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Join Reconnect Earth in the North Cascades this Summer!

P1120431Applications are now live for Reconnect Earth’s Summer 2019 trips, an unforgettable eight-day experience backpacking and camping in Washington’s North Cascades, while learning about ecology, human and natural history, and grassroots social change. On a summer trip you’ll hike through ancient forests, climb to alpine lakes, or look down onto glaciers during one of our trips focused on harnessing your potential as an agent of positive social and environmental change.

Apply to join a trip here!

Washington’s North Cascades mountains are home to a National Park, multiple federally-designated Wilderness Areas, and some of the most diverse ecosystems in North America. The region’s towering old-growth forests, alpine meadows, and rushing rivers are also sites of ongoing struggles over colonialism, Indigenous sovereignty, and resource extraction. On each Reconnect Earth trip we’ll explore what it means to work for social justice and environmental sustainability on contested land, while experiencing some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. P1110952

Reconnect Earth is offering trips during three sets of dates (exact dates subject to slight adjustment pending approval of our permits from public lands agencies):

  • June 24th – July 1st
  • August 19th – August 26th 

Because of our low overhead we are able to offer trips at a significantly lower cost than comparable backpacking experiences. Tuition for an eight-day Reconnect Earth trip is $450, with scholarships available for those for whom this is a genuine financial hardship (you’ll have the chance to submit a scholarship request as part of the application process). The first step to joining a trip is to fill out our application form. Apply now.

Reconnect Earth’s summer trips are open to college students and other self-identified young adults ages 18 and up. Our trips will engage your mind as much as your body as we travel up steep mountains and down into glacial valleys while re-conceptualizing our relationships with the land in ways you may never have imagined. No prior hiking or backpacking experience is needed to participate and we are committed to supporting participants with special needs.

Sound like your kind of adventure? Apply here and we’ll follow up with you soon. The priority application deadline is March 31st, with the final deadline April 30th. If you have questions about trip logistics or requirements, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Hope to see you this summer!

A Conversation About Decolonizing

On March 10th Reconnect Earth led an event designed to spark conversations about decolonization and confronting the horrific history of colonialism in what is now Washington. This trip, called Decolonizing Bellingham’s Landscape, was part of our ongoing work to do environmental education in a new way that acknowledges and celebrates the history of Indigenous peoples on the landscape.

Whatcom Creek

Reconnect Earth begins all of our trips with a formal acknowledgement of the Indigenous peoples on whose land it takes place. However, the goal of this particular event was to go much further. We began in downtown Bellingham, walking down to Bellingham Bay below Maritime Heritage Park where we had a conversation about how Indigenous peoples like the Lummi have harvested food from the water since time immemorial. For countless generations the Bay has been a source of sustenance for the Lummi, who have managed their fishing practices in sustainable ways and continue to do so today.

We next walked up into Maritime Heritage Park itself, a small urban park located where Whatcom Creek enters the bay. We stopped by a western red cedar and talked about the Lummi’s many uses of this tree, including everything from building cedar log canoes to making highly sophisticated fishing nets from cedar bark. This was followed by a conversation about cultural appropriation and when it is or is not respectful to use Indigenous art and imagery in public places (hint: the key is building authentic partnerships with Indigenous artists).

Pausing in Maritime Heritage Park

We continued to an overlook above the bay from which we could see Lummi and Orcas Islands. We discussed the long history of coastal peoples as expert seafarers. Prior to colonization the Lummi regularly made canoe journeys down the West Coast to the mouth of the Columbia River to trade with the villages there. The Haida, whose territory is in what is now northern British Columbia and southern Alaska, are known for making even longer canoe voyages as far south as California.

Toward the conclusion of the trip we arrived at the bridge over Whatcom Creek itself. This is close to where the first permanent White settlers in what is now Bellingham built a sawmill in 1852. The Lummi treated them with hospitality, but just a few years later that kindness was repaid with dispossession. At the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855, the Lummi and other Indigenous groups from throughout Northwest Washington were persuaded under duress to sign most of their territory over to White settlers. This is an injustice which has yet to be rectified.

Our group made a timeline of the colonization which took place in Washington during the mid-1800s. We also talked about the long history of Indigenous resistance to colonizing forces. This includes the Puget Sound War of 1856, sparked by the colonial government’s duplicitous behavior in the wake of the Point Elliot Treaty signing. Today Indigenous people continue exercising and advocating for their right, guaranteed under the terms of the treaty, to fish in their accustomed territory.

