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!

Enrollment is now closed for Fall Term.  Our next Open Enrollment period will open in mid-December 2023 and run through the end of January 2024.  Classes that are currently open for registration are listed on the Adult Education course page and updated monthly.  Each class that counts toward certificate credit is priced separately.  All learners are welcome to join our classes, regardless of whether they are enrolled in the BRN program! 

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

Celebrate with us the 2023 graduating class! Click here for a listing of the graduates and BRN students’ final project presentations. Pictures to come!

Wishing you a healthy and happy autumn 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 current 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
    • Native Flora Identification (Online and Field Versions offered in Spring, Summer & Fall)
    • Native Tree Identification (Online with supplemental Field Experiences offered in Winter, Spring, Summer & Fall)
  • Each of the core courses is enhanced by applying knowledge in specially-designed field experiences. Please Note: 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:  New streamlined recommendations for electives include completing 30 hours in categories of your choosing and six hours in Service & Volunteerism.  Please keep reflections for elective courses in a separate field journal that can be submitted toward the completion of your course of study. More details to come in July of 2023.  

    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

    Cherokee History & Ecology

    A History of Creative Incubation & Innovation: Penland School of Craft, Black Mountain College & John C. Campbell Folk School


  • 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 volunteerism. 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 a Willow Pond 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

    Here is a listing of where some of our program participants and graduates have performed volunteer service: 

    The North Carolina Arboretum: EcoEXPLORE, Willow Pond, Guided Trail Walks

    Waterfall Keepers

    Conserving Carolina

    Asheville GreenWorks

    Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy

    Mainspring Conservation Trust

    The Park at Flat Rock

  • Please keep track of the courses you take throughout your journey in the BRN program using this template:

    BRN Transcript (PDF Version)

    BRN Transcript (Editable Excel Version)

Blue Ridge Naturalist Application & Enrollment

  • The application/enrollment process for the Blue Ridge Naturalist (BRN) Certificate of Merit program is open December 15 through January 31st for our 2024 Spring Term. Program onboarding and orientation will begin in early February with spring core classes beginning in February with Vertebrate Zoology of the Blue Ridge.

    The two-part application and enrollment process begins with completing an application form below. Contact Adult & Continuing Education Programs staff with questions.


    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.

  • Complete enrollment in the Blue Ridge Naturalist (BRN) Certificate of Merit program by paying the one-time enrollment fee of $150, which covers student support, graduation and other costs. A portion of every enrollment fee also goes to subsidize the scholarship program currently in development.

    The payment portal will reopen in December 15 for enrolling in the Spring 2024 cohort. 

    Please Note: Any courses listed as core or elective credit for the BRN program will count toward the student’s course of study if taken within one year of formally enrolling. )



  • Through our programs, we extend an open invitation to grow in mind and grow in your understanding of our place in the Southern Appalachians. We also work to keep our course registration fees economical. Revenue received from registration goes toward paying our expert instructors and expanding learning opportunities and stewardship through the Arboretum’s educational mission.

    We are actively seeking funding to go toward developing the Blue Ridge Scholars, a work-study program designed to expand access for participants. While the program is currently in the planning stages with our Advisory Council, some informal opportunities for volunteer assistance may be available depending upon staff needs. Look for further announcements in our newsletters or program emails.

    We encourage you to be in touch directly if the enrollment fee would prohibit you from participating.

    submit scholarship application requests here

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?
  • Final Project Evaluation for Blue Ridge Naturalists

    Please complete this evaluation form upon completion of your final project. DO NOT complete this form if you have not completed your final project. Your final project supervisor (if you had one other than yourself) will complete a separate form. Let this form serve as a place for you to assess all aspects of your final project, including differences (if any) between your initial vision for the project and how the project ended up taking form.

    There is no right or wrong about this. Evaluations are meant to serve as spaces for thoughtful reflections about final project experiences. Blue Ridge Naturalists can use this opportunity to provide reflections that will aid future students in designing their final projects.

    Submission of your project evaluation and your supervisor’s evaluation constitutes completion of your final project for credit towards the Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate Program. Please allow approximately two weeks for Adult Education staff to review and acknowledge receipt of your final project and associated evaluation(s).
    Please provide a detailed overview of your project. This overview should include a description of your project as well as a discussion of what you originally proposed and what you actually produced (e.g., how you originally envisioned your final project compared to the project's outcome).
    Please provide an assessment of your project. Did you complete your original objectives? Please include details on what worked, what you would have done differently, if anything, and what your recommendations would be for the future of this project or for future projects of a similar kind.
    What are your thoughts upon completing this project? Who will continue to benefit from the project? What recommendations for future final projects would you make to other Blue Ridge Naturalist students?
    Where is the project located? What area is impacted by your project?
    Did you collaborate or consult with any individuals or organizations in completing this project? Please describe.
    What resources were needed to implement your project? How did you obtain the necessary resources for completing this project?
    Was this project continuous, replicable, or a one-time event? As with the resources question above, please indicate any plan for your project's perpetuation beyond implementation and your continuing involvement, if applicable.
    Please upload a selection of 5 photographs, videos and/or other forms of documentation for your final project here. NOTE: The only files we will be able to review are those with the following extensions: jpg, jpeg, png, mp4, mov, pdf, doc, docx, ppt, pptx. Please ensure your files are saved in one of these formats prior to attempting to upload and let us know if you encounter any issues with uploading!
    Drop files here or
    Accepted file types: jpg, jpeg, png, mp4, mov, pdf, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, Max. file size: 256 MB, Max. files: 5.
      Is there anything else you would like to add?
    • Final Project Evaluation for Project Supervisors

      This form is to be completed by the final project supervisor/project counterpart within 2 weeks of the project’s completion. There is no right or wrong about this. Evaluations are meant to serve as spaces for thoughtful reflections about final project experiences. Please allow approximately two weeks for Adult Education staff to review and acknowledge receipt of this evaluation. Thank you!