2016 Program Planning Session

We held our annual program planning session for the 2016 slate of activities this past Wednesday, November 18. Joining the round table work session were 10 enthusiastic contributors: Brenda Bonk (BRDC President), Aaron Floyd (BRDC Executive Director),Scott Jackson-Ricketts (BRDC Program Director), Lisa Benish (BRDC Program Coordinator), Evan Worrell (BRDC Guide), Heidi Breedlove (BRDC Field Nurse), Katie Trozzo, Cynthia Taylor, Susan Gleason, and Niki Weir. A fantastic lunch made by Becca at Backwoods Bean, cookies made by Susan, and tea/coffee brought by Brenda fueled the brainstorm session. 

Lots of great ideas were brought to the table, but a few generated a lot of excitement. Here is the short list of new 2016 programs that gained priority by the end of the day: The Blue Ridge Amazing Race Competition; BRDC Discovery Birthday Parties; Primitive Technology Camp; Explorers Club for Adults (Blue Ridge Expeditions + fun activities); Whitetop Site Section (Fall Naturalist Rally/Bio Blitz); Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding Station; and New River Adventure Camp.

We kicked the meeting off with short introductions and then discussed the BRDC mission where everyone realized that they knew the essence of BRDC a lot better than they thought: to inspire creativity, discovery and critical thinking through interest driven and hands on activities focused on the Blue Ridge Mountains. We briefly reviewed the 2015 programs and then jumped right into the work session by framing the discussions with a series of questions for the group to answer. Individuals jotted their thoughts on sticky notes and we then discussed and grouped them into categories for clarity. The following is documentation of the results.

Question 1:

What are some of the major issues in our region that you feel like BRDC could impact? 


  • Disconnect from Nature: Our community not interacting with nature, lack of understanding and connection with our surroundings
  • Education: A failing Public education system; inferior educational opportunities; lack of desire for continued education; lack of inspiration and negative attitude for learning (not being fun)
  • Community: Gaps between diverse groups; Isolation of Hispanic Families; Conflicts between Science and Church; fear of new things
  • Health: Mainly for youth: obesity, healthy diet, being active,over use of technology
  • Access: Limited access to recreation opportunities (both perceived and real); Size of area the residents engage with - limited view of the Blue Ridge
  • Economy: Poor Economy; Low Average Income of Residents; Low population & lack of human resources; finding a balance between economy and protecting natural resources
  • Environment: Water Quality; Impact of farming (christmas trees/cattle); Chemical use in schools and along roadways, the perception that nature will clean up after us

Question 2:

What defines a successful BRDC program? 


  • Autonomy: Flexible participant-driven activities; Fostering responsibility and participation of youth; true exploration mentality
  • Building Relationships: Building relationships with people and nature; developing mentor type relationships; fostering cooperation among participants; when connections are made between all participants (kids, teachers, volunteers); establishing the idea that someone cares
  • Discovery: Achieving the “wow” moment; fun learning environments; new discoveries made; joy exhibited by participants
  • Personal Development: New ways of thinking; Exposure to alternative views/perspectives; exploration mentality; building new skills; Developing leadership qualities
  • Curiosity: continued curiosity after the program; inspiring further discovery; participants leave wanting more; participants questioning their surroundings
  • Sharing: Participants sharing their experiences and discoveries with other participants and friends; Growing the BRDC community; Media attention following events; Positive word of mouth through out the community; Participants bringing friends and family to future events.
  • Feedback: Measuring quality through the reaction of kids/parents/teachers who participate

Question 3:

What are your New Program Ideas for 2016?