This Reconnect Earth trip was in no way intended as a substitute for learning directly from Indigenous people, who alone can speak authentically to their experience in what is now Northwestern Washington. Rather, the hope was to spark conversations that would lay the groundwork for deeper learning about the Indigenous presence on the landscape. To this end, we also talked about local opportunities to learn from Indigenous educators and community leaders in ways that don’t put undue demands on their time.

You can read more about the philosophy behind this Reconnect Earth event here. And stay tuned, because our work to continue engaging with these issues through education is certainly far from over.

A Snowy Hike on Lookout Mountain

Hiking through the snow on Lookout Mountain

On Saturday Reconnect Earth visited Lookout Mountain Preserve, a protected area in the northern Chuckanut Mountains. Though in Bellingham proper the snow from recent winter storms had almost disappeared, we arrived at the Lookout Mountain trail head to find a thick layer of snow still on the ground. We began hiking up the trail and soon were immersed in the forest.

Lookout Mountain showcases Pacific Northwest forests in a variety of stages of succession. Early on the hike we passed through groves of red alders, a sign of a recently disturbed area where the first generation of new tree life was returning. A little later the trail climbed through dense stands of young Douglas-firs of uniform age. Tree growth patterns and other evidence suggested a generation of conifers recovering from the effects of a landslide which likely occurred years ago.

Later still we passed through stands of much taller, widely spaced Douglas-firs with young western hemlocks coming up underneath. Though still much too young to be considered old growth, this part of the forest is beginning to take on old characteristics like multiple layers of tree crowns and abundant fallen woody debris. Massive, decaying cedar stumps indicate that long ago, before the logging which took place over a hundred years ago, this area did indeed support old growth.

The view from the overlook

We paused on the trail for lunch and an interactivity activity that facilitated conversations about how we encounter nature and the “natural” world throughout the course of our lives. As we climbed higher the snow on the trail grew deeper, until we were hiking through a true winter landscape which looked utterly different from what we’d left behind in Bellingham. We emerged from the trees onto the Lookout Mountain Overlook with a view of Lake Whatcom and the hills beyond.

Toward the end of the hike we took another break to write letters to the incoming state senator from the Bellingham area, Liz Lovelett. Senator Lovelett was recently appointed to fill an empty seat in the state legislature, and we wanted to send her the message that people in Bellingham care deeply about a healthy, livable environment.

Writing letters to Senator Lovelett

We arrived back at the trail head having experienced one of the many wild areas which exist mere miles away from Bellingham’s downtown. However, a bus stop at the trail head parking area makes Lookout Mountain Preserve unusual in that it is easily accessible via public transit. Maintaining this type of easy access to green space is an essential part of ensuring equity in natural park systems.

As we headed for home the late afternoon sank behind the hills. Up on the mountain the shadows of Douglas-fir trees grew longer on a snowy landscape far above Lake Whatcom.

Find out where Reconnect Earth is going next!

Finding Marine Life on Bellingham Bay

P1120505 (2)Reconnect Earth visited Bellingham’s Boulevard Park this Saturday for a walk following the edge of Bellingham Bay, during which we searched for marine invertebrates, birds, and other sea life. Seven of us explored the water’s edge and followed the over-water walkway to Fairhaven, stopping to observe any organisms we found along the way.

Bellingham Bay supports a variety of marine ecosystems including sandy beaches, rocking shores, and eel grass beds. When exploring the beaches we admired oysters and discussed the effects of ocean acidification; picked up clam, mussel, limpet, and crab shells; and examined washed-up kelp and eel grass. An examination of some submerged boulders revealed a small chiton–an ancient type of mollusk–clinging to a rock face just beneath the water’s surface.

P1120506Farther out from shore a harbor seal poked its head above the waves, while a variety of birds hunted for food. With the help of a spotting scope we were able to identify surf scoters–a very distinctive-looking type of duck (pictured below) that uses its powerful beak to crack open marine mussel shells–far out on the bay. Slightly closer in a loon surfaced holding a small fish that it quickly swallowed. Common and Barrow’s goldeneye ducks came near enough to identify even with the naked eye. However, it took binoculars to make out the beautiful golden eyes that give these birds their name.

susc_tg_lAt the end of our walk we took time to write letters to our Washington state legislators, urging them to support proposed bills that would help protect the Salish Sea and the creatures who call it home from toxic pollutants, catastrophic oil spills, and other threats. By advancing important pieces of legislation this year, Washington’s lawmakers have a crucial opportunity to protect the Salish Sea ecosystem that includes Bellingham Bay.

