Cheaha State Park

Cheaha State Park PreK-12 Field Trip and Outreach Curriculum

Cheaha State Park PreK-12 Field Trip and Outreach Curriculum


Building an appreciation for nature is critical to increasing connections to natural resources, appreciation for public green space, inspiring sustainability, and personal well-being.  Our park offers opportunities for a hands-on approach to learning about the natural world, about cultural heritage, and environmental arts.. By providing outdoor and place-based education to people of all ages, we increase the number who understand the value of nature, enjoy time out of doors, connect to Alabama’s heritage, and are therefore more likely to take steps to protect the uniqueness of our state.

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”  -Albert Einstein


Program Objectives


-Increase awareness of and knowledge about the environment.
-Connect citizens, communities, and the state through a “sense of place”
-Develop a sense of responsibility toward the conservation and stewardship of natural resources.
-Cultivate an understanding of the association between spending time outdoors and personal well-being. 
-Inspire a creative vision for connection, collaboration, community and careers.
-Defeat Nature-Deficit Disorder.
-Encourage environmental literacy through research, reading, arts, and cultural activities.

Our outdoor environmental education programs embrace teachable moments that occur regularly in the outdoor nature classroom. The instructors each have their own teaching style and choose activities for classes that best suits their area of expertise. Instructors will cover the key terms and principles of each class and classes are correlated to state Course of Study and the Environmental Education Association of Alabama Environmental Literacy Plan (Best Practices in EE).


Methods of Measurement:

Verbal assessment; written evaluations; participant surveys; semantic web activities; teacher assessment; social media; email discussions; Educational Advisory Committee meetings and input from the community


Partners and Allies:                      

Alabama State Parks, Legacy Partners in EE, Environmental Education Association of Alabama (EEAA), Longleaf Botanical Gardens, Alabama Parks and Recreation Department (PARD), Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance, Alabama Clean Water Partnership, Alabama Scenic River Trails, ACES, Choccolocco Creek Watershed Alliance, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Friends of the Talladega National Forest, Discovering Alabama, and many diverse others.


Program and Event Cheaha State Park Staff Contacts:

Mandy Pearson, CSP Naturalist 
Email:     (256) 412-9938


Scottie Jackson, Central District Naturalist
Email:     (256) 557-5111 Cellular


Customized Field Trips and Outreach Programs

Introduce your family, class, club, troop or group to the wild places of Alabama State Parks. These are curriculum-based, hands-on, fun and educational field or classroom experiences. Most of these topics can be adapted from field to indoor/outdoor classroom and we adapt to the “age or grade level” of our participants.

Fees range from $5-$20 per student depending on topic choices and group size. (MINIMUM $150 per program fee) 

Cheaha State Park Classroom/Nature Center Interpretive Programs (1 hour)

Indoors/Power Point & Hands-on Naturalist Programs provided as Classroom Outreach or at Cheaha State Park: Bugs, Bats, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Featherless Flyers, Birds of Prey, Leave No Trace, Mammals, Reptiles, or Trees and Me. Presented by Mandy Pearson, Park Naturalist.

Extended Field Trips (2- 6 hours at Cheaha State Park):

Customized field trips available upon request; Topics dependent upon instructor availability

Cheaha State Park Field Trip/Learning Station Topics: Programs may consist of one or more topics.


Splashing in My Puddle (Water Shed/Water Cycle)

1st-5th Grades

Non-hike options available

Activities: Students will review the water cycle and the importance of freshwater environments to plants and animals. Students will participate in activities to help them better understand these aquatic ecosystems and the effects of human impact upon them.


-Ponds, creeks and rivers are part of the water cycle. They are important to all living things.

-Aquatic creatures are diverse and interrelated.

-Aquatic creatures have specialized adaptations for feeding, breathing and moving to help them survive in specific micro-habitats such as at the surface or at the bottom of the water or in a pool or a riffle.

-Human actions can alter the health of a creek, river and pond.

Key Terms: water cycle, food chain, adaptation, nymph, larvae, detritus, pollution, tolerance, tributary, erosion, sediment, species, indicator species, macro-invertebrate, sampling, habitat


Water Kids! (Enhanced Water Quality)

Extension: Creek Kids Curriculum (USFWS)

7th Grade - Adult

Indoor & Outdoor Programs

Activities: Through biological sampling of a, students gain an understanding of water quality parameters, learn how to assess water quality and become aware of the impact that humans can have on waterways.


-The physical and chemical properties of water determine what organisms can live there.

-Aquatic creatures have different tolerance levels to pollution based on their physical characteristics and behavior.

-Human actions can alter the chemical and physical properties of a river and thus affect its health.

-Each of us can help to monitor and improve water quality.

