Naturalist course to be offered at Big Trees

Students from a naturalist course at Big Trees State Park are pictured.

A naturalist course is being offered at Calaveras Big Trees State Park for those that enjoy exploring and learning about local ecology.

The 40-hour UC California Naturalist Certification course combines University of California science curriculum with guest lecturers, field trips and project-based learning to explore the natural history of the central Sierra Nevada.

Part of the UC Cooperative Extension, the class has been offered at Big Trees since 2015, and is offered throughout the state with various participating organizations.

The UC California Naturalist Certification is awarded to students upon completion of the course.

Once certified, naturalists will have opportunities to participate in scientific research, environmental monitoring, restoration or conservation plans, or environmental education, according to the naturalist website.

Wendy Harrison, the lead instructor, sees the certificate as a networking opportunity for park docents and students interested in volunteering and advanced learning across the state.

“As this program is growing, people know that the (certificate) means something,” Harrison said.

Although the class is open to anyone, the original idea was to strengthen the park’s docent program, according to Harrison, a former interpreter at Big Trees of over 30 years.

The course covers geology, wildlife, forest management, water, climate change and other environmental issues, while employing a citizen science approach, Harrison said.

Citizen science refers to members of the general public gathering data in collaboration with researchers. For instance, a class in the past took measurements on Sequoias in the North Grove of Big Trees and then evaluated tree health based on observations, Harrison said. That way, people are providing useful data to the park while learning about its natural history.

Course schedule

Classes will meet on Thursdays, May 23 and 30, June 13 and 20 from 5 to 8 p.m., and on Fridays, May 24 and 31, June 14 and 21 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Ralston Classroom at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

The course registration fee is $300, and students are required to purchase the California Naturalist Handbook (2013, UC Press).

A limited number of need-based, partial scholarships will be available. The scholarship application deadline is April 1, 2019.

Registration is limited to 24 students, and the deadline to register is April 15, 2019.

Full refunds, minus a $50 processing fee will be permitted until April 15, and no refunds will be issued for any reason after that date.

For more information, call 209-795-1196, email, or visit


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