Saturday’s visit to the bay was Reconnect Earth’s first weekend trip in 2019, but it won’t be the last time we get outside this winter. See the full list of trips coming up here.

Winter and Spring Trips are Open!

IMG_20181111_112809289Reconnect Earth is excited to announce our schedule of winter and spring trips for students is now available online! Sign up here to join us for a hike or other excursion focused on deepening our relationship with the landscape of Northwest Washington.

This winter and spring Reconnect Earth will be leading hikes through the forests and mountains around Bellingham; exploring the history of colonialism, immigration, and Indigenous sovereignty that has shaped the landscape we now live in; and traveling to Olympia to participate in the 2019 Environmental Lobby Day at the State Capitol.

From hiking to wild places like Lost Lake in the Chuckanut Mountains and the Chanterelle Trail overlooking Lake Whatcom, to visiting sites in downtown Bellingham that have born witness to struggles over Indigenous and immigrant rights, Reconnect Earth’s winter and spring 2019 trips are opportunities to see Northwest landscapes in an eye-opening new way. See the full list of trips and sign up here!

A Visit to the Nooksack River

IMG_20181201_143739377This past Saturday, Reconnect Earth led a group of eight Western Washington University students on a hike at Hovander Homestead Park just west of Ferndale, WA, to experience and learn about life on the Nooksack River. Originating from snowpack high on the slopes of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades, the Nooksack flows all the way to the Salish Sea and is the northernmost major river in Washington. Hovander Park lies on the southern bank of the river and is a great place to see some of the animal and plant life this waterway supports.

We began by discussing the long human history of the Nooksack River, which since time immemorial has been an important fishing ground for Indigenous peoples including the Lummi, Nooksack, and Semiahmoo. Our group then followed a trail which followed the wall of vegetation growing along the riverbank. Huge cottonwood trees rose above the smaller alders, willows, and red osier dogwoods. We also paused to examine and talk about many of the introduced (and in some cases, invasive) species–including Himalayan blackberry, English holly, and fox squirrels–that now call this area home.

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Photo credit: Emma Bjornsrud

Our exploration eventually took us to an access point where we could get down to the edge of the river itself. Swollen with fall rain, the Nooksack rushed by as we watched from the muddy bank. The view of the river was impressive–but nearby was a reminder of threats to this important waterway. A post in the riverbank marked the site of the Puget Sound Pipeline, a branch of the larger Trans Mountain Pipeline which crosses into Washington State from Canada. Much of the oil transported in these two pipelines comes from the Alberta tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive projects on the planet.

We discussed the controversy over plans made by Kinder Morgan, the Trans Mountain Pipeline’s former owner, to more than double the capacity of that line and perhaps expand the Puget Sound Pipeline as well. In Canada, public opposition led by Indigenous First Nations eventually convinced Kinder Morgan this year to drop its expansion plans–but in August the Canadian government announced it would buy the pipeline and attempt to build the expansion with taxpayer dollars. In this way, Canada’s government became the sole owner of the pipeline which we stood above on the Nooksack’s banks.

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Photo credit: Emma Bjornsrud

Any further expansion of the Puget Sound Pipeline poses a threat to wildlife–like the great blue heron at left–and people along the Nooksack who would be devastated in the event of a pipeline rupture and oil spill. Fortunately, Trans Mountain’s expansion was at least temporarily halted by a Canadian court ruling which found the government had not adequately consulted First Nations before issuing a project permit. However, the Canadian government still hopes to move forward with the expansion and export even more tar sands oil into the U.S. Washington can play a vital role in defeating this plan for good by denying any proposal to enlarge the Puget Sound Pipeline and by reducing oil consumption here in one of Canada’s largest oil export markets.

IMG_20181201_145530485_HDRAfter discussing the pipeline we continued following the Nooksack until reaching our turnaround point, after which we partially retraced our steps then took a side trail that led to a sheltered picnic area. There, members of our group wrote letters to Bellingham’s Climate Action Taskforce expressing support for moving the city to 100% renewable energy as swiftly as possible. This is one of many ways Washington can reduce demand for tar sands oil and render projects like the Trans Mountain expansion obsolete. We also talked about the importance of engaging in the upcoming state legislative session, which presents an opportunity to pass climate and clean energy policies at the statewide level.

