Educational Programs

The Viles Arboretum offers outdoor education opportunities for students at all grade levels. 

General information:

Cost is $4 per child- $60 group minimum for each program.
We can bring programs to your classroom, or where your group meets, too. Ask about this as appropriate when you call.
Groups must provide one teacher or adult chaperone for every 10 to 12 students.
Come prepared for the weather - it can be chilly anytime of the year. Long pants, sturdy boots, and layers - such as sweaters and wind breakers that can be added or removed, are recommended.
While not all our trails are wheelchair accessible, there are programs and activities available for students with disabilities. Ask about this when you call.
Learn from knowledgeable staff and volunteers skilled in outdoor lore, plant identification, animal life, and wetlands.
Programs generally start at 9:30, 11:00, or 12:30 but may start at other times to better match the time you have available.
Groups may do self-guided tours. Please call ahead to let us know that you are coming.

Pre-scheduled groups may do self-guided tours. Please call ahead to let us know you are coming.

Inquiries & Reservations

Phone 626-7989 or e-mail us with your inquiry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
In case of inclement weather - call (207) 626-7989 to confirm or re-schedule your program



Special Note:  All of these presentations are science based, fun, and humor filled, fast paced and interactive with the student audience.  The speaker takes every opportunity to reach out to the audience and teach them to challenge assumptions, question “facts”, and identify misinformation and how to analyze subject matter on their own. Many include various props and specimens as well as a variety of visual aids from slides, video and audio tapes. Each can be tailored to your time constraints and most can be presented to small and large audiences.

We will also design a course for your particular needs.  Just ask.



Our tree identification program leaves the field guides home and takes you on a completely new approach to learning about trees.  We teach the “language” with which trees and other plants speak to us and tell us who they are.  Making tangible connections with nature is the tenet of our teaching approach and we use all our senses in the endeavor. From patterns to smells to textures and tastes, unique elements of every plant are presented in a way that few will forget. 

Vernal Pool Ecology

We explore the fascinating world of vernal pools, their inhabitants and ecological cycles, using slides, video, lecture and an array of research equipment used by ecologists to unlock the mysteries of these wonderful wetland communities.  Your perspective of this often overlooked wetland will not be the same after participating in this program.  Mark DesMeules, and his colleague, the late Dr. Phil Nothnagle, have researched vernal pools for nearly 20 years and their findings, photography and field observations are remarkable.  From our earliest spawning amphibian the wood frog to the courtship dance of the beautiful yellow spotted salamander, you will leave not only with a science based understanding of vernal pools but the ability to walk your own woods and favorite places and identify vernal pools on your own.  Techniques and tools for sampling and taking measurements are covered as are conservation measures for protecting these small yet very important natural communities.

Endangered Species and Natural Communities of Northern New England

Mark DesMeules spent more than 20 years working as an endangered species ecologist and he brings to this presentation a perspective and stories of his adventures you will hear nowhere else. From Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, you will learn about a variety of plants, animals and natural communities that are rare and endangered.  From Jesup’s milk vetch, one of New England’s only endemic plant species to calypso orchids to spotted turtles and the cobblestone tiger beetle, the discovery will be yours. Through slides, recordings, interviews and video, you will learn the fascinating stories of how biologists and botanists discover uncommon biology and how some are naturally rare while others have become rare due to a variety of circumstances.  The development of conservation measures to ensure the long-term protection of some of our rarest species/communities will also be covered. 

Reptiles & Amphibians of New England

Maine has many species of reptiles and amphibians.  Each has its own identifying characteristics, habits, habitats in which it is more commonly found, sounds it makes and even odors it emits. We will cover basic identification, ecology, observation and sampling techniques, record keeping, inventory and conservation needs, species distribution and information that is still unknown about even some of our more common species. Depending on the time of year, we will have live specimens to view as part of this presentation in addition to slides, video and audio.