Key Terms: aquatic, adaptation, nymph, larvae, species, indicator species, detritus, pollution, tolerance, tributary, erosion, sediment, titration, dissolved oxygen, pH, acid, base, turbidity, water molecule and watershed


Forest Walk (Natural Connections)

2nd Grade - Adult

Moderate 1 – 3 mile hike (depends upon grade level and teacher request)

Options: Medicinal and edible plant focus; native species vs. non-endemic species

Activities: Activities that focus on structure, function and identification of native plants that help the student see every plant as a unique living organism. The students will be guided through the forest, studying the interdependence of the living and non-living components.


-Plants are important to the forest and to people.

-A plant is composed of specific parts which function together to create a life-supporting system.

-Each plant species has unique physical characteristics (i.e., leaves, bark, and shape) that help to identify it.

-Air, water, animals, plants and soil are the continuously recycled, interdependent components of the forest community.

Key Terms: community, photosynthesis, oxygen, carbon dioxide, decomposer, soil, heartwood, sapwood, xylem, phloem, bark, root, lobed, opposite, compound, dichotomous key, deciduous, evergreen


Tree Talk (Botany)

6th Grade - Adult

1-3 Mile Hike (Teacher preference)

Activities: Students explore the recreational, ecological, and economical use of the forest. Through a hike, discussions, measurement activities, and role playing, students analyze their own values.


-A value is the worth of something.

-Different people value different uses of forests.

-Forestry is the science which strives to maintain and develop forests for human use.

-Human use of the forest can have both positive and negative effects on the forest community.

Key Terms: value, habitat, forestry, natural resources, renewable, non-renewable, aesthetic, economic, hardwood, softwood, merchantable, endangered species


Walk a Mile in My Moccasins (Cultural Heritage)

3rd Grade - Adult

Hiking or non-hike options

Options: Native American Games; Native American Tools & Weapons; Native American Arts (Pottery or Weaving); Native American Storytelling

Activities: Hands-on activities including games, crafts, tools, weapons, edible/medicinal plants, and demonstrations to help students understand the sustainability of prehistoric and historic Native American lifestyles.


-People depend upon the environment for food, water and shelter.

-Subsistence living requires a great knowledge of nature.

-The Native American lifestyle, which was closely connected to nature, led to a respect for the environment.

-After meeting the basic needs for survival, Native Americans could enjoy the luxuries such as recreation, adornment, and entertainment.

Key Terms: hunter/gatherer, edible, artifact, technology, primitive, prehistoric, sustainable, bluff/rock shelter, debris hut, village, roundhouse, atlatl, migrate, Bering Strait

*Extensions: Brother Leaf Storytelling and Nature Crafting with author Renee Simmons Raney


Windows to Nature: Enhancing Observation Skills and Nature Connections through the Art of Fairy Houses

1st Grade – Adult

This program, developed and led by author Renee Simmons Raney, has received national and international recognition. “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.” -Albert Einstein

Activity: The activity of building fairy houses offers unique opportunities for cross-curricula education. While children are fully engaged with building a fairy house they are stimulated in many ways – creating, observing, collecting, exercising, communicating and imagining – all while having lots of fun. Expanded environmental education will also boost academic achievement.

Environmental Literacy: Hairy, Scary, but Mostly Merry Fairies: Curing Nature Deficiency through Folklore, Imagination and Creative Activities (written by Renee S. Raney; Fairy Houses curriculum received special recognition from Oxford University, 2008)


-Observation, connections, balance and team work increase the understanding of conservation basics.

-Nature doesn’t have to be large and overwhelming; nature can be small and intimate.

-Imagination is the key to enrichment.

-Storytelling is a catalyst to nature education.

Key Terms:  Habitat, Range, Geography, Evergreen, Deciduous, Carnivore, Herbivore, Omnivore, Watershed, Dimensions, Layers, Design, Observation, Research, Comparison, Contrasting, Imagination!


Survival Skills (*aka Zombie Apocalypse Survival)

3rd Grade - Adult (All ages enjoy this unique twist on wilderness survival)

Activities: Students will learn skills and strategies for staying safe and calm in a lost wilderness situation. They will build skills in trip planning and preparation, utilization of outdoor equipment and gear, and primitive living skills. Students will use ingenuity and teamwork during the hands-on activities such as shelter building with natural resources, fire building, collecting potable water, and packing a survival kit.


-Traveling in the wilderness requires planning, preparation, and proper utilization of equipment.

-Nature can provide anything to meet the human body’s basic needs.

-The four important concepts to consider while traveling in the wilderness are preparation/planning, attitude, meeting your needs and knowledge.

