Rafting on the Skagit River!

We had two beautiful back-to-back days on the Skagit River! The temperatures were soaring above 90 degrees but the water was cool! Our float took us 10 miles down the Skagit River from the Goodell Creek Campground in a Class II/III white water section. The Skagit River is part of the National Wild and Scenic River System because of it's natural, cultural and recreational value. With the support from Seattle City Light, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Orion River Rafting we were able to take over 40 youth for an unforgettable experience along this treasured river! 

For some this wasn't their first time rafting but maybe their first time floating the Skagit River; for others it was there first time rafting ever. Some of the inexperienced kids were showing some hesitation but the experienced youth stepped up and reassured others that this experience is safe and fun! Our professional volunteer guides took the lead on providing all the information on how to have a safe trip. Of course, before beginning our float we fed our growling stomachs with delicious sandwiches and fresh local fruit generously donated from the Mencucci Family.

During our float the kids took full advantage of any opportunity to jump out the rafts and cool off in the snow fed river. We'd even cool one another off by having splashing battles between our boats. Along the way we saw scenic views of the North Cascades, like Big Devil Peak! We also saw two avian species, Osprey and Great Blue Heron, that were curious about our presents but keeping their distance. Some of the kids said watching the birds and noticing differences in the birds flight ability and their interactions with the surrounding environment was the highlight of the trip. Next time we'll be taking some binoculars on our float!

Matthew M., Collaborative Intern USFS




Mountain Biking on North Mountain

A great thank you to the Depart of Natural Resources, North Mountain Lookout, Mayor Dan Rankin, and many more, for putting so much time and effort in the creation of the mountain biking trails on North Mountain.

Glacier Peak Institute joined in on the grand opening of the trails at the bottom of the mountain. Right now, there are around 4 miles of trails, but by the end of the project, there will be over 11 miles total.  The thought that went into the building is spectacular.

There is a separation of the trails based on skill levels and it is clearly marked. There are trails for one-way traffic that increases safety for those who want to speed down the trails. There are even "do not enter" signs to make sure you know if its a one-way trail.

With a small group of four participants and four volunteers, Glacier Peak Institute was able to partner up and explore the trails. Some warmed up to mountain biking by familiarizing themselves with the beginner trails. Others tested their skills on some of the more advanced trails.

A memorable moment was when Cassius (a participant) was riding down a hilly track. One second you see him going over the jumps. The next second you see the trail heading left and Cassius heading right and sailing into the bushes. He was unharmed but did manage to land in a patch of stinging nettle. Even after a crash, he got back on his bike and went down a different trail.

We all had a great time both pushing our endurance on the uphill and testing our biking skills on the downhill. There was not one person who said they did not want to return. Again, we thank everyone who helped created this new area for outdoor recreation. We will definitely be back there soon.

-Christina L., GPI Intern


Floating Down the Sauk River

Thanks to Orion River Rafting and the Mencucci Family, Glacier Peak Institute was able to go round two on the Sauk River, but on a calmer section and with a bigger group of youth. We put in at Bachmann and went all the way to Bennetville Bridge.

There were a few class 2/3 rapids but very mild and with some big rocks. There was one section where the river had lowered and the only way through was to go over a massive rock. Some of the participants thought it was the craziest thing to go over the rock even though the guides mentioned later to each other how minor it was to them.

Throughout the float, there were some extremely calms sections and because of that, the guides allowed some of the participants to steer the raft. Some even went for a swim and hung off the side of the raft. Was great fun to see the youth practicing their rescuing skills by using their strength to pull their friends back into the raft. But we believe the most exciting part of the day, was the water fights. We had brought two water guns to fire at the other rafts and once it started, there was no stopping it. 

When we stopped for lunch, one raft conspired to steal the water guns and hide it from the others. Sadly for them, another participant found out and to keep it secret, they had to trade one of the guns. Capitalism at it's finest.

