 29, Autumn Watercolors Oct 7, Cascade Volcanoes Oct 15, Orca whales (date TBD), as well as in-person field courses on Mushrooming Oct 17 and Truffle Hunting Oct 24. Details and registration at www.ncascades.org/classes.
When the institute was forced to shut down mid-March due to the pandemic, it was right at the beginning of spring Mountain School season, which was a huge blow to the staff and instructors who were looking forward to hosting area fifth-graders for this popular program.
The three-day, two-night Mountain School typically brings more than 1,000 students from Whatcom and Skagit counties to the institute’s Environmental Learning Center during the fall and spring. It’s a highlight of the year for many students, and this year the staff was looking forward to celebrating the program’s 30th anniversary.
“We were so excited for our 30th anniversary year, but it was more disappointing for the students, I’m sure,” Martin said.
Without students to teach, the instructors got busy creating lessons that could be delivered online. The result was Mountain School @ Home, a handful of fun videos and a number of downloadable pdf lessons for teachers or families to use.
Most of the lessons are designed to get kids off their devices and into nature, taking walks, creating art, learning bird calls and making a treasure map. Kids can also get into the kitchen to make the camp’s famous trail cookies or granola.
Videos share brief lessons on owls, raptors and even tree identification set to the tune of an Adele song.
The lessons were well-received, as evidenced from the emails from educators and parents, Martin said, and “it motivated us to do another round of lessons for this fall.” Look for lessons to be added on a weekly basis starting at the end of September, he said.
“I am really impressed with the creativity and fun of those lessons,” Martin said.
Institute staff have also been busy in a different way this year, Martin said, staffing the Skagit Information Center in the town of Newhalem, located just west of the institute’s campus. The Cascades National Forest Visitors Center has been closed during the pandemic and the Skagit Information Center is the only place to get recreational information the area between Marblemont and Mazama, a span of about 90 miles.
Seattle City Light, which owns the company town of Newhalem, contracted with the institute to staff the information center this season. With an increased demand for outdoor recreation this summer, the information center has been busy.
“There’s been unprecedented demand on the North Cascades for people getting outside,” Martin said.
Visitors can get hiking and camping advice, find trail books and natural history guides, as well as purchase local art and other souvenirs at the information center.