Key Terms: survival, prevention, basic needs, conservation, debris shelter, itinerary, positive mental attitude (PMA), dehydration, hypothermia, potable, compass, transpiration, microorganisms, sustainability

*Note: This program has been adapted for gifted students, career technology students, home school groups, and scout groups to be a “Zombie Emergency Response Operations (ZERO).” It is natural history, survival, arts and emergency management-based learning. During the ZERO Workshop, participants become recruits to help citizens escape to conservation easements and wilderness areas to “not be found” and to learn how to survive sustainably. Naturalist Mandy Pearson can also incorporate “Camping 101” and “Leave No Trace” topics.


Nature Journaling & Creative Writing

4th Grade - Adult

Activities: Inspired by the smells, sounds, textures, and tapestry of nature, students learn to express themselves articulately. Sequenced drawing, sensory awareness, and observation activities help students hone their creative writing skills. Surrounded by forest, creeks, rivers and canyons, even the most reluctant writer finds that words come easily.


-Sensory details improve creative and descriptive writing.

-Careful observation brings a new awareness of, knowledge about and perspective on natural objects.

-Both authors and explorers utilize nature journals and art pencils as tools to improve their trade.

Key Terms: nature journal, observation, metaphor, simile, adjective, setting, scene, detail, naturalists, creativity, sketch, outline, original


Critter Tales (Zoology)

3rd – 5th Grades

Hike and non-hike options

Options: Focus can be on a variety of Alabama animals or specifically toward mammals, birds, reptiles or insects

Activities: Students participate in activities that illustrate animal adaptations. They can take a hike (or participate in an interactive classroom) to find evidence of animals in their habitats, examine animal pelts and skulls, and explore the effects of habitat loss. Students will make decisions about habitat requirements.


-A habitat is where an animal obtains food, water and shelter.

-An adaptation is a physical or behavioral attribute that allows an animal to survive in a particular environment.

-Habitat alteration and destruction is the number one problem for wildlife today.

Key Terms: food chain, predator, prey, community, adaptation, habitat, camouflage, niche, extinction, species, scat, track, wings, scales, fur, feathers


Un-Natural Trail Activity & Challenge

2nd Grade - Adult

Easy stroll

Activities: Students participate in a nature observation hike quietly counting the ‘un-natural items” they see hidden along the trail. This activity can become a measurable challenge for learning successful observation skills.


-Practice observation skills

-Learn the “ABCs” of looking with purpose

-Discuss the concepts of coloration, camouflage, and natural/un-natural objects

Key Terms:  observe, compare, coloration, camouflage, movement, collage, plant and animal adaptation


Hiss & Sslither (Herpetology)

PreK - Adult

Hike and non-hike options

Activities: Students participate in a hands-on experiential learning hour about herpetology (amphibians and reptiles). Students meet live non-venomous snakes.

Optional: Students participate in a “fake snake” hike to increase observation skills


-Identify different reptile and amphibian species and their characteristics.

-Learn about the selection, care, needs of herps and basic principles of herp behavior.

-Demonstrate movement of species.

-Explore the behavioral and chemical defense of reptiles and amphibians.

Key Terms: vertebrate, cold blooded, life cycle, venomous, non-venomous, Jacobson’s organ, fangs, unhinged jaw, adaptation, camouflage, estivate, endangered species, indicator species, habitat, predator, prey


Birds: Feathers, Beaks & Feet (Ornithology)

PreK- Adult

Hike and non-hike options

Activities: Students participate in a hands-on experiential learning hour focused on ornithology and the diversity of avifauna. Students study feathers, skulls, beaks, feet, bones, scat and pellets. Optional: Students participate in a bird identification hike or learn how to attract birds to their own yards/farms.


-Identify different bird species and their characteristics.

-Learn about the needs of birds and basic principles of bird behavior.

-Demonstrate movement of species.

-Explore the behavioral and chemical defense of birds.

-Discuss adaptations of several unique bird species.

Key Terms: Flight, sedentary, wings, feathers, talons, beak, egg, molt, plumage, nest, predator, prey, insectivore, carnivore, herbivore, warm blooded, pellet, scat, adaptation, habitat, forage, migration


Birds of Prey

2nd Grade - Adult

Hike and non-hike options (Bird of Prey observations at Bald Rock Overlook)

Activities: Students participate in a hands-on experiential learning hour focused on ornithology and birds of prey in particular. Students study feathers, skulls, beaks, feet, bones, scat and pellets. Instructor will use creative drama to “Build a Bird of Prey” transforming a student into an eagle!  Optional: Students participate in a bird identification hike. Optional: Students dissect owl pellets and report on the type of prey the owls are eating.


-Identify different bird species and their characteristics.

-Learn about the needs of birds and basic principles of bird behavior.

-Demonstrate movement of species.

-Explore the behavioral and chemical defense of birds.

-Discuss adaptations of several unique bird species.