Most Popular Programs:

  1. The Blue Ridge Amazing Race Competition
  2. BRDC Discovery Birthday Parties
  3. Explorers Club for Adults (Blue Ridge Expeditions + fun activities)
  4. Whitetop Site Section (Fall Naturalist Rally/Bio Blitz)
  5. Northern Saw-whet Owl Banding Station

Summer Camps:

  1. Primitive Technology Camp (building an experimental archaeology site)
  2. Space Camp (Astronomy & Physics)
  3. New River Adventure Camp
  4. Archaeology Field Camp (Excavation of a New River Cave Shelter)
  5. Fly Fishing Camp (Exploring the Blue Ridge through fishing)
  6. Natural History Camp

In-school Programs:

  • Drawing, reading and using Maps
  • Dissections (based off of owl pellets)
  • Terrarium (based on Trout in the Classroom)

General Activities (for in-school, camps or clubs)

  • Big Day for Trees (Identify and document as many different trees as possible)
  • Birding Big Day
  • Search for Record Trees
  • Adult Snorkeling
  • Kamana Program (Nature connection)
  • Project Phenowave
  • Nature Drawing
  • Geotropism
  • Microscope Slides
  • Herbarium
  • Journaling
  • Technology: Field App Course
  • Photography
  • Spelunking
  • Poetry Slam
  • Art: Patterns in Nature

Other Program Concepts:

  • Science Fair
  • BRDC Film Series (Social Event)
  • Gardening in Schools (Reproducing native habitats on school grounds)
  • Plant Shoe (Citizen Science project recording wild woodland medicinals)
  • Adopt a Stream
  • Botany Course
  • Oral History Project (Documenting the old timer way of life)

Question 4:

What models do you think could inform BRDC programs?


  • Great Smoky Mountain Institute at Tremont
  • SEEDS Field Camp
  • Moondance Adventures
  • Highlands Biological Station
  • Mountain Lake Biological Field Station
  • University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (Summer Field Camps)
  • UGA Marine Science and Coastal Ecology Program: Outdoor Field Studies
  • Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation: Rocky Knob BioBlitz

Question 5:

Who are the BRDC “audiences”?


  • Kids:Grade Schoolers, High Schoolers, Home Schoolers
  • Young Adults: College Students, Graduate Students
  • Families
  • Adults
  • Locals
  • Outsiders
  • Tourists
  • Underprivileged
  • Overprivileged
  • Nature Lovers
  • Nature Skeptics
  • Minorities


Write a narrative from the perspective of an audience persona for one of the most popular choices for new programs.


Primitive Tech Camp/Bushcraft/Living Museum Native Amer. Village
Homeschooler:  Noah, 10 yrs:

"Since the world is my classroom this camp was perfect for me!  I loved the hand's on discovery and creative activities:  making my own Native American "artifacts", tanning a real deer hide with its own brain, cooking Indian food that they would have made hundreds of years ago.  I liked listening to the real Native American, Mr. White Eagle, as he told us Indian folklore stories and showed us how to wrap an arrowhead around a shaft.  Our group of kids got to plan our own Native American village based on real archaeological finds.  We all came up with our own Indian names and Mr. White Eagle painted all our faces with real Native American symbols.  It was all cool and I learned so much.  My mom has assigned me a report to write of this experience and I can hardly wait!"

Whitetop SiteSection
The old white chick (local nature lover, 50+years old, with 2 years of college):

"I heard about this event through friends that live in western Grayson County who have participated in what they call the Mt. Rogers Naturalist Rally. Having never been before, I was attracted to the idea of a fall event since I love fall in the mountains anyway.
But I had no idea what a site section was, so asked for an explanation. My friends couldn’t really give me much of an answer except to say that all of us would be looking for different critters and plants, and that experts would be on hand to help us. My particular interests are wild flowers and birds, and it worked out that I was given a choice on what I wanted to explore. We had great fun, especially when we compared notes after a day of scrambling around the mountain. It also felt good to be a part of something scientifically important."

BRDC Discovery Birthday Parties
Persona: A middle age mother of three kids age 4, 6, 8 who lives in Grayson County. It’s her son’s birthday and she wants to celebrate with a fun, new experience rather than streamers and clowns.

