Connecting the environment of the ancient past with the natural and cultural history of yesterday and today.



Naturalist at Heart Program

We are always seeking new volunteers!

Call (812) 280-9970 for details.

2017 Volunteer Class Schedule


Group Volunteering / Service Learning      


Volunteer Hall of Fame


Volunteer Job Descriptions


Volunteers ID fossils for visitors on fossil beds          Volunteers pick up fossils from a road cut on a volunteer field trip.

Falls of the Ohio State Park’s Naturalist at Heart Program

People discovering and sharing geology, river ecology and natural & cultural history!


Do you wonder? Do you want to be able to answer questions that your children, grandchildren or friends have about the world around us?


Yes?  We are providing the opportunity for you to become a knowledgeable and inspired volunteer in our community. Consider joining our Naturalist at Heart program! All we ask from you is some time and energy.


Our Naturalist at Heart program seeks to develop learners and leaders for our community.


What do you get out of it?


• Once enrolled into the program, participants get free admission to “Falls Fundamentals” programs – a series of diverse, in-depth workshops. 

• Opportunities to continually develop and sharpen skills as an interpretive naturalist and to move into different training levels at your own pace.

• A supportive learning environment consisting of park staff, experts in a variety of fields and volunteers.

• Opportunities to experience more fully the rich natural and cultural heritage of the region, through classes, field trips, etc.

• Opportunities to use new knowledge and skills to help others learn about natural and cultural history, ecology, geology, and how these disciplines are intertwined.


What’s in it for the Falls of the Ohio State Park?


Research has shown that most people who care about nature have been influenced by others who are enthusiastic and show respect for their natural heritage. With over a half million visitors to the Falls of the Ohio annually, the staff can only reach a fraction of those who wish to learn. Through the Naturalist at Heart program, we are able to offer an enriching experience to more visitors.

Volunteers are expected to contribute to the Falls’ mission of providing opportunities for education and recreation while protecting the resources. As a volunteer in the Naturalist at Heart program, you will:

• Bring fresh ideas and enthusiasm.

• Through stationary and roving activities on the grounds, help more visitors make meaningful connections through informal interpretive opportunities.

• Become knowledgeable about specific program areas such as the geology of the park, George Rogers Clark, birds at the Falls, etc. and to offer or assist with related programs.

• Work with school and scout groups throughout the year.

• Extend the Falls’ capacity for offering a variety of program options such as morning and evening hikes, bird watching, nature exploration at the Button Bush wetland area or a hands-on fossil station by the gazebo.

• Be off-site representatives for our programs in your community.

• Spread the wealth of knowledge throughout the community and region.

• Mentor other volunteers.

• Become more literate about the natural world through reading books and articles.        

• Assist or lead in hands-on projects, such trail development, garden interpretation and maintenance, cleaning selected areas of the fossil beds, and more.


Program Levels for Naturalist at Heart


Bird watching volunteer class              Connie introduces potential volunteers to our Naturalist at Heart program.

Bird Watching Class                                               Orientation Class


To enter the Naturalist at Heart program, you must complete an application and goals sheet, as well as a commitment form. These forms may be e-mailed to you or may be picked up at the Interpretive Center during regular business hours. Once your application is complete, you will be contacted to discuss the program and your goals. The interview will allow you to determine if the program meets your needs. If it does, then you may enroll in the program offerings.

There are minimum requirements (see below), but there are many opportunities to get involved in the program at a pace determined by you. Choose to complete the minimum requirements or move to other levels more quickly.


Naturalist at Heart - Learner


Minimum Requirements:

• Opportunities for 40 hours of specialized training in general content of the program (river ecology, natural history, and geology) - a minimum of 25 hours is required

• Nine hours of specialized training to interpret the Falls

• Minimum of 50 hours of volunteer time


• Free access to all public programs sponsored by the park and classes not open to the public

• Involvement in a community of like minded individuals with fun and informative gatherings, learning from peers, research days, and much more

• Access to a variety of resources including experienced staff and volunteers, the park’s resource library, etc.

Naturalist at Heart - Leader


Individuals advancing to this level will be able to conduct informal programs.

In addition to completion of Learner requirements:

• Increased opportunities to develop skills in interpretation and program development

• Assist with off-site community outreach opportunities

• Invitation to participate in the park’s annual strategic planning session

• Focused knowledge of a selected topics of interest

• Learn by assisting - reinforcing and sharing your knowledge with additional opportunities to assist in mentoring and training


Naturalist at Heart - Innovator


Individuals advancing to this level will be able to conduct both formal and informal programs.

In addition to the Leader requirements:

• Learning by Leading - reinforcing and sharing your knowledge with additional opportunities to participate as weekend program leaders, on special projects, committees, and more.

• Opportunities for professional development, certification, and conferences

• Off-site community outreach leadership opportunities

• Increased opportunities at specific locations with focused Independent Study such as the fossil beds, the wetland areas, GRC home site, etc.


How do I become a Naturalist at Heart?


