Graduates of the 2017-18 Tennessee Naturalist Program celebrate with a hike to Denny Falls on June 23. Denny Cove is a recent addition to South Cumberland State Park. (Photo: Contributed)

Registration is now open for the Tennessee Naturalist Program at the South Cumberland State Park.

The Friends of South Cumberland State Park have offered classes for the Tennessee Naturalist Program, a statewide certification program for anyone who wants to learn more about Tennessee’s great nature, since 2011.

Those who complete the requirements of the 10-session program and complete 40 hours of service to environmentally-focused organizations become certified Tennessee Naturalists.


The ten four-hour sessions run from September to May with meetings averaging once a month, usually on Saturday mornings.

The classwork is divided between lectures, hands-on activities and many hours of outdoor immersion. Topics include local geology, forests, animals, plants, fungi, aquatic biology and astronomy. The fieldwork portion of the course can be physically demanding with hikes on steep hills and rough terrain and some night activities.

Among those who serve as volunteer instructors are State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath; Sewanee professors Bran Potter, Ken Smith and Kirk Zigler; Sewanee Herbarium Curators Mary Priestley and Yolande Gottfried; TWRA rehabilitator Margaret Matens; and rangers Jessie McNeel, Jason Reynolds, Philip Hylen and Mark Taylor, and former St. Andrews-Sewanee instructor Ron Ramsey.

The TNP is an education training course designed to introduce the natural history of Tennessee to interested adults, with chapters across the state. Graduates join a critical corps of volunteers providing nature education, outreach, and service to the park.

The cost of the course is $250 per person for current Friends member. Nonmembers may participate for $275, which includes a year’s membership in the Friends. Participants receive a field notebook, hand lens, and a jump drive containing all class materials. Registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition to South Cumberland State Park, Tennessee State Parks hosts Tennessee Naturalist Program chapters at Cedars of Lebanon State Park and Cumberland Mountain State Park.

Purpose of the TN Naturalist Program:

  • Teach others about our natural world
  • Inspire the desire to learn more
  • Develop an appreciation for environmental stewardship
  • Create a knowledgeable community of SCSP “ambassadors”
  • Build a corps of environmental volunteers
  • Learn about the natural history of the Cumberland Plateau

Program goals:

  • Train volunteers to work as docents at the South Cumberland State Park Visitor Center
  • Train volunteers to lead field trips in the park
  • Train volunteers to assist park rangers with special projects