There was one point when two rafts would play bumper boats and youth would be hopping from raft to raft and the word traitor would be shouted here and there. In the end, it was an awesome time on the river that will never be forgotten. Even the guides could not explain the amount of fun they had just enjoying the excitement that flowed through the participants; they would laugh just because others were laughing.  All that matters was that everyone came back in one piece, and there were no frowns to be found. Thanks again to the Mencucci Family and Orion River Rafting for making the float possible.

-Christina L., GPI Intern

Rafting Down the Sauk River

With a big help from Orion River Rafting, Glacier Peak Institute was able to get youth out on the Sauk River from Whitechuck to Bachmann. All participants and raft guides prepared the gear so we could get on the water as soon as possible.

Before our stop for lunch about midway through our section, we already had a few swimmers and a raft got high-sided on a rock and almost flipped. Luckily for us, everyone acted fast on it and we continued on our way. Was a great excitement for us all and made for great stories and a good laugh. The one that swam the longest, Landen Brown, is a frequent participant who is an expressive teen, but when in the whitewater, his eyes were the size of watermelons and he quickly did everything he was asked of without a remark. It was hilarious to see his demeanor change the second he was back in the boat; talking as if it was an epic and fun experience.

It was a well needed break once we stopped for lunch. Great time to stretch our legs and feel solid ground after being in the raft for a few hours. You know we were working hard when the food quickly disappears and there are still people asking for seconds.

When we got back on the water, the guides informed us the frequent change the river goes through on a daily, almost hourly basis. When they first scouted the section of the river, some of the rocks were submerged which made they ride we had more technical in order to avoid the obstacles.

Throughout the entirety of the excursion, you would constantly hear shouts of excitement and thrill each time we hit a rapid and we would get splashed in the face. People in the front of the raft would take turns since that is the place you get the most wet.

Again, Glacier Peak Institute thanks Orion River Rafting for making this excursion happen and getting us all back in one place Could not have asked for a better day or better experience. Until next time.

-Christina L., GPI Intern


Foresters’ Fund Helps Connect Youth and Nature

What if a national forest or national park were more than just a source of timber or recreation, respectively, for timber-dependent rural communities? Could these federal lands also serve as outdoor, hands-on classrooms for the communities’ youth, places where they could connect with nature and explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers? And could federal lands bridge the divide between urban and rural communities? On the Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest in Washington State, a new partnership between the Glacier Peak Institute (GPI) and the US Forest Service is showing that the answers to these questions can be “Yes.”

Although Oak Rankin doesn’t have a formal title with GPI, you wouldn’t be wrong to consider him the executive director. That’s because he’s responsible for transforming his vision into after-school programs for students and leading these programs; developing STEM lesson plans with Darrington School District teachers; and shepherding GPI through the process of becoming a formal nonprofit with a board and 501(c)3 status. Although developing GPI programming was one of his job duties as a 4-H extension coordinator with Washington State University (WSU), the administrative work of leading the volunteers and partner organizations, such as WSU and the Forest Service, to develop an administrative structure of GPI is on Rankin’s own time.

Samantha Chang, one of Rankin’s partners in developing a recent field trip to the Darrington Seed Orchard, remarked that she is amazed at all Rankin does. Chang, an SAF member, is a silviculturist for the Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest.

For Rankin, a fourth-generation Darrington native, seeing GPI succeed is personal. After spending time abroad, with intermittent visits back home, he’s returned permanently to assist with the long-term recovery efforts following the tragic March 22, 2014, Oso mudslide, which killed 43 people and temporarily shut down SR 530, the main route from Darrington to the nearby community of Arlington and Interstate 5.

Even prior to the landslide, Darrington had a number of social and economic hardships. As a timber-dependent community, 20 years of diminishing timber sales on federal lands resulted in community statistics that aren’t a source of pride. Of the cities in Snohomish County, Darrington, with a population of approximately 1,400, plus about 1,200 in the surrounding area, has the highest percentage of at-risk youth and students with special needs, and students who qualify for free and reduced student lunches.

“With the road shut down after the landslide, it was a sudden change in the community,” Rankin recalled. “When you’re suddenly reflecting back in at who you are, sometimes you need a break like that to occur to choose a new path.”

