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TNP 4th Quarter 2021 Newsletter

The Story of Three TNP Certified Naturalists 

Joanna Brichetto, Certified Tennessee Naturalist, Blogger and Educator

The Story of Three Tennessee Naturalist Program Certified Naturalists & What They are Doing to Improve Life in Our State

by Joan Greene

Ask most anyone who has taken the TNP Course to become a Certified Tennessee Naturalist, and they will tell you how much the course means to them, how it changed their life, how it taught them to see what was all around them in this beautiful state and the value of getting to know like-minded people.

Our chapters can be found across the state of Tennessee, and each year the TNP students and alumni give thousands of volunteer hours toward community education and the restoration and preservation of our natural environment.  In 2020 our students and alumni donated over 14,000 volunteer hours.

The work is primarily done in our nature preserves, state natural areas, state parks, national parks, public lands and city parks - all in Tennessee.  The volunteer hours fall in the following categories:


Administrative and Event Assistance
(Board or committee meetings, office work, natural history focused event assistance)
Citizen Science
(Counts such as bird counts, data collection, surveys, and native species monitoring)
Environmental Education 
(Leading hikes, materials development, presenting nature based programming, program development or assistance)
(Planting native plants, habitat restoration, invasive species removal, trail work)

Tennessee Naturalist Program students, graduates, and certified naturalists can be found in all walks of life and are making a difference in so many important fields.  They are the guardians, the educators, and the caretakers of natural world all around us.  These are the folks who love to share what they have learned in TNP classes, from each other, and from nature. For this newsletter we are highlighting three former students. 

What is your story? We would love to continue this conversation and hear from you. How has being a student, alumni and/or Certified Tennessee Naturalist impacted your life?  Please share at:
or send your story to


Three Certified Tennessee Naturalists and their TNP stories . . .



In addition, to all her volunteer work, and her blog, Joanna also writes urban nature essays that have been published in various literary journals, and is currently working on a manuscript about one of her favorite native trees, the hackberry. 

Joanna became a Certified Tennessee Naturalist in 2012.  “Every day, I learn something new because I’ve looked around at the nature nearby. TNP taught me the skills to investigate what I’m curious about, and to look for connections, and to try to share these connections with others. And most of all, to try to meddle productively, with the ultimate goal to protect and restore native habitat. TNP also gave me a starter community with which to do this. I suddenly had a whole roster of instructors and students whom I could learn from and with," said Joanna.

Ms. Brichetto writes a very popular blog that focuses on her surroundings in Tennessee.  She started her SidewalkNature blog because of TNP. “Before TNP, I thought nature was "away," "out there," and that my closest nature required a 20-minute drive to Warner Park. But slowly, I realized nature was everywhere, and that there is no such thing as "away." And if nature is Everywhere, we have to take care of Everywhere. All our actions matter: lawn care decisions, what we plant, what we kill, what we spray, how we light our house at night, what we do with our windows, where our rainwater goes. I want my blog dispatches to show how easy it is to look around and find wonders wherever we are: the driveway, the yard, the parking lot, the sidewalk. The more "nature" we meet, the more we care, and the more we care, the more we want to protect,” said Joanna. 

The TNP Course gave Joanna Brichetto what she calls, “watershed moments.”  One that she mentions was when Margie Hunter (TNP co-founder and instructor) was leading a hike and mentioned "function," as in "how native plants function." That one word was a revelation. Suddenly, native plants were not just a pretty choice, or an historical choice, or even an optional choice: they were an absolute necessity. They are the producers with the deepest and widest function. They've co-evolved with the creatures in a particular place and they keep our world running. Exotic plants can’t do that.

Another of those moments was when she read a required book, Teaching the Trees, by Joan Maloof, and understood what "host" plant really meant. “It blew me away. I had not realized that so many invertebrates rely on specific host plants, and if there are no host plants, these invertebrates cannot reproduce. And if invertebrates disappear, so do the rest of us. The idea that there are specialized relationships among plants and animals who have co-evolved in Place; and that there are so many more relationships we don't even know about yet; and that every creature and plant play crucial roles in our ecosystems was an idea new and shocking and so very urgent. It is still shocking and urgent. It's what motivates all my writing and volunteer work”, said Joanna.

