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10:19 PM Mon, Sept. 24th

Highlands Center hosts Volunteer Naturalist Certification program

Residents who desire a greater understanding of nature in the Central Arizona Highlands and want to inspire curiosity for the natural world in others will have the chance to accomplish that goal.

From February through April, the Highlands Center for Natural History, 1375 S. Walker Road in Prescott, is offering a 12-week Naturalist Certification program, instructed by Highlands Center staffers, local professors and experts in their fields of study.

Fiona Reid, the center's education director, and Jill Bluhm, its education program coordinator, are in charge of the naturalist certification, which stresses the center's method of teaching and guiding people to their own discoveries in nature.

The program educates adults ages 18 and up how to become volunteer naturalists on the complex's grounds, nestled in the ponderosa pines of the Prescott National Forest. This year, the center is looking to recruit 10-15 of these naturalists.

Program participants pay a fee to take classes and local field trips that focus on the natural history of the Central Arizona Highlands and topics such as reptiles and amphibians, geology, weather and climate, the practice of natural history, ornithology, entomology, flora and fauna.

They are also required to complete all of the center's Community Nature Study classes, held every Tuesday and Thursday morning in February, as well as attend full-day classes every Wednesday in March and April.

After finishing their training, volunteer naturalists are prepared to interpret and share stories in nature with adults, families and children. These volunteers are trained to feel comfortable with leading a group of visitors during the center's Naturalist Field Days, which are currently on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Highlands Center.

For more information about the naturalist certification program or to register, call Reid or Bluhm at 776-9550. People can complete an application by picking up one at the center or printing one from www.highlandscenter.org.

Applications may be sent via fax to 776-9530 or may be e-mailed to highlands@highlandscenter.org.

Tuition is $250 per person, and applicants must schedule an appointment for an interview with the center's education department.

The center is offering full and partial scholarships to applicants who qualify and are interested in the program, which had a successful pilot run in 2010.

In addition, participants must become members of the Highlands Center and commit to volunteer a minimum of 40 hours in their first year.

The deadline to fill out and return a completed application is Jan. 21.