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3:15 PM Mon, Nov. 19th

Highlands Center to recruit, teach interested adults about how to become nature guides

PRESCOTT - Those who crave a deeper understanding of nature in the Central Arizona Highlands and want to have fun teaching others about it will now get an opportunity to satisfy their curiosities.

In March, the Highlands Center for Natural History, 1375 S. Walker Road, will sponsor its first-ever Naturalist Certification Program, which will educate adults 18 and over about how to become volunteer naturalists on the complex's grounds.

After their training, these naturalists will lead discovery hikes at the center; augment education and program staff at center-related events and programs; and assist staff in developing youth, adult and family programs.

Program applications can be printed off the Internet at www.highlandscenter.org or picked up at the center. Feb. 28 is the deadline for submitting those applications. Once the paperwork and a short interview are completed, registration for the course costs $250.

Orientation for the program will start at 5:30 p.m. March 9 inside the James Learning Center, a classroom at the Highlands Center.

Classes will open March 10 and run every Wednesday for 12 weeks afterward. Each class begins at 8:30 a.m., lasts six to eight hours and offers a break to eat a sack lunch.

Among other classroom topics, course instructors will conduct in-depth teaching about the principles of ecology, the flora and fauna of Arizona, forest management and tracking.

The registration fee includes the cost for all classes, guest speakers, a tour of the Desert Botanical Garden at 1201 N. Galvin Parkway in Phoenix, a trip to the Verde River with Dan Campbell of the Nature Conservancy, a Highlands Center T-shirt, a name badge and a certificate upon completion of the program.

Participants also will receive a binder containing all course information and materials.

After submitting their application paperwork, successful applicants will interview with Fiona Reid, the center's education director, and Jill Bluhm, the center's education program coordinator, about the commitment and expectations of volunteer naturalists.

Bluhm said the goal of the course is to put together a team of 10 to 15 volunteer naturalists each year that can lead groups of visitors on guided hikes through spots on the Prescott National Forest next to the center. By the end of the course, they also will be able to interpret and share stories in nature with families and children, while inspiring their curiosity for the natural world.

"We want a volunteer naturalist to be available every Saturday to interact with members of the public, answer their questions and walk people around," she said.

Bluhm added that the center will require every one of its naturalists to volunteer a minimum of 40 hours per year.

Sue Craycraft, the Highlands Center's membership and operations director, said the center hopes to begin offering a regularly scheduled hike on Saturdays and one weekday of each week by this summer if all goes as planned.

For more information about the naturalist certification program, call Reid, Bluhm or Craycraft at 776-9550.