IMG_20181201_152202277_HDRAfter leaving the shelter we stopped in a patch of marshland to admire some mallard ducks and a heron. Our group’s last stop was at one of Hovander Park’s most distinctive landmarks: a wildlife viewing tower that offers a birds-eye view of Tennant Lake. As we watched, a swan flew into view and coasted to a landing on the water’s surface right beside another of the great white birds at rest on the lake. Like the Nooksack River itself, Tennant Lake is an important habitat for countless migrating birds.

We concluded our trip to Hovander Park having witnessed the area’s beautiful plant and animal life, discussed some of our region’s most pressing environmental issues, and taken concrete action to push Bellingham in the direction of a clean energy future. It was a good way to finish Reconnect Earth’s last Fall 2018 trip. Stay tuned, as we’ll soon be announcing more trips for Winter and Spring 2019!

Finding Fall Salmon

IMG_20181110_133450970The annual migration of adult salmon up streams and rivers throughout the Northwest to their natal spawning grounds is one of the most incredible phenomena in this region. This past Saturday Reconnect Earth visited Arroyo Park in Bellingham to search for migrating salmon swimming up Chuckanut Creek. And we found them!

About twelve trip participants, many Western Washington University students, met early Saturday afternoon at Arroyo Park and hiked a short way down the trail to the creek. The park protects healthy Douglas-firs, western red ceders, western hemlock, and other native plants that shelter Chuckanut Creek from erosion and too much direct sunlight. The result is good habitat for the large number of chum salmon who migrate up the creek every fall.

IMG_20181110_152854561We knew we’d be most likely to find salmon resting in the deeper pools, gathering their energy in preparation for a run up the shallower rapids or riffles. We began our search in an area with relatively shallow pools, and found a few salmon sheltering behind large rocks. With their splotchy coloration and green-and-tan banding on their sides, chum salmon are good at camouflaging among rocks and sticks. This species is the most abundant salmon in Washington, and is found in many streams throughout the Puget Sound watershed.

As our group made its way upstream, we saw more salmon. We also stopped to admire birds like a Pacific wren flitting through the shrubbery along the path, and an American dipper bobbing up and down as it waded in the creek’s shallows. As we moved up the creek the sightings of salmon began to come more frequently.

IMG_20181110_152910047Then, just downstream of the wooden bridge that spans Chuckanut Creek, we found them: a whole large group of salmon resting in one of the deepest pools we’d come across. There must have been more than a dozen, though sometimes they were hard to see beneath the creek’s moving surface. We got our best glimpses of salmon when they came briefly into the shallower water, sometimes because they were being chased by another fish who felt its personal space being invaded.

After pausing by the big pool for a while we hiked a little farther upstream, then came back to the bridge for a conversation about salmon habitat needs and threats to their survival. We discussed what it takes for salmon to thrive: cool, clear streams free of turbidity; trees and other vegetation to shelter waterways and provide food for the insects juvenile salmon eat; and rivers unobstructed by impassable dams. The chum in Chuckanut Creek are a relatively healthy salmon run, but many other Northwest salmon are threatened by dams, deforestation, and large development projects in their habitat. All Northwest salmon are also potentially affected by climate change that reduces winter snowpack or otherwise leads to warmer, shallower streams.

IMG_20181110_134403947We also talked about proactive steps to help salmon and the many other species–like orcas–that depend on them for food. In early 2019 the Washington State Legislature will be meeting, presenting the state with an opportunity to take action on climate change and clean energy, stream restoration, and other environmental priorities. Our group discussed ways to engage in the legislative session including organizing carpools from Bellingham to attend the annual Environmental Lobby Day event in Olympia.

Finally, we took action to help salmon and the ecosystems they rely on by writing to local officials here in Bellingham. Before leaving Arroyo Park we got out pens, paper, and envelopes and wrote personalized letters to the new Bellingham Climate Action Task Force, expressing support for moving to 100% clean energy as rapidly as possible.

In sum it was a good day looking for wild salmon in their natural habitat in Chuckanut Creek. Members of our group left having observed one of the great wildlife dramas of the Pacific Northwest, and determined to do what we could to help ensure a healthy future for sensitive salmon populations.