September 19, 2021
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Learn to become a naturalist

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
August 30, 2019

Starting Sept. 10, the Fairfield Osborn Preserve, a 450-acre preserve owned and managed by Sonoma State University, will offer a four-day naturalist program to members of the public with the goal of becoming a docent to lead student field trips during the school year.

The training will take place every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. over the course of four weeks, with a practice tour on Oct 8. During the training community members will learn all about the local flora, fauna and geology of Sonoma Mountain where the preserve is located, as well as how to share nature’s secrets with children. Topics will include Native American cultural perspectives, watersheds, aquatic insects, birds and mammals. Participants will also explore the eight ecological communities of the Osborn preserve to learn first-hand what is covered in the classroom. 

Once a participant completes the training they are invited to enjoy exclusive events and hikes with regional experts.

“For example, we have one coming up about bats presented by our local bat experts who have their bat handling permit,” says Julie Wittmann, Naturalist Training Coordinator for the Center For Environmental Inquiry at Sonoma State University. “It’s an invite-only exclusive event for our veteran naturalists. We do offer these exclusive events every semester for our naturalists to keep them interested and help support their fields so they can learn how to look for evidence and share that information with school children.”

Anybody is invited to participate who can walk at least a mile and can commit to leading at least five tours for school children in grades three to five on Tuesdays throughout the fall, or Saturday hikes for the public. The training is free, other than a $40 registration fee to cover the costs of supplies. The school groups come primarily from schools in the Rohnert Park Cotati Unified School District. 

“My favorite thing is to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get to experience the outdoors and when they make discoveries on their own which are guided and supported by the naturalists that are trained through our community naturalist training program,” says Wittmann.

Today, the Fairfield Osborn Preserve hosts about a thousand children per year, who learn everything from local flora and fauna, to California history depending on teachers’ requests and the investigation and exploration on behalf of the children.

For those unable to participate but who would still like to check out this preserve normally closed to the public, Fairfield Osborn offers public hikes every Saturday at 10 a.m. starting from Oct. 19 through Nov. 23. The tours generally last until about 2 p.m. The preserve is located at the top of Lichau Road in Rohnert Park and advanced registration is not required. 

The preserve has several other events for the public this fall, including an Autumn Writing Walk on Oct. 13 to learn how to capture the wonder of the outdoors on the written page, a natural history hike on Oct. 19 to explore diverse ecosystems on Sonoma Mountain and a Christmas bird count for kids on Dec. 15.

The deadline to register for the community naturalist program is Sept. 8. For more information, visit or contact Julie Wittmann at