Course Information and FAQ:

Questions? Please contact registration coordinator Kayla Rankin at 937-365-1935 or email


Cancellation Policy. Sorry, there is no guarantee of refunds for cancellations that occur after one month in advance of the event unless we have a waiting list. Please try to find someone to fill your place.

Recommendations of field guides that may be beneficial for studying the flowering plants and grasses of the prairies:   These will be sent to you in your confirmation two weeks prior to the workshop.

What background do I need to enjoy this course? Anyone with an appreciation for plants, especially summer flowers and prairie grasses will enjoy this course. The unique ecosystems of short grass prairies are especially fascinating botanically. Complete novices and intermediate students are equally welcome to attend. We have an accomplished naturalist and photographer leading us this weekend, so even experts will enjoy rubbing shoulders for a weekend with John.

Cell phone coverage and internet: Please note that the Sanctuary is in a rural location in the foothills of the Appalachians. Cell phone coverage is spotty and connectivity depends on your phone service company. However, Wi-Fi is available at the Museum headquarters where we will be spending a lot of time, and a short drive to Highway 50 connects to nearly every service provider. Sprint is the only carrier that works on Cave Road. 

Comfort in the Out-of-Doors: We will be spending most of our time in the field, so please pack clothing that will allow you to be comfortable for a variety of weather conditions, and for the possibility of hiking at night. The program will go on rain or shine. In southern Ohio, the low to mid-nineties are common daytime highs. We will be active from morning hours, in the heat of the day, and into the late afternoon.  Regardless, it will be hot. If you work daily in an air-conditioned environment, you might be wise to prepare for the course by taking mid-day walks so you can begin adjusting to midsummer outdoor temperatures.

Physical Capacity: Because the course is focused on outdoor activities, participants should be able to hike up to four miles a day sustainably without injury or severe discomfort, although in this course it is unlikely we will be hiking more than 2-3 miles a day. Off-trail hiking will be an occasional component of the course, but for the most part we will be following established trails. Trails may be narrow and uneven in nature at times. We will not be hiking so much as following the butterflies, therefore our walks will be dependably relaxed.

Location. This course will be held in the prairie preserves of rural Adams County, Ohio, recognized as a “go to” destination for the flora and fauna of eastern prairie islands. The weekend hub will be at the Ohio Star Retreat Center. Maximum attendance is 18 to 20 people.

Accommodations. The Ohio Star Retreat Center will be the gathering point, our lodging, and meal location for breakfast and dinner. The recently completed lodge offers clean and nicely appointed, double occupancy rooms  Lodging will be dormitory style with shared rooms and access to multiple bathrooms on a common hall. We will be operating as a folk school where participants are afforded the opportunity to participate in meal preparation and clean up.  We have found this setting engenders a close knit group, working together to help each other get the most out of the course. If you are not coming with a partner we will link you up with another registrant of the same gender. Click here for information about the Ohio Star Retreat Center. In the event that the retreat center is filled to capacity we have access to other nearby lodging facilities. Meals will be provided for all our participants at our gathering point, the Ohio Star Retreat Center.

What if I want a private room? For this course we are not able to offer access to private rooms.

Meals: All meals are provided from Friday dinner through Sunday lunch – six meals altogether. The Arc of Appalachia is well recognized for it’s fabulous meals that are often based on local organic produce. Meat and eggs are local and pasture-raised whenever available. All meals are provided with vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options. Meat is available for at least one meal a day. Eggs and cheese are frequent accompaniments. If you have other food restrictions, please make a note on the registration form and we will let you know how well we can accommodate your needs. All lodges have kitchen facilities if you need to supplement your diet.

Flying in? Participants may fly into either Cincinnati or Columbus. The Cincinnati regional airport, in Northern, Kentucky, is 1 hour and 30 minutes from West Union. The Columbus airport is a 2 hour drive from West Union. Shuttles are not available so participants may need to rent a car. If you wish to car-share from your home or airport, please let us know and we will get you in contact with any other interested participants.