Tiger Beetles

With a name like this, how could they be anything but interesting?  You will learn facts and figures about beetles in general and things you never imagined about beetles.  Did you know that beetles are the largest group of insects with over 400,000 species and counting.  What do Skittles have to do with insects or why do artists and fine furniture makers often thank beetles?  After a basic introduction to beetles, we transition over to tiger beetle identification, ecology and habitat.  Tiger beetles are a fascinating group of insects that provide the perfect introduction for anyone interested in learning more about insects and particularly beetles. This presentation covers the remarkable story of the cobblestone tiger beetle and the New Hampshire town that made national news when it designated this beetle as its official town insect and one needing special conservation protection.  Participants will learn how to inventory for insects, record data and what equipment is needed both in the field and for preserving your specimens. 

Designing a Nature Preserve

Have you ever wondered what goes into designing and developing a nature preserve?  Veteran preserve designer Mark DesMeules will walk you through a slide presentation depicting a variety of natural areas and how they were discovered, determined to be candidates for protection as natural areas, how they were designed and the complex process that involves working with land owners, negotiating,  raising funds for land purchases, etc.  This is an excellent and behind the scenes view into the fascinating world  of the many steps leading to the permanent protection and creation of natural areas and preserves.  You are sure to enjoy the story telling, wit and humor Mark brings to a subject not often available to the public. Every site comes with its own unique challenges, hazards, needs, ecological concerns, and human characters. A classroom exercise can also be included where the class is divided into groups and each group is presented with the challenge of designing a preserve around a specific species or natural community and a list of issues. Each group presents its strategic plan of ways in which it will address the various hurdles their site presents and they must justify the boundaries they delineate on a provided topographic map. Time permitting, groups get to interview a land owner and negotiate a land transaction. 

Bats & Bat Conservation in New England

Learn about the species of bats that occur in New England, how to identify them and what we know about their ecology.  From feeding habits, maternity roosts and their use of caves in which to hibernate, you will have a front row seat into the lives and conservation measures that have been taken to protect these small winged mammals. Included in this presentation is the story of the Aeolus Cave study and construction of New England’s first cave gate designed to protect bats from winter disturbance. Slides and video are part of this lecture.

In Search of the Elusive and Endangered Timber Rattlesnake in New England

Rattlesnakes in New England! Few realize that rattlesnakes occupied all New England states.  This is a topic sure to get your attention and this story is indeed one of a species defying extinction.  The ecology of the timber rattlesnake is the first focus of this presentation and then we venture into the reasons why this reptile has become one of the most endangered we have.  The story continues with the conservation measures that have been taken to ensure the protection and conservation of this species.

Creating a Herbarium (workshop)

This is a hands-on workshop and presentation and depending on the time of year or the location, it will involve a brief field/outdoor component where students will learn the proper techniques for collecting plant specimens.  If this is not possible, specimens will be provided and this instruction will be done in the classroom.  The goal of this workshop/program is for all participants to gain a working knowledge of all elements of herbarium creation.

Why create a herbarium and what are the uses of herbarium specimens? What are the tools needed and how do you use them? (Includes using the vasculum, proper collection techniques, the plant press, the art and science of display, collecting ethics, preparing and mounting your specimens, labeling,  proper pens and ink, suppliers of herbarium supplies, and proper collection storage. A small materials fee may be required.

Catching & Preserving Insects (workshop)

This is a hands-on workshop and presentation and depending on the time of year or the location, it will involve a brief field/outdoor component where students will learn the proper techniques for collecting insects.  If this is not possible, specimens will be provided and this instruction will be done in the classroom.  The goal of this workshop/program is for all participants to gain a working knowledge of all aspects of creating an insect collection.

Why create an insect collection and what are the various uses of insect specimens.? What are the tools needed and how do you use them? (Includes using the insect net, suction aspirator, killing jar, alcohol vials, labeling in the field and for the collection, pinning techniques and the art of pinning, proper pens and ink, labeling, suppliers of collection supplies.)