After the landslide, organizations and agencies, including North Counties Family Services, Washington State University Extension, the Darrington School District, and the Darrington city council, came together and collectively addressed the question of “How do we start to make long-term change within our community through the resources we do have, which is our phenomenal location, forests, and our youth, and community?” Rankin said.

Out of these discussion arose the Darrington Youth Outdoor STEM Pilot Project, now known as GPI. When Rankin searched for examples on which to model GPI, he found similar environmental education programs, but their approach to nature was from the urban perspective. “[They] look at the landscape and they see preservation—‘You can’t touch, you can’t interact,’” he explained. “I’m more into ‘How do you have a sustainable, reciprocal relationship with the landscape?’…. We are dependent upon the local resources for sustenance. It’s not just a pretty place to look at.”

The reason for incorporating STEM into the project was borne from the realization that these subjects were missing both in the school and within the community at large. “If you look at the response of the loggers and the know-how community who have the tools and the equipment and the knowledge to go out there and put in [the temporary SR 530] road, that was phenomenal,” Rankin said. “But if you look at the knowledge that isn’t part of our community, it’s the scientific knowledge—that endemic understanding of geology or other parts of the landscape. How do we start getting some of that into the community?”

During 2014, in consultations with Darrington teachers, Rankin worked with Mike Town at Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, Washington, to develop GPI STEM lesson plans for the Darrington middle school. These lesson plans addressed such topics as the energy value of salmon and water quality. Their goal was two-fold: introduce youth to STEM concepts and get them out into nature. You might think that youth growing up alongside a national forest wouldn’t be disconnected from nature, but even rural kids can live an urban lifestyle. Rankin said that teachers knew their kids were no longer getting outdoors and that was a shame, considering where they live.

Through the partnership with Tesla STEM School, Tesla high school students traveled to Darrington for school activities, and in return this past year, Darrington youth visited the Google and Microsoft campuses, located in Kirkland and Redmond, respectively. Of this reciprocal relationship with Darrington’s urban counterpart, said Rankin, “It’s been really great to see this mixing of demographics, where basically they’re the opposite school of us. They’re bringing up their STEM, their engineering, their computer coding, and sharing it with us, and we’re sharing the outdoors, the environment.”

With Rankin based at the Darrington Ranger Station, local Forest Service employees were aware of his work with GPI, and several participated in community discussions. Chang saw an opportunity for a collaborative GPI project. Established in 1981, the Darrington Seed Orchard was intended to provide a seed source for reforestation on the Mount Baker–Snoqualmie National Forest. However, without active logging, the seeds for species that include Douglas-fir, western white pine, and Pacific silver fir have languished in storage, and the orchard has fallen into disrepair due to budget cuts. This fate never sat well with Chang because of the effort originally invested into establishing the seed orchard.

“How can I get some of this work done [to reestablish the seed orchard]?” she recalled wondering. Chang approached Rankin and asked, “Do you think we could make a project out of this? The kids could come out and learn why there is a seed orchard—why does it matter where you get your seeds from? And make it a learning project and build some interest. Showing them there are these fields of study and they’re related to real things.”

Rankin agreed, and Chang pursued funding opportunities for the inaugural project of hosting the middle schoolers and their teachers at the seed orchard for two days, where they would assist in light maintenance work and participate in STEM activities. There would be two separate sessions, one for the boys and one for the girls. Funds were needed to pay for transportation and substitute teachers for the students who couldn’t attend. After being denied funding from one grant source, Chang turned to SAF’s Foresters’ Fund. SAF staffer Lori Rasor, who manages the Foresters’ Fund and is involved with the review process, said that when Chang’s funding proposal was reviewed, approving it “made a lot of sense.” In addition to the $1,400 Foresters’ Fund grant, the SAF North Puget Sound Chapter and Washington State University Extension also contributed funding.

“This project introduces students to careers in forestry and other scientific fields in an outdoor, hands-on learning environment, and also promotes SAF as a leader in forestry education and in the community,” Rasor explained. “It’s the type of project we like to fund.”

