The North Cascades National Park Complex (Washington) is in the heart of the most heavily glaciated area in the contiguous United States. Iconic and defining features of the Pacific Northwest, these glaciers are places where physical evidence of climate change in North America is most easily seen and interpreted. However, given the difficulty of accessing the North Cascades backcountry, few of the people affected by the glaciers’ recession ever see them, and of those, fewer still fully understand the effects of their disappearance.
A new outreach model is working to change that. The Cascades Climate Challenge (CCC) program brings youth from across the Pacific Northwest to the North Cascades, where they can witness firsthand the glaciers and their effects on surrounding ecosystems. After a three-week field experience, they are charged with taking the message back by way of a service project in their home communities, teaching others about climate change. The program was born in 2009 from a partnership among the National Park Foundation, the North Cascades National Park Complex, and North Cascades Institute, a private nonprofit educational organization. Today the program is run by North Cascades Institute, fulfilling the goal of creating teen ambassadors who can relay the message of climate change in effective and credible terms, especially to younger audiences. Each summer, 40 high school students participate in a field session based at North Cascades Institute’s campus in the park, the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. Half attend in July and the second half go in August. In exchange for the tuition-free trip, each participant agrees to reach 20 other people in his or her home community. “We try to recruit kids who are going to speak to audiences that we have difficulty reaching, whether it’s a religious community, English-as-a-second-language populations, or just other teenagers,” said CCC lead instructor Aneka Singlaub. “This way, not only do 40 students reach 800 other people, they reach 800 people who weren’t likely to see [the park] in the first place.”
McGinty, M. 2011. Cascades Climate Challenge: Taking home the lessons of glaciers. Park Science 28(1):73–75.
Available at https://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience28(1)Spring2011_73-75_McGinty_2797.pdf.