by Paul Bigelow '14 & Suzie Gaffney '11
On Friday, May 19, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center (NCELC) welcomed 14 Sound Water Stewards to their base camp on Diablo Lake. NCELC welcomes thousands of visitors every year who come to learn about the natural beauty of the North Cascades National Park. This was the third joint field trip this spring where SWS members from Whidbey and Camano Islands came together to visit environmental learning sites of Northwest Washington.
The NCELC was created in 1991 by a unique partnership with the City of Seattle, North Cascades Institute, and the National Park Service as mitigation for the federal relicensing of the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. The City of Seattle has been using power from the Skagit River since the 1920s with the building of the Gorge, Diablo, and Ross Dams.
The host, Calvin Laatsch, took the Stewards party on a 45 minute tour of the base camp while providing us with a comprehensive overview of the NCELC. The first stop was at a large map of the North Cascades National Park and surrounding areas mounted to the bookstore outdoor wall so all could get their bearings and learn some of the history of the area. One outstanding fact was that this park system is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the US and certainly worthy of protection.
The North Cascades Institute has been educating youth and the public since 1986. The Learning Center has operated since 2005 with various residential schools for young people: Mountain School, Snow School and Youth Leadership Adventures.
A Master of Education degree with emphasis on Natural History and Non-Profit Management is offered through Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment. There are educational programs for adults in botany, geology, photography and many other topics. Families can escape to outdoor adventures together ending their nights around the campfire.
Calvin ended our tour of the base camp with a walk through their composting center and seeing the Earth Tub Process in action turning food wastes into fertilizer. Composting is just one of the Center’s efforts at developing and keeping the Center green… regional materials, locally grown food, recycled building products, returning native plants to disturbed areas and of course, using hydroelectric power.