For Chang, GPI’s mission to reconnect youth to nature is also personal, because she’s had so many encounters with people not recognizing what is real in nature. “When I go to the Mt. Vernon High School Science Night, I have a Forest Service table. I have different kinds of conifer cones, antlers, skulls, and pieces of fur, because I want students to touch and have a tactile, sensory interaction with a real thing. One of the questions I get every year—all night long from young and old—they’ll look at a pine cone and say, ‘Is that real?’. The fact that someone would look at a pinecone and assume it’s probably fake really bothers me—that’s how disconnected we are. That it would be equally normal to hear that ‘No, it’s a fake cone. We made it for this [event].’ It’s like equal odds for them that it’s a fake thing.”

The two-day field trip to the Darrington Seed Orchard exposed students to just how real nature is. On day one of the girls’ session, they experienced the sting of stinging nettles, tasted a Douglas-fir needle, watched the removal of debris that beavers piled into a culvert, analyzed tree cores to learn about the effects of climate and forest health, and used a crosscut saw under the tutelage of Bridget Wisniewski, a forestry technician at the Darrington Ranger Station. The second day had the girls building slash piles of unwanted cottonwood for burning in the fall, testing for water pollution, and developing a mitigation plan to address climate change. Also on the second day of the field trip, SAF member Phyllis Reed discussed the beaver deceiver project, which the girls could watch being installed.

“This field trip brings what we’re talking about in the classroom to life,” said Melissa Cumming, one of three teachers who participated in the field trip. “Even though the kids live here, they actually don’t get out and experience it.”

With the success of this first collaboration, Chang and Rankin are optimistic that future projects, such as seed collection or inventory work, could also be offered if the funding is available. “I’m hoping, at least with the seed orchard project, that over time it helps the kids in town develop more of a sense of ownership of the public lands,” Chang explained. “[Public land] is a tremendous resource, and there’s a lot that we could be doing with it that can support the community—and it’s their land.”

She also appreciates Reed’s and other SAF members’ support of this project and sees this collaboration as an example for SAF members who want to engage with youth, but are unsure of where to start. There is plenty of opportunity for engagement, she said, and as Darrington has proven, it’s likely right in your own community.

As GPI matures, Rankin envisions the organization serving as a model for other struggling rural communities, helping to bridge a divide that has only been magnified in today’s political climate. “There’s so many of these youth and struggling communities in Washington State,” he said. “We want to create a model that’s not isolationist-based, that’s bringing in urban and rural so they’re working together, connecting communities across urban and rural landscapes.”

In addition, “the Forest Service is a natural fit [with GPI],” Rankin said. “It’s been great having Samantha and the other Forest Service employees. They’re very knowledgeable and great to work with. Everybody in this office really cares about the community.”

Chang also sees the value of the partnership as a way to introduce the youth to natural-resources careers: “The Forest Service has been trying to figure this out for a long time, about how you get people interested in working here. Well, first they have to be in those [natural-resources] majors you want to recruit from at the universities, but how do you get them into the universities? You realize that you have to start farther and farther back, to build that interest."

-Andrea watts, The Forestry Source
   Society of American Foresters


Crabbing at Kayak Point

With great help from the staff at Kayak Point and Snohomish County Parks and Rec., Glacier Peak Institute was able to take a group of over 20 youth to explore the beauty of Port Susan. The night before, GPI staff went out and dropped 2 crab pots for the participants to bring up the following day.

As we departed from Darrington Ranger Station on Saturday, we had high hopes for the amount of crabs we would get. Sadly, we only managed to get 2 that were the right size and even then we did not have enough time to cook them up and share. With that said, there was no hint of disappointment in anyone.

From the start, we were all excited to be in a new place and on the beach. We spent over 3 hours just adventuring around the beach, getting stuck in the surprisingly soft sand, and taking a dip in the ocean.  By mid-day we split into two groups, one went canoeing to collect one crab pot while the other half continued to bathe in the ocean. After an hour, we swapped and the second group took out our last crab pot.

