The Blue Ridge Naturalist (BRN) certificate changes people’s knowledge of the natural world, but more importantly, it changes our local communities. In addition to the 236 hours of coursework, candidates are required to complete a 30-hour final project that integrates the knowledge gained from their BRN course work into a project that provides a needed service expressed by a school, nature group, environmental organization, national, state, or regional park, trail system, wildlife habitat or other venue in the community. Part of the project may involve finding funding, materials, or volunteer labor, or creating a website that shares their project with the general public. Candidates also look at how their project will be sustained after completion, such as continued programs, making copies of a trail map and keeping a brochure rack filled, cleaning out bat houses or bird houses, weeding a garden or repairing trail signs. Examples of projects completed by graduates include designing educational programs with curriculum guides, providing environmental interpretation brochures for an organization, newsletter design, trail or garden construction, and improvements for native flora and fauna habitats. A 30-50 hour time commitment is expected, but many candidates go above and beyond these minimal requirements. Their involvement often continues after graduation.

Eight candidates completed their final projects this year and will receive their BRN certificates at a special ceremony this Saturday, August 5. Below you will find brief descriptions of each student’s project.

  • Clarke Stephens Ambrose worked with the Veterans Healing Farm in Hendersonville to improve drainage and install raised beds in a compass rose design to provide volunteers the opportunities to learn about permaculture.
  • Bonnie Arbuckle worked with College Park Retirement Community to restore their neglected butterfly garden by improving soil and thinning and adding plants. She also developed a maintenance plan that can be managed by its residents.
  • Zoe Ann Clayton developed interpretive programs for Great Smoky Mountains National Park where she is a volunteer. She has presented programs to a variety of audiences and venues on the Cataloochee elk, spring wildflowers, hiking safety and reintroduced species.
  • Tamara Seymour worked with the Bear Wallow Nature Center in Sugar Grove, N.C., to develop curriculum for visitors and their families, and created signage on its nature trail. She also researched interpretive center displays for nine subjects: trees, wildflowers, birds, insects, herps (reptiles and amphibians), mammals, fungi, lichens and geology.
  • Nancy L. Newlin worked at the Carolina Memorial Sanctuary in Mills River, N.C., a newly-established green burial site, to photograph native and exotic plants in the meadow and to create a list for future plant tags and interpretive materials.
  • Kathleen D. O’Donnell enriched the hiking trails at Arden Park by installing labels on trees and shrubs along the trails. Lists of trees and wildflowers were made available on the community’s website, and regular posts on the group’s Facebook page have generated enthusiasm for the project.
  • Beth Pape became involved the Sierra Club to make connections and train volunteers. She established “Kids to the Country,” an outdoor program for resident children of the Hillcrest and Pisgah View neighborhoods in Asheville.
  • Jenny Wilker researched and developed a program on 18th century naturalists William Bartram and Andre Michaux that was presented at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC-Asheville.

We are proud of these graduates and their contributions to their communities in the Asheville area and beyond. If you would like to learn more about the Blue Ridge Naturalist program, please click here.