Tallahassee Community College’s Wakulla Center is providing classes for Green Guides, ecofriendly tour guidesGreen GuidesExperience Nature with a Green Guide
By Jaclyn Emerick
Just a few miles south of the hustle and bustle of downtown Tallahassee exists a unique environment rich with wildlife and lush forests. Distinctive sinkholes, cave systems and remarkable bird-watching make Wakulla County one of the Forgotten Coast’s favorite natural destinations for ecotourists.
Now, thanks to a new educational program at Tallahassee Community College’s Wakulla Center, “Green Guides” are being trained to act as tour guides through these natural wonders.
The Wakulla Ecotourism Institute and Green Guide program certifies students as qualified nature guides and environmentalists. All ages are accepted, and a passion for nature is a prerequisite. In December, the program graduated its first class of 19 students.
“We have a variety of students who love nature and want to do for a living what people do on vacation,” said Mary Wolfgang, director of the Eco-tourism Institute.
At least 70 percent of Wakulla County’s natural land is protected, meaning that it never will be developed. Green Guides will help keep it that way, Wolfgang said.
“One way that we help ensure that the land is protected is to be able to visit it in an informed and ethical way,” she said.
Through economic development of the community and the growing hospitality of eco-friendly businesses, residents of Wakulla County are looking for more ways to enjoy everything Wakulla has to offer. That’s where the Green Guides fit in.
The genesis of certified nature-based tour guides came from ideas generated by both the Wakulla County Economic Development Council and Wolfgang’s experience in developing programs for the Ecotourism Institute. Wakulla County locals wanted it, too.
The class requires students to complete a prescribed number of hours in the classroom and in the field. Still in its formative stages, the program has yet to be exported into a curriculum that offers academic credit hours. However, Wolfgang said she believes there is a possibility of that happening in the future. Currently, the program is considered more of a work force credential.
The curriculum tends to change according to the level of the individual student’s outdoor expertise and interests, Wolfgang said. Students gain essential knowledge of historical culture, learn how to protect and preserve the diverse North Florida environment, and acquire basic business and environmental skills. Graduates earn a certificate that will
enable them to create a business-savvy network of nature-centered, environmentally ethical programs. This certificate is locally recognized and renewable, and some of its graduates already have put it to use by opening small ecotourism businesses that offer such things as boating, hiking, fishing and birding.
“Green Guides connect visitors to the county because they are experienced and ethical,” Wolfgang said. “They know the safety mechanisms and they know customer service.”
TCC is the only community college that offers the Green Guide certifi-cation program; however, the Wakulla Ecotourism Institute already is fielding inquiries from interested parties in other rural areas and around the Big Bend who would like to adopt a similar program.
“Each area has its own unique nature and heritage,” Wolfgang said.
The home-grown program still is “just a baby,” according to Wolfgang, but ecotourism is moving in the right direction since the program began just last year.
“There is in infinite number of things and places to learn about just in this area,” she said. “The more you learn, the more you know is out there.”
Graduates can pursue related natural and environmental programs available throughout the area. The Green Guide program is a steppingstone in the lifelong exploration of nature, Wolfgang said.
All classes are open to the public for a full fee of $500. Those with an Ecotourism Institute Membership can choose from the six courses for only $90.
Partial and full scholarships are availa-ble. For more information on the Wakulla Ecotourism Institute and the Green Guide program, call (850) 922-6290 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.