Pulling the grab pot out of the water was harder than expected and a lot of teamwork was needed. With all the effort, we managed to get 3 crabs (1 too small) and a starfish. Luckily for all of us, it was enough to count this day as a great success. Even as we were packing up and getting ready to leave, there were participants that dragged out their time there and continued to swim in the ocean until they were the last to jump in the car. Again, shout out to all who participated in making this day happen. We look forward to another excursion at Kayak Point

-Christina L., GPI Intern

Mountain Biking around Brown's Creek

Today was yet another successful trip with Glacier Peak Institute. The group set off a little after 9am and right away, there was a never ending hill. The group split up with a group who wanted to bike up the hill and a group who wanted to walk up. By 10:30, we put all the uphill biking behind us but had a 10 minute walk up to a lookout that had been logged. All was left at the top was stumps, an abundance of ferns, and an amazing view of many of the peaks around Darrington and even a glimpse of the top of Glacier Peak. There we ate lunch and took a long breather to prepare us for the downhill biking.

By this time, a few of the participants were doubting themselves and full-heartedly believed they wouldn't make it to the top. Little did they know that a brief distraction with a simple conversation and a small change in attitude would make the difference of making it to the top. It was clear on their face the excitement they had for accomplishing something they thought they couldn't do, and of course a lot of relief for it being the last main uphill travel of the day.

On the way back to the Ranger Station we took a long break at Lost Lake for some exploring and arts and craft. A few of the participants sat down with some leaders and went through a Leave No Trace principle by hand making drawing books from scratch as a way to physically leave what you find, but take back a picture/drawing of what you would want to take back if you could. The other leaders observed as the other participants tested their balancing skills on the floating logs and manmade dock. Some even took off their shoes and went knee-deep in the water.

Before reaching our end destination, we stopped at Old School Park to refill water bottles, soak up some sun, and ride some gravel mounds. Three girls, Jayden, Claire, and Isabel, could not get enough of the bike jumps. They would race each other and trade lanes. Isabel fell off her bike about 10 times but would jump right up each time as if she landed on clouds. At the end of the day, everyone still had a smile of their face and are looking forward to future trips with Glacier Peak Institute.

- Christina L., GPI Intern

Hike and Bike to Snowy Gulch


For the first trip of the summer, Glacier Peak Institute went on a hike and bike to a basin below Whitehorse Mountain. Sadly, with the timeframe given, they did not reach the snow gulch. Luckily for GPI, it was only the leaders who were a little disappointed at not reaching the destination. The main feedback that the participants had at the end of the trip, was more food.


The excursion was more than just an adventure.  Along the way, the participants learned about how to go to the bathroom outdoors, logging tactics, water filtration, and invasive plant species, which they helped alleviate by having flower flights. The turn-around point was at Wellman Basin, where water bottles were refilled and energy was regained. Two girls who explored the creek found a perfectly square rock just below the surface of the water and in the middle of the current and called it "The Rock of Honor". Ciela, one of the girls who found the rock, stated that, "it was empowering to stand on the rock and feel the current push against my feet but not enough to budge me." The first trip was a success and hopefully it will be the same for the many more adventures to come.

- Christina L., GPI Intern

White Chuck Pass

Our most recent trip with GPI was a day hike to White Chuck Pass. We met up in the morning at the Darrington library parking lot where there was another group of hikers preparing to hike up Glacier Peak. That group was led by Garret Madison, a famous hiker. It was very interesting listening to his stories of hikes he has been on, such as climbing Mount Everest.

After talking to him, we hopped in the van with OUR awesome hike leaders Oak, Emily, and Sam and drove up to the White Chuck trailhead. Upon arrival, we found a toad scrambling up the bank nearby. We identified it as a Western toad (I think). We started off at a good pace. The trail ranged over a lot of different terrain such as grassy meadows, boulder fields, and forests of fir and hemlock trees. Along the way we feasted on the wild blueberries that grew along the path. Everyone had blue tongues by the time we were done! A couple of hours later, we reached our final destination. It was a lookout point where we could see Mt. Pugh and Glacier Peak (I think) and a river in the valley far below. We ate our lunch there and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery. After lunch, we headed back down the mountain and stopped for a few more awesome views and blueberry munching. The whole experience was awesome and loads of fun.

- Eleanor P., GPI Press Agent