Key Terms: Flight, sedentary, wings, feathers, talons, beak, egg, molt, plumage, nest, predator, prey, insectivore, carnivore, herbivore, warm blooded, pellet, scat

Who was here in the night? (Scat & Tracks)

3rd Grade-Adult

Activities: Investigating signs that animals leave behind


-Identify types of consumers by inspecting the characteristics of scat, tracks, and other evidence, using "Process of Elimination" techniques to aid animal identification

-Drawing conclusions about animal behavior based on evidence

Key Terms: Track, scat, sign, ecological story, animal behavior, nocturnal, diurnal, watershed, predator, prey


American Black Bears: Amazing Omnivores

2nd Grade-Adult

Activities: Through interpretive teaching techniques such as role play, creative drama, and a black bear “rap” song, students are immersed in the natural history of the American black bear. (Drama & music created by Rene Simmons Raney for Great Smokey Mountain Institute in Tremont, 1998; received Southeastern Museums Interpretive Program award 1999; received National Association of Interpretation Creative Program award 2005)


-Students will gain an understanding of the basic needs black bears require to survive and thrive in their environment. 

-The basic needs of all animals are food, water, air, shelter and space.  If these needs are not met the animal may die or not thrive.

Key Terms: Omnivore, hibernation, mammal, warm blooded/endothermic, forager, ranges, predator, prey relationships, conservation


Insect Safari (Entomology)

3rd – Adult

Outdoor/easy walk

Activities: Through discovery-oriented explorations of habitats, students collect and study insects in their natural setting. Students use sweep nets, collecting jars and magnifying equipment.


-Insects are amazing in their adaptations and abundance.

-Most small creatures are harmless to humans.

-These animals play invaluable roles in ecological processes such as decomposition and pollination.

Key Terms: niche, adaptation, head, thorax, abdomen, invertebrate, arthropod, arachnid, decomposer, pollinator, herbivore, predator, species, venomous, poisonous


Bibbity Bobbity Bugs & Bug Hunt

PreK-2nd Grades

Outdoor/easy walk

Activities: Students are led on an insect identification hike that includes live bugs and fake bugs. Creative drama activities are woven into the science so that the children are taught about the movement and sounds of insects through experiential play.


-Insects are amazing in their adaptations and abundance.

-Most small creatures are harmless to humans.

-These animals play invaluable roles in ecological processes such as decomposition and pollination.

Key Terms: insect, arachnid, wings, legs, head, abdomen, thorax, stinger, pollen, flowers, color, camouflage


Teddy Bear Hike (Observations and Connections)

Pre-K to 2nd Grade

Activities: Students take an easy hike along a trail with a naturalist. Toy (but realistic) stuffed animals have been placed along the trail in natural poses. The students stop at each animal and are asked a series of questions and then told a story about the animal.


-Many animals only come out at night.

-Most animals leave clues that they have been active in the forest

-Animals need food, water and shelter.

-Animals are connected to the forest in many ways.

Key Terms: mammal, bird, reptile, insect, fish, amphibian, camouflage, track, scat, carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, various animal calls (growl, bleat, bark, chirp, song)


Walk on the Wild Side (Careers in Science & Conservation)

6th  – 12th Grade

Hikes from 1 – 4 miles

Activities: During this class, students gain the opportunity to interact with professional naturalists to visit unique trails during a hike through the forest. Topics, just like flora and fauna, will change with the seasons. This can be an exciting option for allowing students to learn naturalist skills such as identifying plants, critters, tracks, and scat.


-Being mentored by a professional naturalist or biologist offers the students an opportunity to careers in the field

-Using a dichotomous key or field guide to identify plants

-Using a field guide to hypothesize which animals left tracks and/or scat on the trail

-Using observation skills

Key Terms: classification, diversity, habitat, identification, niche, adaptations, camouflage, scat, track, rub, scrape, den, nest, etc.


Rockin’ & Rollin’ (Geology/Geography)

4th Grade - Adult

0.5 mile hike (easy or moderate trails)

Non-hike options available

Activities: Students explore rock types, the rock cycle and the structure of local geology as it relates to the Earth. Students use observation skills to understand how the geology of the land affects the present ecosystem and how it gives clues about ecosystems of the past.


-The face of the Earth is constantly changing as rocks move through the rock cycle.

-Rocks can provide information about past environments in an area.

-Human behavior can cause processes such as erosion which affect the earth.

-Humans utilize rocks as natural resources in many ways.

Key terms: geology, rock cycle, metamorphic, sedimentary, igneous, erosion, geologic time, stratigraphy, deposition, soil, crust, mantle, core, nutrient cycle, interdependence, weathering and ground water

Curriculum developed and written by Renee Simmons Raney through much research, implementation, and assessment at the Anniston Museum of Natural History (1994-2004); Jacksonville State University Field Schools (2004-2015); Conservation Education Institute (2015-2017); Alabama State Parks (1994- 2022); Special thanks to all the partners, instructors, and advisors who have assisted with development, implementation and assessment over the past two decades.