1. Attend a Naturalist at Heart Orientation with Volunteer Coordinator Dale Brownr

2. Complete a Naturalist at Heart application, goals and commitments form

Learner Requirements: Sign up for all training courses and time with visitors at least three days prior to attendance by contacting Alan Goldstein (ext. 403) or

3. Complete relevant Interpretive Intro courses such as:

II 100: Fundamentals & Applied of Interpretation

II 101: Interpretation on the Fossil Beds

4. Complete a minimum of 21 hours (7 of 10) of Falls Fundamentals courses:

FF 100: About the Falls 

FF 101: Geology of the Falls 

FF 102: Recognizing Fossils 

FF 103: Wildflowers Identification (usually spring wildflowers)

FF 104: Identifying Trees

FF 105: Aquatic Life in the Ohio River

FF 106: Birds at the Falls 

FF 107: History at the Falls

FF 108: Prehistory of the Falls area

FF 109: Introduction to Charlestown State Park (our sister property)

Participants are required to take seven of nine courses to complete Level 1 certification.

5. VT 100: Contribute a minimum of 50 hours of additional Volunteer Time interacting with the public to share what you are learning – primarily during the busier months (March – November) or working behind the scenes, preferably within the first year of enrollment.

6. VE 100: Volunteer Electives will count for training once you have completed all the II and FF courses - otherwise they are supplemental learning. VE’s include: Service Learning Projects, Selected Public Programs, and Research Days, and Naturalist at Heart special programs. A minimum of seven hours of electives are required for Learner certification.

7. Complete a written evaluation and discussion of the program to move on to the next level.


Progression to Other Levels


To begin Naturalist at Heart Leader volunteers must:


1. Have successfully completed the Learner requirements.

2. Complete the Interpretive Intro courses relevant to your interests:

II 200: Outdoor Fossil Lab

II 201: 1803 Interpretation

II 202: Indoor Fossil / Mineral Labs

II 203: Indoor Archaeology Lab

II 204: Scout Programs

II 205: The Outer Bed Experience

II 206: Rose Island Hikes

II 207: Informal Outreach

II 208: Formal Outreach

II 209: Topics in Interpretation (i.e., Dealing with Disgruntled visitors, etc.)

3. Complete a minimum of 42 hours (14) of Falls Fundamentals courses, selecting those that relate to your volunteer "major":

Volunteer Class Topics


Classes offered (alternate years)


B = Biology

B200 – Topics in Biology

B201 – Mussels

B202 – Fish

B203 – Birding / Ornithology

B204 – Reptiles & Amphibians

B205 – Edible & Medicinal Plants

B206 – Endangered Species

B207 – Invasive plants & animals

B208 – Urban Animals

B209 – Mushrooms

B210 – Insects

B211 – Crustaceans


G = Geology

G200 – Geology of Kentuckiana

G201 – Paleo-ecology at the Falls

G202 –Understanding Evolution

G203 – Geologic Time

G204 – Origin of the Ohio River

G205 – The Ice Age

G206 – Introduction to Rocks

G207 – Topics in Geology

G208 – Topics in Paleontology


H = Human Culture

H200 – Archaeology

H201 – George Rogers Clark

H202 – History of Ohio River Navigation

H203 – County History

H204 – Lewis & Clark

H205 – Topics on History at the Falls

H206 – Topics on History at Charlestown State Park


M = Miscellaneous

M200 – Managing the National Wildlife Conservation Area

M201 – Park Collections & Library

M202 – Virtual Tour of the Outer Beds

M203 – Falls Website

M204 – Photography

M205 – Gardens / Topics in Horticulture

M206 Recycling


4. VT 200: Contribute a minimum of 75 hours (cumulative 125 hours with level 1). Volunteer time is for interacting with the public, sharing what you learn, and where needed.

5. Volunteer electives adding up to a minimum of 25 hours:

VE 200: Service Learning Projects (5 hours) - a project at the park

VE 201: Selected Public Programs (25 hours) - relevant programs anywhere (museums, parks, historical homes, zoos, etc.)

6. Complete a written evaluation and discussion of the program to move on to the next level.


  Volunteers learn to prepare food from edible wild plant parts.

Edible and Medicinal Plants Workshop   


College students pull garlic mustard along our Woodland Trial.

Volunteers pulling garlic mustard


To begin Naturalist at Heart Innovator volunteers must:

1. Have successfully completed earlier requirements.

2. Have shown an involvement in the program of 100 hours or more for at least one year.

3. Select an independent study project.


Mark Jamison, our 2009 volunteer of the year, works with kids at the Fossil Fest.

Mark Jamison, 2009 Volunteer of the Year


What is Interpretation?


"Interpretation" is defined as the activities through which a museum carries out its mission and educational role: Interpretive media/activities include, but are not limited to: exhibits, tours, websites, classes, school programs, publications, outreach.

The Naturalist at Heart program operates on three simple premises:

1. Process — We learn best by doing, by being actively engaged, hence the program emphasizes service as an effective learning strategy. In the context of this program, service means sharing what you learn with Falls of the Ohio visitors.

2. Content — We “will not fight to save what we do not love,” and we tend to love that which we understand. Therefore, the program emphasizes learning about our region’s geologic history and native flora and fauna.

3. Reflection — An intimate knowledge of the local landscape and the natural cycles that sustain humans and other life forms can be a springboard into greater global ecological understanding.


A volunteer assists with a river mussel exhibit.

Volunteer, Jackie Conner with river mussel collection

Don't live near the Falls? If you live in Indiana, you can become an Indiana Master Naturalist. This program is similar to our Naturalist at Heart program, but you can volunteer anywhere in the state.

Updated May 27, 2017