05 December 2011
With Cynthia Paulson
They began appearing in the winter of 2006. At first count, there were only 21. Since then they have increased steadily in numbers, appearing regularly a bit like clockwork, but collectively changing as more and more are added. You can spot them along the Forgotten Coast as far west as Apalachicola, sometimes on St. George Island, deep in Tate’s Hell, and here and there around Carrabelle. Most recently one has been seen at St. Theresa and there are a known few at Alligator Point. To the east, some can be found along the Wacissa and Aucilla Rivers. Their range extends northward into the counties of Leon and Gadsden. Most often they appear in a variety of outdoor places, but they also are quite likely to show up at a lecture, public meeting or local festival. The greatest group of them lives right here in Wakulla County and you don’t have to look very far to bump into one. Even though the numbers continue to multiply, the value of each one keeps increasing - because you just can’t simply go out and buy one. You have to earn that coveted Green Guide hat.
Certified Green Guides wear our embroidered green baseball caps proudly. We may come from all different walks, but we are tied together by the common thread of love for our natural, cultural and historical surroundings. Each of us have completed 90 hours of extensive training from quality instructors in the core components of basic business skills, ecotourism ethics, essential elements of natural ecosystems and native species. We have received superior classroom and field training in birding, wildlife, botany, geology, history and more. Each of us came to earn the hat for various individual reasons – some to enhance an existing nature based business, some to develop their own new business, and others to merely enrich their lives with supplemental knowledge and new experiences. What many take away at the completion of the program ends up being a whole lot more than they ever expected. Because when a class participant puts on their crisp new green hat, their life forever changes.
Green Guides are active stewards of our natural, cultural and historical resources. Even when they are not wearing the invaluable green hat, they observe and educate others in environmentally safe practices. As participants progress through the course, they begin to observe the world through different eyes. Senses are heightened. Colors deepen. The sounds of nature become recognizable. The slightest of natural nuances are noticed. People, places and things once taken for granted, take on new meaning with appreciation and understanding. Tiffiny Hewitt-Brown, a recent graduate who grew up in Panacea says she has a “whole new depth of experience” when she revisits places she has always known. Her fellow classmate, Red Cherry who grew up hunting and fishing the local woods and waters agrees. Red says he now “digests, observes and appreciates in a different way.”
The tenth class of the Ecotourism Institute of the Tallahassee Community College Wakulla Center recently graduated ten new students from the certification program. “My best experience in years,” exuberantly declares new graduate, Kathy Lewis. Every Green Guide class develops its own unique personality created through the varied experiences each brings and shares with the class. This milestone class #10 is no different. Each of the ten new graduates sought the Green Guide hat for reasons they explained during their final presentations at the recent graduation.
It was “Killer Bugs from Hell – Tate’s Hell” that motivated entomologist, Serge LaTour to give a lively battle of the bugs tutorial. Set to the background 1945 folksong, “The Ballad of Tate’s Hell,” Serge gave an entertaining performance. He envisions taking his presentation into the field on bug tours to Tate’s Hell State Forest. Debbi Clifford, long time key staff member of Gulf Specimen Marine Lab who manages the office, but also participates in specimen collection and marine research programs is a talented photographer as well. She narrated a beautiful slideshow sampling of the field trip adventures taken during the 10 week course, unanimously rated as the highlight of the program.
Keith Parmer, professional water quality expert, gave a technical presentation outlining his business plan which involves both recreation opportunities and sustainable projects that incorporate “green chemistry.” He credited his experience with the Green Guide course stating that he had learned more from this class and the interactions with his classmates than in the last 10 years he has lived in the area. Red Cherry echoed the same sentiment during his presentation “Getting to Know You.” He sang the praises of both the superb instructors and his fellow classmates, and declared this class more enjoyable than any other course he has taken.
Susan Jones is an elementary science teacher and a fifth generation Floridian who recently returned to her home roots from Virginia. She explained how synchronicity led her to enroll in the Green Guide program and how new doors have opened for her already. Tiffiny Hewitt-Brown, a fourth generation local also loves working with children and has a passion for fun. She signed up for the course simply wanting a business class to augment her new venture, Discovery Trail Tours, but herself discovered much more than she ever foresaw.
Shari Teters and Kathy Willis both drove every week from Franklin County to attend classes at the TCC Wakulla Center. Shari found the course to be a “lifesaver” for her and is excited to pass along the information she learned to her own children. Kathy talked about marketing during her presentation, “Old Business & New Business” and how unanticipated events can shape and impact business. She cautions us to preserve what is precious and fragile and mentions “nature grief” or sense of loss that occurs when an event such as the BP Oil Spill happens.
Joey Tillman and Dylan Parker are already ahead of most that enter the Green Guide program. Using the principles of sustainable ecotourism as his model, Joey operated a successful boat charter business in the Bahamas. He is now raising his family in Wakulla County and supports community based tourism. He plans to expand locally building on his ecotourism skills. Dylan, a college student and river guide for TNT Hideaway for the past 6 years now has increased his awareness of flora and fauna, and wants to help educate others as often and best he can.
“There is no limit to what a Green Guide can do,” one of the new graduates proclaims.
There are ten new handsome Green Guide hats. And there will be many more.
To get one of the coveted Green Guide hats, contact the TCC Wakulla Center, (850) 922-6290, or go to www. workforce.tcc.fl.edu/training/ for detailed course information.