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Canceled: Out With Kids: Party celebrates Mountain School in Cascades

Students from Geneva Elementary in Bellingham listen to a Mountain School instructor on the shore of Diablo Lake in spring 2009.
Students from Geneva Elementary in Bellingham listen to a Mountain School instructor on the shore of Diablo Lake in spring 2009. The Bellingham Herald

Editor’s Note: All events at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, including the anniversary picnic, have been canceled until further notice due to wildfires. While the center is not in danger, the area is too dangerous and smoke-filled to conduct events safely.

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a free picnic and open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, at the center east of Newhalem on the North Cascades Highway.

Seattle City Light and the National Park Service are co-sponsoring the event, which also marks the 25th anniversary of the Mountain School program that Bellingham fifth-graders attend for three days in spring and fall.

Mountain School is now held at the Environmental Learning Center, a field campus with classrooms, a library, a dining hall and dormitory-style lodging facilities on the shores of Diablo Lake. It’s surrounded by snow-covered mountains and hiking trails that are open to the public. It offers year-round programs on many facets of nature and the environment through its parent North Cascades Institute.

“It’s a really important program for us,” said Christian Martin, communications coordinator for the North Cascades Institute. “For teaching children about nature and the environment, it’s a building block — where it all starts.”

Past participants at Mountain School, including teachers, students and parents, share their photographs and memories on the organization’s website at

There’s a video of Mylo Allen, principal at Parkview Elementary School in Bellingham, discussing how he attended Mountain School 25 years ago, sleeping in tents. “Mountain School provides students with an opportunity that they would not otherwise have access to — inspiring, fostering wonder, pushing them to do more — an experience outside the classroom that’s hard to put a monetary value on,” Allen said in an introduction to the video.

Featured during the open house are a barbecue picnic with food from local farms, canoe voyages, and boat tours of stunning blue-green Diablo Lake, which is upstream from Diablo Dam on the Skagit River gorge. Other activities include guided nature hikes, games for children, and live music.

Parking is limited at the center. Visitors are encouraged to use a shuttle service and arrive early to sign up for activities.

Free shuttles are available from:

▪  Concrete: Park at Silo Park for a 9 a.m. shuttle, arrive back around 4 p.m.

▪  Newhalem: Park across from General Store for hourly shuttles, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is along Highway 20 east of Newhalem. From Bellingham, take Interstate 5 south to Cook Road. Head east to Highway 20 in Sedro-Woolley and continue east to the center, at milepost 127.5. Details: or call 360-854-2599.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or Tweeting @goMittygo and @DressLikeADuck.


Find Robert Mittendorf’s Out With the Kids column online at