"BRDC is just so wonderful! For a reasonable price, I was able to host a memorable birthday for my son’s 8th birthday without all the hassle of intricate planning or inviting a clown. BRDC actually had a list of all the activities they could facilitate. My son chose fresh water snorkeling and we had 8 of his friends out on the expedition. BRDC provided equipment, guides, and instruction. The kids loved it! The best part was that the parents didn’t have to do a thing other than invite the kids and bring cake and snacks. It went so well that we are planning my daughters 6th birthday. She wants to have a sleep over with an astronomy lesson."

Space Camp
11 year old boy

"I really liked the BRDC Space and Science Camp. I got to do lots of hands on experiments with other kids. We got to be outside all day and night too. We were busy all day doing things. I have always been interested in science but now I got to do science and really see how things work. At night I learned a lot about planets and constellations and even about how the stars change with the seasons and in different hemispheres. Also learned how people have followed the stars all through history. It is neat to have a tie to the past and be excited about all the things science can do in the future too. It was lots of fun to be outside and stay out all night with old and new friends doing things that I am interested in."

Northern saw-whet Owl Banding Station
Local, 4th grade, underprivileged girl

"I really wasn't interested in learning about birds at all, but my class studied owls. Then we got to do a cool activity where we dissected owl pellets- what the owl throws up after it eats.  There were tiny skulls of mice and stuff and it was really neat."

"I thought I knew what owls looked like, then I saw a picture of the Saw Whet owl- what a weird little owl!  Very small with such big eyes.  Apparently scientists don't know a lot about those little birds and nobody in my class had ever seen one since they fly at night."

"We got to visit a banding station on a field trip and meet the scientists who are studying the owls and learn about how they catch them.  I think it would be a really neat job to be a bird scientist and get to stay up all night studying owls."

Excavation of Cave Shelter
16 year old female

"It was a great experience to excavate a unique cave site.  I didn’t realize all the preparation that goes into setting up a dig.  The measuring, photographing and documenting was tough. I enjoyed learning about the tools used in archaeology and how to use them.  It was dirty, tedious work but very rewarding.  I would like to learn more about dating the artifacts we found."

The Amazing Race
Middle aged woman, outsider with kids

"I am a visitor to the area along with my husband and our 9 year old son and 7 year old daughter. We heard about this nature scavenger hunt that was happening up at Grayson Highlands Park and decided to participate. It was a delightful opportunity for my kids to quickly make friends and join in the excitement. The activity created an atmosphere of interaction and cooperation. Parents too were swept up in the fun. We enjoyed meeting all the local folks. The game itself introduced us to some of the natural wonders of the area."
"We are presently searching for land in Grayson County and are looking forward to becoming active members of BRDC!"

Fly Fishing Camp
12 Year old girl with two younger sisters

"My dad taught me how to fish when I was seven, but not this kind of fishing. I love anything outdoors especially on the river. I struggled at first with the casting but I got better at it on the second day. Besides getting to explore a bunch of beautiful places, my favorite part was learning how to tie flies. I've got three chickens at home that I'm planning on collecting feathers from. I was very impressed by Mrs. Benish and her casting skills, she casted much better than the guy who was also teaching. I wish I would have caught more fish during the camp, but I guess I need to practice more. Next, I really want to learn to fish from a kayak!"

Blue Ridge Expedition
From the perspective of a 7 year old who attended a BRE family hike.

"We had SO much fun on our BRDC expedition!  First, we met Scott and Evan in the parking lot and they explained what we would do on the hike and they gave us BRDC journals to draw pictures and identify what we encounter on the hike.
Our hike was on Jun 22, 2015, first we checked the air temperature and I entered that in my journal.  Before we made it to the woods, Scott pointed out a Phoebe, I entered it specifics in the species sited section of the journal.  
Once we made it to the river we tested the water temp, depth, clarity, and PH. My mom told me it was very important that the water was healthy and it was all OK.  We saw some water bugs too. We saw some deer scat along the trail. Our next trip is__________. I hope we see a_________ and I'm going to invite my friends on the next excursion."