Additional Expenses: Registrants will supply their own transportation to the Ohio Star Retreat Center, and to other field trip locations in south central Ohio. Carpooling can usually be arranged with other participants for day trips, and such carpooling is often necessary since some of our locations have limited parking. We recommend you offer a modest gas cost contribution if you link up with another.

Emergency Messages: Emergency messages for course participants can be left at the main line of the Highlands Nature Sanctuary (937) 365-1935 during daytime hours.

Should I prepare for insects?  We experience very few to no mosquitoes and no black flies. You may encounter ticks in the open fields, and chiggers in tall grass if you choose to wander off trail (which is a good reason not to), and a few deer flies in low moist areas. If any of these challenges are new for you, let us know and we will do our best to orient you. No exposure to at least some insects in southern Ohio is not a realistic expectation for outdoor field work. During every field trip there will inevitably be a few ticks found crawling up some of our registrants’ legs. If you see them, they are not a problem. Just brush them off. It’s the ones you don’t see that might pose a problem. Since we DO have deer ticks in southern Ohio, please read below.

A Special Note on Ticks. We will be orienting everyone to ticks in order to minimize exposure to disease which can be carried to you by deer ticks, an exposure which is unlikely but possible. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND THE USE OF ROSE GERANIUM OIL ON YOUR LEGS AND PANTS which has proved to be a good deterrent. We also recommend a good tick check at night before or after showering. If you have a partner, use him or her to do the ‘primate thing.” If you don’t, employ a mirror and don’t forget to check your hairline.

The key to addressing Lyme’s disease risk is to be aware of symptoms and  demanding proper diagnostic tests if you suspect the disease. You may know more than your doctor so being empowered is important. Lyme’s is treatable if detected in a reasonable time, but because deer ticks have not been in Ohio for very long, many doctors are slow to recognize the symptoms. Being informed and proactive provides you with the highest level of safety.  Here are some symptoms to remember, which tend to be flu-like:

  • Pain areas: in the joints or muscles
  • Whole body: fatigue, fever, or malaise
  • Joints: stiffness or swelling
  • Also common: appearance of large red blotches, sometimes with bulls-eye pattern,
  • Headache
  • Palsy

A Special Note on Chiggers. Chigger bites are very annoying if numerous, and are itchy but not dangerous. The best way to minimize or better yet, completely avoid, chigger exposure is to stay on the trail. Perhaps ironically, we have found that open-toed sandals attract less chiggers than socks and shoes. Chiggers love to bury into tight places between skin and clothing. Bare legs can also deter ticks because you can easily feel the more common dog tick crawling up your legs, as well as visually see them and easily send them on their way. We are not necessarily recommending shorts and sandals during the day, but if you enjoy wearing them, do so. You may fare better than your less scantily dressed colleagues.

Poison Ivy. We will not be going off-trail, so it is very unlikely you will be exposed to poison ivy. In any case, the leaders know the plant well and will help you avoid exposure. If you do touch the leaves, washing vigorously with soap within an hour avoids reactivity in most people.

What to bring to this course:

  • A copy of your favored field guide for prairie plants (See leader John Howard’s recommendations above).
  • Close-focusing binoculars are not necessary but will definitely get good use
  • Refillable water bottle
  • Comfortable shoes for hiking and outdoor wear
  • A small day pack for field trips
  • Rain gear
  • A notebook or clipboard and pen
  • Personal care items; soap, shampoo, etc. (towels, linens, and tissue are provided in the lodges)
  • Sunscreen if you use it (there are also environmental reasons not to- check it out)
  • A light-weight wide-brimmed hat for sun protection
  • Sunglasses if you are sensitive to bright sunlight.
  • Flashlight 
  • Insect repellent for ticks is recommended, see details above.
  • Optional: Your own first aid kit appropriate to your needs.
  • Pocket money for snacks and small purchases
Chaparral Prairie Nature Preserve
Butterfly Milkweed
Rattlesnake Master. Photo by Tom Croce.
Chaparral Prairie Nature Preserve.
Purple Coneflower.
Spider Milkweed.
Indian Paintbrush and Prairie Dock Leaves. Photo by John Howard.
Chaparral Prairie. Photo by Martin McAllister.