Outdoors

Action Alert

A plethora of pathways at NCI

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

When the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago and schools, businesses and gathering places suddenly shut down, North Cascades Institute was forced to close its Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake and cancel most of their educational programs for the year.

That meant no Mountain School for Whatcom and Skagit county’s fifth-graders. No Family Getaways or Skagit Tours in North Cascades National Park. Weddings and conferences scheduled at the wilderness venue were called off and a robust schedule of classes and field excursions exploring the natural and cultural history of the region was cancelled.

But in the trying months ahead, the environmental education nonprofit scrambled to create new ways to reach out and creatively connect people to the outdoors. Instructors turned their favorite learning activities into online lesson plans for teachers, parents and students in the new Mountain School at Home project (more than 17 lessons in English and Spanish have been produced thus far). Others created videos on topics like Springtime in the North Cascades, How Raptors Hunt, and How to Compost.

The institute also began to offer their classes online for the first time, sharing in-depth presentations on topics including geology, watercolors, wildfire and orca whales.

For an organization that specializes in face-to-face learning with people in the great outdoors, pivoting to online teaching was a challenge, but a necessary one to meet the times. And there were hidden benefits too—they could reach people all around the country who wanted to learn about grizzly bears or glaciers in the North Cascades, and the cost and convenience of the Zoom classes made for more equitable access to their offerings.

This spring, with vaccines rolling out and restrictions being lifted, NCI has reopened the Environmental Learning Center, with programs like Base Camp and Family Getaways running at reduced capacity and with coronavirus safety plans in place for their campus.

The institute’s online learning continues as well, with classes on nature photography, wolves, sustainability, corvid mythology and other topics open for registration. A “Nature of Writing” speaker series with Village Books is also back, with free virtual author readings over the coming days and weeks.

For National Poetry Month, Olympia-based poet and retired Washington State Department of Ecology environmental scientist Bill Yake will share his new book Waymaking by Moonlight: New & Selected Poems on April 22. On April 27, Portland-based writer and teacher Kim Stafford will present from his new collection Singer Come From Afar, which contains the wonderful poem “Advice from a Raindrop”—“Sure you’re small, just one part of a storm that changes everything”—and a plaintive song to the orca clan named “Earth Totem.”

In May, the series welcomes Lyanda Lynn Haupt and her new book Rooted: Life at the Crossroads of Science, Nature, and Spirit, Robert Michael Pyle reading from Nature Matrix: New & Selected Essays, and a special event called “An Evening with Saul Weisberg & Friends” that will feature the institute’s cofounder and executive director Weisberg in conversation with colleagues William Dietrich—the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author—and John Miles, environmental historian and former dean of Huxley College of the Environment.

Weisberg (pictured) is retiring in June after 35 years of leadership at the North Cascades Institute, and the event will celebrate NCI’s journey from an idea that was dreamt up around a campfire in the early 1980s to a nationally-recognized, 60-person organization that reaches more than 10,000 people every year.

Whether in sunshine or rain, down-valley or up in the mountains, in person or from the comforts of your couch, North Cascades Institute is back with a plethora of pathways to help people everywhere better appreciate, understand and enjoy the natural world all around us.

Christian Martin is the Communications and Marketing Manager for the North Cascades Institute. For more details about online and NCI Learning Center programs and to find out more about the Nature of Writing Speaker Series, go to http://www.ncascades.org.

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