"Nature" and "wildlife" are scary words to too many people, so when I volunteer, I'm learning to use charismatic creatures and pretty things to invite participation. Everyone likes butterflies, so I've planned a school's new Green Roof to be native pollinator habitat. Beds with host and nectar plants give students the chance to observe the whole butterfly life cycle with their own eyes. Recently, they reported their first Monarch caterpillar, Gulf Fritillary, and Black Swallowtail caterpillars; and they understand that those creatures are there because the host plants are there. I'm hoping that these kinds of observations lead to unforgettable lessons on Why Native Plants Matter, and to a new love and appreciation for "the little things that run the world," said Ms. Brichetto.   (


“My favorite thing about the program is the opportunity it gives for people of like interest to gather and learn from each other when their presence is voluntary.  We all do this because it is what we want to do," said Mr. Coats.  

David Coats became a Certified Tennessee Naturalist in 2016, completing his certification at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary. TNP attracts adult students of all ages.  David is retired and the program has opened up opportunities to service his community and pursue his passion for learning, teaching and nature.  

"Being a certified Tennessee Naturalist has given me a platform to approach local elementary schools and offer in-the-classroom-nature-programs to third grades.  Third graders are great! The Naturalist Program also gave me a connection to be able to volunteer at a couple of the State Natural Areas which is satisfying work,” said David.

David’s participation in the Tennessee Naturalist Program and his skill level has led him to a position as an instructor in the TNP course.  For the past four years he has been teaching the mammal section of the TNP course at Owl’s Hill and in the spring of 2021 began teaching the same course at our newest TNP Chapter at Murfreesboro.  

For David Coats, being an instructor in the program is so fulfilling because he can help attendees/students satisfy their own interests in nature and encourage them to go forward as naturalists.


Kristin Hopkins got her start with TNP as a master's degree student.  Today she is the Chairperson of the Board and works in natural resource management for the City of Murfreesboro.

“I started with TNP as a grad student.  I loved the program so much that I wanted to participate in a more direct and influential way, serving on the board to help with this all volunteer effort.  This program is truly special, it is independent and driven by people of passion who are willing to work hard towards change,” said Ms. Hopkins.  

Kristin came to TNP about eight years ago while working on her master’s degree in Environmental Education from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.  Initially, she reached out to offer help with grant writing as part of her grant writing class requirements. Kristin began attending board meetings and working on grants.  She points out that none came to fruition, but her writing and organization skills did come to the attention of Margaret Cameron, board member and Director of Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary.

Margaret offered Kristin a position with Owl’s Hill helping with communications, marketing and fundraising.  She, also, became the chapter coordinator for Owl’s Hill TNP class.  It was in that capacity that she took the course and became a Certified Tennessee Naturalist.  You might say that the TNP Class changed the arc of Kristin’s career.  Although she did get her Master’s Degree in Environmental Education, the classes helped her realize that what she really loved was resource management.  She credits Margaret Cameron to helping her move in that direction at Owl’s Hill - working with TNP volunteers, doing citizen science project, trail work, removing invasive species and habitat.

“So, yes, being a Certified Tennessee Naturalist certainly helped me get my present job in natural resource management for the park system of the City of Murfreesboro.  It was my experience at Owl’s Hill and my involvement with the board in a leadership position with a renowned state-wide program (TNP) that was most appealing to my current supervisor,” said Kristin.  

Kristin served as treasurer of the TNP Board and when founding member, Pandy Upchurch stepped off the board, Kristin was elected chairperson of the board.  

“I love meeting and working with our students and chapter coordinators and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish over the next few years,” said Ms. Hopkins.

Kristin Hopkins, like so many of our alumni, continues to volunteer in the field.  Here she is, one of a group, collecting seeds from a population of Sunnybell (Scheonolirion croceum), a state threatened plants species.  The seeds go into a seed bank for conservation of the species and for future restoration projects.

Registration is currently closed for core TNP Courses
Check our website for new class openings. 

If interested in becoming a Tennessee Naturalist click the link below.

TNP students - The 2021-22 Tennessee Naturalist Class is well underway at the South Cumberland State Park. Recently, Scott Torreano, PhD., Professor of Forestry, University of the South, led the class in a discussion of South Cumberland's native trees.  Photo courtesy of TNP Chapter at South Cumberland State Park.


TNP Continuing Education Workshops

Waterfowl Biology and Wetland Ecology Workshop

Date:  October 30, 2021 from 9:00 am to 2:30 pm

Fee: $50 per person - 5 hours CE Credit


Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge

550 Refuge Lane, New Johnsonville, TN 37134

Instructors:  Clayton Ferrel, Waterfowl Biologist and Heath Hagy, Waterfowl Ecologist

If you have registered for this course and have questions contact Regina Lowry, Park Ranger for information: 731-641-4465.


Volunteer for Your Chapter!

