Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate Program Outline

The North Carolina Arboretum is proud to offer the BLUE RIDGE NATURALIST program which presents educational offerings on a variety of natural history topics. These courses provide ways to learn about the southern Appalachian ecosystem and present opportunities to develop environmental awareness and to explore our mountains. 

Anyone may take the Blue Ridge Naturalist classes. For those interested in developing as a naturalist, the program offers a Certificate of Merit curriculum that includes a series of core courses on such topics as ecology, botany, geology and plant identification, as well as elective programs in animals, insects & lichens, etc. 

To receive a Certificate of Merit, students must complete a 240 hour curriculum of the following courses which are divided into groups showing contact hours for each subject:

Core Lecture Studies            116 hours         

         Ecology of the Blue Ridge - 24    

            Geology - 12 
            Meteorology - 12       

            Water systems - 12       

            Botany - 20       

            Zoology of the Blue Ridge - 24       

            Interpretive Theory - 12       

Core Field Studies                 84 hours        

            Native Tree Identification—Trees of the Blue Ridge    12 hours consisting of the following 4 classes

                        Spring Season             3         

                        Summer Season          3         

                        Fall Season                  3         

                        Winter Season             3         

               Native Plants/Flora of the Blue Ridge            72 hours consisting of the following 3 classes

                        Spring                          24       

                        Summer                       24       

                        Fall                               24

Electives                     36 hours

You may take the elective classes in any combination and you can use the elective classes to concentrate on the area of natural history which most appeals to you. The following are examples of topics for elective classes: Insects, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Aquatic habitats, Mammals, Butterflies and Moths, Lichens and Liverworts, Mushrooms, Seasonal Tree Walks and more. Various other natural history classes may be offered in the near future as instructors become available. Any classes that qualify for satisfying part of the 36 hours of electives will be clearly identified in the adult education catalog.

Scope of BRN Program

Students in the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate of Merit program will participate in approximately 240 contact hours of natural history classes plus a 30-50 hour final project. The BRN curriculum is designed to be completed in a minimum of 24 months, dependent on class schedule and instructor availability. It is very possible that some students will need a longer time to complete the entire 240 hours


Please note that there is a 75% minimum attendance requirement to receive credit for classes taken in pursuit of the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate.

Final Project

The final project provides the student with the opportunity to share what they have learned during their course of study in the Blue Ridge Naturalist classes. It will take approximately 30-50 hours of research, implementation and evaluation. It should provide some benefit to a group or community in the WNC region.   The final project allows the student the opportunity to integrate knowledge gained from their BRN course work into a project that is educational and provides a needed service. As the student progresses towards the end of their class work, they will start to form an idea of what they want to do for a final project. Final project opportunities can be found in regional parks, schools, nature centers, environmental organizations and more.

How to Apply

Interested in entering the Certificate of Merit program? Download a Certificate Student Application from the Arboretum’s website,, under the tab “Education/Blue Ridge Naturalist.” Complete and return as directed. Please note that there is a $55 application fee to become a BRN certificate student. 

Click here for an application.

Questions?   Email or you may call 828-665-2492 ext 222.