Education Outdoors Recreation

Outdoors with the Blue Ridge Naturalist Network

(Main) Art Mandler, Paul Fredrickson and Pat McClurkin on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail near Bear Pen Gap. Photo by Mayo Taylor. (Inset) BRNN members measure a snail as part of a citizen science survey. Photo by Randolph Richardson

By Emma Castleberry

The Blue Ridge Naturalist Network (BRNN) is a social group of individuals committed to the study of the natural world through outdoor experiences and educational programs. “Our region is incredibly rich in organizations that speak to the value of our rich natural heritage and work for its protection,” says president Mayo Taylor. “BRNN is a rather small thread in the tapestry, but we have an important role to play in providing a structure for people who have discovered their love for the details of nature to continue to deepen and share their knowledge. Many of our members use that knowledge to play an active role in the wider network of community organizations.”

BRNN grew out of the North Carolina Arboretum’s Blue Ridge Naturalist Certificate program, and the group is still deeply connected with the Arboretum. “Our founding president, Tom Southard, serves on the board and two current BRNN board members, Randy Richardson and David Teafatiller, serve on the Advisory Council for the Adult Education Program,” says Taylor. “Other BRNN members have taught courses at the Arboretum, worked on citizen science projects or served as core volunteers in a variety of roles.”
Membership is simple and affordable at $15 annually for an individual and $25 for a household. Subscribing members can join field trips and elect officers. BRNN also presents evening meetings that are open to the public.

When Florrie Funk moved to Asheville ten years ago, she discovered the BRNN and signed up for a wildflower walk. “I decided to join BRNN because the people I met on their outings were welcoming and enthusiastic,” she says. “Everyone brings their own interests, knowledge and experience.” Funk also notes that her participation in BRNN encourages her to explore places in the region she might not otherwise have found and to participate in citizen science projects, “such as providing data about the diversity of land snail species at sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway and searching for bumble bee species at high elevations,” she says.

Funk adds that there are wide-reaching impacts to the study of nature, no matter who you are. “Participating in BRNN programs can help us stop seeing nature as a blur of green stuff with some animals, and start seeing it as the immensely complex and fragile treasure that it is. The more we learn about the biological complexity of the southern Appalachian ecosystems, the more we love them and want to share that appreciation with others. The ongoing study of nature has helped me become a better citizen of the world and find joy and friendship in the process.”

On Tuesday, September 12, at 7 p.m., BRNN presents The History and Ecology of Fire in the Southern Appalachians, a talk by Dr. Steven Norman, research ecologist with the Southern Forest Research Center of the USFS. Learn more at

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