Venture out

  • By Sarah Jackson / Herald Writer
  • Friday, April 21, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The Northwest is a land of plenty when it comes to the Great Outdoors.

You know that.

But sometimes such access to astounding natural beauty makes it surprisingly easy to take for granted.

Fortunately, the North Cascades Institute has been coming to the rescue in that regard for 20 years now.

The nonprofit group’s expert-led adventures and classes have tickled the outdoor fancy of more than 20,000 kids and adults over the years.

“There are people in Mount Vernon who don’t notice North Cascades National Park,” said the institute’s executive director, ecologist and co-founder Saul Weisberg. “That’s always surprising and delightful. We get to turn them on to this really exiting, wonderful place, right here in our backyard.”

This year the Sedro-Woolley-based environmental education organization has more to celebrate than its birthday or even Earth Day, however: After nearly two decades of teaching seminars almost exclusively in the field or at campsites with limited facilities, the institute has a permanent home.

It’s called the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, and it’s less than three hours from Everett in one of the wildest, most biologically diverse landscapes in North America.

Do it, see it

What: The nonprofit North Cascades Institute is registering participants for spring and summer outdoor field seminars and trips now. Many of the events will begin at the institute’s new North Cascades Environmental Learning Center.

Where: Diablo Lake in the North Cascades National Park off Highway 20.

When: Free events include an anniversary picnic day at the learning center June 3. Throughout the summer, visitors can stop at the center for:

* Saturday afternoon hikes from 1 to 5 p.m. June 10, 17, 24; July 8, 15, 22, 29; Aug. 5, 12 and 19.

* Free Sunday morning canoeing trips from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 11, 18, 25; July 9, 23, 30; Aug. 6, 13, 20 and 27.

Cost: Free trips do not require advance registration, but they are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Prices for multiday family getaways start at $539 for a family of four. Seminar fees for individuals range from $95 for one-day trips to $425 for long retreats.

Information: Go online to or call 360-856-5700, ext. 209, for a complete class listing or a 2006 catalog.

Though the resortlike center opened in July on the shores of azure-blue Diablo Lake off Highway 20, this year marks the venue’s grand opening with a full season of seminars, events, speakers and family getaways as well as a variety of free events.

There will be a free anniversary picnic day at the learning center on June 3 that will include tours, naturalist-led explorations, canoe trips, a buffet and live music, all in addition to free hiking and canoeing day trips at the center on summer weekends.

Enrollment for most institute programs is open now.

Weisberg, who helped found the institute in 1986, can hardly believe how far it’s come. His daughter, 19, is nearly the same age as the center.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Weisberg said. “I look at the institute, and I’m not sure which one is more dramatic. Her going off to college or us opening the center.”

While the institute’s Mountain School (operated in conjunction with the North Cascades National Park) helps educate fourth- through 12th-graders, there are plenty of opportunities for adults and families, even those who have never ventured out as well as those who have no intention of “roughing it.”

The center can host up to 50 people overnight after events, but it also serves as a base camp for field seminars and backcountry adventures such as the “Geology by Kayak,” “Wildflower Field Photography” and “Skagit Valley Foodshed: Wild Edibles.”

Three- and four-day family getaway programs are also held at the center. Adults and children can explore trails or the waters of Diablo Lake during the day, but they can also come back to cozy rooms, gourmet meals and hot showers at night.

“You could spend all day with your kids doing art projects, or they could go canoe and you could go bird-watching and then you get together in the evening,” said Weisberg, who believes Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” is right on the money.

“It’s kind of a catchphrase, but it’s a good one,” he said. “Our kids are just focused on where the electrical outlets are, so they can plug in their machines.”

Kris Molesworth, the institute’s director of marketing and development, said the center can be a starting point for shorter visits, too, such as the speaker series, which earlier this month featured two artists’ stunning wildlife photography.

“You can go up for one night, have dinner, spend the night, walk with the naturalist the next morning, and leave in time to be back Monday for work,” Molesworth said. “It’s going to draw a lot of attention, I think, from Snohomish County.”

Pam Roy of Everett discovered the institute in its early years on a journaling and backpacking trip along Thunder Creek. One of her assignments was to focus on a small area, about a foot square, to see what creatures came and went.

“It was a wonderful experience and it was a great way to observe the natural world in a way that was new to me and just observe all the incredible detail,” Roy said of her trip. “It helped me realize how important interconnectedness is for all different forms of life.”

It was a chance to slow down and understand the natural world, something everyone needs now and then.

“Then your world expands,” Roy said. “You appreciate what’s right in front of you.”

Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or

Talk to us

More in Life

A clump of flowering ornamental grass or pennisetum alopecuroides in an autumn garden.
My garden runneth over with fountain grasses, and for good reason

These late-blooming perennials come in many varieties. They work well as accents, groundcovers, edgings or in containers.

Dark gray wheels and black exterior accents provide extra visual appeal for the 2024 Subaru Impreza’s RS trim. (Subaru)
2024 Subaru Impreza loses a little, gains a lot

The brand’s compact car is fully redesigned. A couple of things are gone, but many more have arrived.

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

A woman diverts from her walk on Colby Avenue to take a closer look at a pickup truck that was partly crushed by a fallen tree during an overnight wind storm Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022, in north Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / Herald file)
Storm season is coming. Here’s how to prepare for power outages.

The most important action you can take is to make an emergency preparedness kit.

Do you prefer green or red grapes? This antique Moser pitcher is decorated with enameled grapevines on shaded red-to-green glass.
Grapevine pitcher was made by renowned Bohemian company

Also, queries about grandmother’s coffee set and late husband’s Beatles records and memorabilia collection.

The city of Mukilteo is having a naming contest for its new $75,000 RC Mowers R-52, a remote-operated robotic mower. (Submitted photo)
Mukilteo muncher: Name the $75,000 robot mower

The city is having a naming contest for its new sod-slaying, hedge-hogging, forest-clumping, Mr-mow-it-all.

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Most Read