All of our chapters need experienced and knowledgeable volunteers to help fulfill each chapter's mission.  Contact your chapter's volunteer coordinator to reach out:
Audubon Acres, Chattanooga
Link to chapter
Bay's Mountain, Kingsport
Link to chapter
Cedars of Lebanon, Lebanon

Link to chapter
Cumberland Mt., Crossville
Link to chapter

Discovery Park, Union City
Link to chapter
Ijam's Nature Center, Knoxville
Link to chapter
Memphis Chapter at Pinecrest, Memphis
Link to chapter
Murfreesboro Parks at Barfield
Link to chapter
Owl's Hill, Brentwood
Link to chapter
Paris Landing SP / NWR, Buchanan
Link to chapter
South Cumberland, Monteagle
Link to chapter

Additional Volunteer Opportunities & Events

Photo: Courtesy Bays Mountain Park
TNP Volunteers volunteering for a park event celebrating the
park's 50th Anniversary.

Audubon Acres (Chattanooga Audubon Society)
Volunteers needed for Pioneer Days
November 17-20, 2021
For more information contact: Jessica Whitehorn, TNP Chapter Coordinator

Bay's Mountain
Nature Program: Coyote Friendly Communities
Sunday, October 31, 2021
4:00 - 5:00 pm
Price: $3 per person
For more information: (423) 229-9447

Contact Krystal Haney, TNP Coordinator, Ranger/Naturalist

Cedars of Lebanon State Park
Cedars has a clean-up day the first Saturday of every month except December.
Saturday, November 6, 2021
9:00 am - Noon 

If interested in volunteering call 615-443-2769
Check the link for additional opportunities

Cumberland Mountain State Park
Event: Fall Color Tour
Price: $50 per person
Tuesday, October 26, 2021
To check for volunteer opportunities at this event contact Holly Taylor, TNP Coordinator
(932) 265-8719

Discovery Park of America
For volunteer opportunities contact Jennifer Wildes, TNP Coordinator, Director of Exhibits
(731) 885-5455 ext 1125

Photo by Ronald Manley

Ijams Nature Center
Christmas Bird Count
December 18, 2021
For more information contact Jeremy Clothier, Public Programs Coordinator
(865) 577-4717 ext. 127

Memphis Chapter at Pinecrest
Trail Maintenance Days
Monday, November 15, 2021 and Monday, December 13, 2021
10:00 am to 2:00 pm  
For details and to register click this link.

Murfreesboro Parks at Barfield
Trail Maintenance Days
Volunteer at:
Guardians of the Greenway Events which occurs each Thursday from 9:00-10:00 at different Greenway Trailheads here in Murfreesboro. 
October 28-Overall Street
November 4-Thompson Lane
November 11-Cason Trailhead
November 18-Walter Hill
December 2-Broad Street Trailhead
December 9-General Bragg
December 16--Southridge
December 23-Redoubt Brannon
For more information:
Hailey Meyer, Assistant Program Coordinator

Owl's Hill Nature Sanctuary
Owl Day
Saturday, November 6, 2021 -- 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

For tickets and info click here.

Paris Landing State Park/TNWR
Fall Hike with Colton Sanders
Saturday, October 23,2021 at 10:30 am - Noon 
Meet at Nature Center Parking Lot/Trail Head

Feeding Bird of Prey Paris
Saturday, October 30, 2021 at 2:00 pm
 For more information on these event 
Paris Landing State Park

Call (731) 641-4465

Events are often a good opportunity to volunteer.  For more information on volunteering contact Regina Lowry, Paris Landing State Park Ranger.

South Cumberland State Park

For South Cumberland Mountain volunteer opportunities click the link below.


Can you identify these?
Go to our Facebook Page to check your answers (click here)
Photos by (A) by Donnie Bryan, (B) by Ronald Manley, (C) by Patricia Johnson, (D) by Ronald Manley - Thank you all.

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"The Tennessee Naturalist Program was one of the best and most memorable courses I've ever taken. I learned so many fascinating things about our natural world in those few short weeks.  My learning continues today.  Each 3- or 4-hour, hands-on session was just enough time to get in depth on one core element of being a naturalist.  Knowledgeable  instructors and subject matter experts captured my attention with intriguing insight and answered questions I had often pondered.   If you want a satisfying way to nurture your interest in the natural world and join a group of like minded seekers,  sign up for the Tennessee Naturalist Program. I commuted from Chattanooga for each and every session , and I was glad I did," said Bruce Blohm. (TNP alumni, South Cumberland State Park Chapter.)



Tennessee Naturalist Program is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring the desire to learn and share Tennessee's nature.  We do not receive funding from any state or federal sources.  All donations are appreciated and can be sent to:

Tennessee Naturalist Program, Inc.
P.O. Box 682924
Franklin, TN 37068-2924

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