Blue Ridge Naturalist (BRN) Certificate of Merit students complete core and elective courses in ecology, botany, geology, zoology, plant identification and more  all focused on the unique ecosystem in Southern Appalachian to which we belong!

Classes that are open for registration currently are listed on the Adult Education course page and updated monthly. Each class that counts toward certificate credit is priced separately.  

Many of the classes below can also count toward Criteria II or III credit for the NC Environmental Education Certification Program.

For more information: 

  • Read over our FAQs for answers to many questions you may have while considering our certificate of merit programs. 
  • Please Note: Adult & Continuing Education Programs staff operate on a flexible schedule to provide coverage for our variety of online and in-person classes. We appreciate your understanding that we may not be available during standard business hours. We receive a high volume of emails and phone messages and we’re a small staff. We try  to respond to messages promptly as we’re able. 
  • For further information regarding BRN certification:  Contact Adult Education Programs at

Wishing you a healthy and happy spring and endless wonder in our place in nature!

Blue Ridge Naturalist Curriculum

  • Here are some answers! Please read first to spare an email.

  • The following courses are part of the BRN Core Requirements:

    • Zoology of the Blue Ridge (Parts I and II)
    • Botany Basics
    • Water (Fluvial) Systems
    • Geology of the Blue Ridge
    • Ecology of the Blue Ridge
    • Climate Change Science
    • Natural History Interpretation
    • Flora Identification (Online and Field Versions in Season)
    • Native Tree Identification (Online with Field Experience in Spring, Summer & Fall)
  • Each of the core courses is enhanced by applying knowledge in specially-designed field experiences. The core lecture study class is required to earn certificate credit. 

    BRN:  Students should consider taking as many field experiences as possible for their Naturalist study. A minimum of four (4) field studies fulfill program requirements. 

    EE Cert:  These courses count for either Criteria 3 if only the lecture is completed, or Criteria 2 if both lecture and field experience are completed

    • Native Tree Identification Field Study: Offered in season (Winter, Spring, Summer & Fall). 
    • Flora Identification of the Blue Ridge: Offered in season (Spring, Summer & Fall). Offered in lecture version or field version. Additional Flora ID Walks scheduled in season (register separately).  
    • Supplemental Field Experiences: Offered to registered students in Botany Basics, Fluvial Systems, Geology of the Blue Ridge and Ecology of the Blue Ridge.
  • Elective studies are selected from the following categories: Astronomy & Meteorology; Wildlife; Plant Studies; Growing in Place & Special Topics; Appalachian Arts & Culture; and Service & Volunteerism

    BRN:  Your Naturalist program of study should reflect at least six hours in each of the categories listed above. Naturalists will complete a reflection assignment for each category. All reflection assignments are now available on the Schoology BRN course site. 

    EE Cert:  These classes vary in the criteria they are eligible for and will be marked as such in their description.

    Examples of Common Courses Include:

    Astronomy & Meteorology:

    Treasures of the Winter Night Sky

    Mysteries & Wonders of the Moon


    Birding Basics: Bird Song

    Identifying Regional Frogs by Sight & Sound

    Plant Studies:

    Spring Ephemerals: Awe Walk at the Botanical Gardens

    Tree Trek

    Growing in Place & Special Topics: 

    Loving Where You Live: Spring Ephemerals Walk with Naturalist Scott Dean

    Contemplative Photography and The Enveloping Landscape in Spring

    Appalachian Arts & Culture:

    An Appalachian Ethnobotany: At the Intersection of Science & Tradition

    Service and Volunteerism


  • To truly understand new concepts and ideas, learners need to apply them to a different context. Adult Learners can apply new knowledge, vocabulary, and skills to solving a problem or meeting a challenge through service and volunteering. Adult Education believes that when learning includes stewardship, it provides opportunities for participants to connect with local ecosystems and tools that can help them understand how individual behavior impacts the environment. Participants have opportunities to volunteer with The North Carolina Arboretum as a trail guide or garden docent, assist with ecoEXPLORE to review children’s nature observations, or with an organization of their choice. To receive credit toward your Certificate of Merit or toward your Teaching Hours for the NC EE Certification, each stewardship opportunity requires a reflection assignment to encourage growth in practice.

    If interested in volunteering:  Contact Adult Education Staff at

Blue Ridge Naturalist Application & Enrollment

  • The next enrollment period for our Blue Ridge Naturalist (BRN) Certificate of Merit program will open on June 16, 2023 through July 31, 2023 in preparation for our fall term. Program onboarding and orientation will begin in early August with fall classes beginning later in August.

    You may indicate your interest by completing the application form and you will be contacted by Adult & Continuing Education Programs staff. 


    Blue Ridge Naturalist Application

    • (If applicable)
      By checking the box above, I certify that I have read the Blue Ridge Naturalist Curriculum Overview and understand the program policies.
      The application fee of $150 covers Student Support, Access to Online Course Management and Graduation. The member discount does not apply for this one-time fee; however, classes are priced separately and carry the member benefit of a 10% discount. By checking the box above, I indicate my agreement to the enrollment fee and can be contacted regarding the next open enrollment period.

  • Enrollment is currently closed until June of 2023. Any courses listed as core or elective credit for the BRN program can still count toward your course of study if taken within one year of formally enrolling. 

    The payment function will be open June 16, 2023 through July 31, 2023.  

Final Project Guidelines

  • Blue Ridge Naturalist Final Project Proposal

    Initial idea and plan for project: What do you hope to learn and accomplish?
    Who is served by or benefits from your project?
    What's your window for starting and completing your project?
    Where us the project located? What area is impacted by your project?
    Who are your anticipated collaborators and/or consultants (individuals and/or organizations)?
    What resources are needed to implement your project? What's your plan for attaining identified resources?
    Is this project continuous, replicable, a one-time event? As with resources above, consider how a project is perpetuated beyond implementation and your involvement, if applicable.
    What else would you like to at this time? What questions do you have at the start of the project that you would like our help in answering?