Mountain School Timeline


  • North Cascades Institute is created and begins with adult seminar program and elderhostel sessions


  • North Cascades Institute receives first grant for school-based education program Backyard to Backcountry. Youth Education Coordinator hired to conduct outreach to schools on wilderness through classroom presentations and write grants for program expansion and serves as a founding board member for the Environmental Education Association of Washington


  • The Institute receives funding for a 3-week pilot program to bring 6 classes camping in the North Cascades. The program is called Mountain School and is designed for a 5th grade audience


  • The Institute runs a full spring season of Mountain School at the Newhalem Campground. Park Service interpreters act as hike leaders
  • Mountain Camp, a summer youth program based at the Colonial Creek Campground on Lake Diablo, begins first season with 3 week-long sessions for ages 10—12
  • Institute forms partnership with the Mt. Baker District of the US Forest Service to offer a fall Mountain School session at Baker Lake
  • Living with Mountains and Teaching for Wilderness curriculum guides created


  • Spring and fall Mountain School seasons at Newhalem. The relationship with the National Park Service deepens. Teacher guide and student journal is created
  • First WWU undergraduate interns recruited to work with Mountain School. 3 interns from WWU assist program coordinator. Program staff is now Mountain School Coordinator, 3 interns/season and NPS interpreters


  • Fundraising allows the Institute to hire a seasonal employee as a cook for the program! Intern pool climbs to 5
  • Sharing the Skagit book and subsequent fundraising leads to creation of the Skagit Watershed Education Project (SWEP), a watershed education program for schools in the Skagit Watershed



  • “Big green,” an army surplus MASH tent, is acquired from the army in Fort Lewis and becomes the new shelter for Mountain School
  • Cooperative agreement instituted with Mt. Vernon School District to bring all 5th graders in the district to Mountain School



  • Intern program grows to 6 interns per season, a program within a program, and includes undergraduate and post-graduate volunteers. Interns come from around the country in search of professional experience and a community of like-minded professionals. Seeds are planted for a graduate program in the future



  • North Cascades National Park: A Living Classroom and Celebrating Wildflowers curriculum guides written and teacher workshops conducted
  • Institute receives a grant for the Watershed Teachers Institute. Teachers spend a week camping in the North Cascades and two weeks in residence at WWU



  • Second Watershed Teachers Institute



  • Institute creates Education Director position; intern pool goes international as the Institute forms partnership with Experience International



  • The Park Service builds the Mountain School Shelter with funding from the Three Parks Fund.
  • Mountain School graduate returns as 100th intern at the Institute!
  • Canoe Camps begin serving an older audience, 12-16 year olds.
  • Watershed Education Coordinator hired to oversee watershed and volunteer stewardship programs.



  • Mountain Stewards program is launched in partnership with USFS
  • Graduate program begins with first cohort of students at WWU
  • Girls on Ice and canoe camps expand reach to older high school audiences



  • First cohort of Institute graduate students work with Mountain School as part of their professional residency, take on leadership roles and lay the groundwork for transitioning the program to the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center



  • Graduate program evolves with students contributing to the ongoing evolution of all Institute programs
  • 2004 Mountain School enrollment: 757 participants at Newhalem



  • North Cascades Environmental Learning Center opens and graduate students and program staff transition Mountain School to the new site!
  • 2005 Mountain School enrollment: 724 participants (Newhalem spring, ELC fall)



  • Institute invests in aggressive outreach and marketing program to build school audiences for expanded capacity at the Learning Center.
  • Camping-based and Learning Center options are offered, doubling capacity in residential school programs. Program options exist for all grade levels, including elementary Ecosystem Explorations, middle school Service Learning and high school Adventure Science and Leadership
  • 2006 Mountain School enrollment: 1032 (Newhalem spring, ELC spring and fall)



  • Increased Mountain School capacity to two classes. Increased number of middle and high school programs
  • Decision made to put Newhalem on hiatus until Learning Center is full
  • 2007 Mountain School enrollment: 1614



  • Mountain School seasons expanded - spring season starts 2 weeks earlier, fall season extended two weeks later
  • 2008 Mountain School enrollment: 1817


  • Mountain School capacity increased to 80 beds mid-season in the fall.



  • Mountain School capacity increased to 92 beds.
  • Served all Bellingham 5th grade students, approx. 800 students!
  • 2010 Mountain School enrollment: 1978 (10.5% increase)



  • Schools showing increased interest in 4 and 5 day programs
  • First year of near-capacity at the ELC
  • Planning underway for re-opening Newhalem program
  • Projected Mountain School enrollment: 2251
Mountain School makes the magic of the wilderness real for kids

"The concept behind Mountain School, run by nonprofit North Cascades Institute, sounds simple: In a three-day mountain camp experience, imbue in school children a visceral connection with this special place — the thumping, mountainous heart of Northwest wilderness. Make its magic real to them at a micro level, in the hope that some of them will feel the pull to return as powerfully as a salmon headed home to spawn. Slip into their consciousness rudimentary skills of a naturalist — the ability to observe and make the same personal connections to other wild lands.

This is how it’s done at Mountain School. Has been, in fact, for 25 years as a program that sprouted in leaky Army surplus tents at Newhalem Campground matures into a national model for wilderness education on public lands."

— The Seattle Times, August 2015

Mountain School Video (6:08)

MM-MS-thumb.jpgLearn more about Mountain School with this fun video by Omar Garcia and Michelle Tamez. 6:08Watch Video


MM-MSTV-thumb.jpgProduced by KCTS 9 Seattle for the "North Cascades: People, Places and Stories", this episode examines Mountain School. 4:54 | Watch Video

Field Guide to North Cascades Institute