Lesson Plan

Scenic Trail Discovery Hike

monarch caterpillar on milk weed
Monarch caterpillar on milk weed at Chickasaw Village Site, milepost 261.8, Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail
Photo by NPS staff

Overall Rating

Add your review (0 reviews)
Grade Level:
Ninth Grade-Twelfth Grade
Biology: Animals, Biology: Plants, Environment
2 hours in field with option for more time in class or at home
Group Size:
Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
Intro to Bio: 3a, 3b, 3c
Biology 1: 3, 3a, 3b, 3c
Botany: 2, 2b, 2c, 2d, 2e, 3, 3a, 3b, 3e, 4, 4a, 4d
Environmental Science: 2c, 2d, 2e, 2f, 3a, 3b, 3c
ecosystem, terrain, watershed, Sign, organic, science inquiry, inquiry, living, non-living, inorganic, Discovery Hike, hike, field trip, observation


Students will walk a trail and record information from observations. They will investigate the different living and non-living elements that make up one section of their local environment. The purpose of this lesson is three-fold. First students will make observations in a natural setting. Second they will learn to recognize diversity in one area of a trail. Third, they will be encouraged to think about why it is important to protect natural areas.


Enduring Understanding A great diversity of species increases the chance that at least some organisms survive large environmental changes.

Essential Question: What changes in diversity have people made in this National Park?


The Student will: make observations, and appreciate the function of natural diversity.


 Intro to Bio: 3a. Describe the criteria that must be present to distinguish between living and nonliving 3b. Analyze and explain the interactions among organisms for each level of biological organization. 3d. Predict the impact of human activities.

Biology 1: 3. Investigate and evaluate the interaction between living organisms and their environment. 3a. Compare and contrast the characteristics of the world's major biomes. 3b. Provide examples to justify the interdependence among environmental elements. 3c. Examine and evaluate the significance of natural events and human activities on major ecosystems.

Botany: 2 Distinguish among the characteristics of botanical organization, structure, and function. 2b. Differentiate the characteristics found in various plant divisions. 2c. Compare and contrast leaf modifications of gymnosperms and angiosperms 2d. Apply the modern classification scheme utilized in naming plants to identify plant specimens. 2e. Use inquiry to investigate and discuss the physical and chemical processes of plants. 3. Demonstrate an understanding of plant reproduction. 3a. Compare and contrast reproductive structures. 3 b. Differentiate among the vegetative organs of monocots, herbaceous dicots, and woody dicots. 3e. Categorize types of fruits and methods of seed distribution in plants. 4. Draw conclusions about the factors that affect the adaptation and survival of plants. 4a.List and assess several adaptations of plants to survive in a given biome. 4d. Research factors that might influence or alter plant stability and propose actions that may reduce the negative impacts of human activity.

 Environmental Science: 2c. Predict the impact of the introduction, removal, and reintroduction of an organism on an ecosystem. 2d. Develop a logical argument explaining the relationships and changes within an ecosystem. 2e. Explain the causes and effects of changes in population dynamics. 2f. Research and explain how habitat destruction leads to the loss of biodiversity. 3a,b,c: Discuss the impact of human activities on the environment, conservation activities and efforts to maintain and restore ecosystems.


The Natchez Trace Parkway has over 100 miles of hiking trails. Nearly three quarters the Natchez Trace Parkway's 52,000 acres are maintained in a "natural" condition, i.e., forests, non-agricultural fields, and open water. The majority of these lands are contained within the narrow 800 foot wide boundary that parallels the parkway itself. While it is by no way an intact, pristine ecosystem, the park is still exceptional from a natural resources standpoint.

The Natchez Trace Parkway forms an almost continuous greenway, or transect, from the southern Appalachian foothills of Tennessee to the loess soil bluffs of the lower Mississippi River. Over its length it crosses four ecosystem provinces, eight major watersheds, and twelve physiographic regions. Forest types range generally from oak-beech in the far south, to oak-pine mixes covering the vast middle section, to oak-hickory dominating in the north. Habitats represented within the park are diverse and include: streams, lakes, swamps, riparian woodlands, bottomland hardwood forests, upland hardwood forests, pine and mixed hardwood forests, prairie, fallow fields, and agricultural croplands. These habitats are preserved as living laboratories for scientific research, but are also available for the enjoyment and education of the visiting public.


1.) Location and Information Data Sheet

2.) Data Set General Information Sheet

3.) Soil Data Sheet

4.) Botanical Worksheets ( 2 pages)

5.) Field Trip Review Sheet

6.) Biology Questions Option Sheet (2 pages)

7.) Easy Plot Marker Examples

8.) 4 Flagged dowel markers

9.) Clipboard and pencil

10.) Measuring tape (optional)


Student Task: Students will be walking the trail as a large group but will make observations and fill out data sheets in small groups.

The Before the field trip: Divide the students into groups of up to four students and assign a group number. Have them pre-label their data sheets with group number and the date. The Trail Location and General Information Data Sheet may also be filled out as a class discussion. They should also fill out the Group Number on all of their data sheets. Tell students as they complete the data sheets, they may circle as many descriptors as is necessary in each category and take notes or make additional sketches on the backs of the data sheets.

The students will enter the trailhead, place their markers, write the Stop Number on the collection sheets and record observations for that Stop Number. When all students have recorded all observations and removed their markers, the teacher will signal them to walk for five minutes then stop, and record Stop Number 2. This will continue until all data sets are finished. (Option, if the students need a lot of direction, make the first stop before you enter the trailhead and after they have recorded their information have a class discussion about the observations and encourage appropriate entries.)

Student Instruction:

1.) Enter the trailhead and choose an area on the trail to mark a section of the trail about 5' long and about 3' feet back.

2.) CAREFULLY and only IF it is SAFE, place the markers at the corners of the observation area. If it is too hard to get to an area, just visually determine where the marker should go. This plot will be used for all observations with the exception of sounds that are heard or animals or insects that fly through the area. Justification is that the sounds do travel through the plot and flying animals/insects could possibly fly through the plot.

3.) When making observations, students should be encouraged to look upwards as well as on the ground.

4.) Move on to the next stop

At each stop:

First: Each small group collectively fills out a Data Set General Information sheet. This gives a general overview of the area. They MUST fill out all of the header information first. One student may record information but all students should contribute observations to be recorded on that sheet. They may make additions to the sheet as long as they are on that stop.

Second: Each small group collectively fills out a Soils sheet. This sheet gives a general indication of the geology of the area.

Third: Each student should fill out one each of the Botanical Data Sheets, Woody Plants and Herbaceous Plants. Each student in a group should record information about a DIFFERENT type of plant. See example answer sheet for more details.

When back in the classroom or for homework: students may complete the Field Trip Review worksheet.

Students may make group notebooks or one collective class notebook using their data sets.

Teacher Closure: Explain to the students that the place they visited is just a small part of the world and even a small part of the United States. The National Park Service manages over 390 locations both large and small that our country is preserving and protecting for us and future generations. Diversity is important both on and off National Park properties. It is the duty of the citizens of the USA to support efforts that include perpetuation the diversity of life on this planet.


Participation in the field trip, analysis of answers on the Field Trip Review worksheet.

Park Connections

Shows the elements of an ecosystem on the Natchez Trace.


1.) Review field trip results when teaching diversity or protection of the environment.

2.) Photo option: Have the students photograph the terrain and plant communities and complete notebooks about the trail.

3.) Other:

• Students could research and report on National Scenic Trails.

• Students could research and report on preservation.

• Students could research and report on how green areas affect mental well being.

Additional Resources

Exact watershed information can be found at





Ecosystem, terrain, watershed, sign, organic