Crop, Stock and Ledger

Crop, Stock and Ledger

U of I Extension Offers New Volunteer Opportunity in Coles County

Dave Shiley, Extension Educator-Local Food Systems and Small Farms

The Illinois Master Naturalist program is not a new program for U of I Extension, but it is new for Extension Unit 19, which serves the counties of Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties. In contrast, in Extension Unit 13, which serves Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties, the Illinois Master Naturalist volunteer program is the oldest in the state.

The Illinois Master Naturalist program is designed to educate and train a corps of volunteers to provide support in the conservation, management, and interpretation of the area's natural resources in collaboration with local partners. The program provides science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards.

With the help of local experts, University of Illinois Extension provides the educational support for the program, while volunteering is typically coordinated through local partners. In Extension Unit 19, program partners currently include Douglas-Hart Nature Center, Grand Prairie Friends, and the Coles County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Any adult over 18 years of age, who loves the outdoors, has a concern for the local environment, and wants to provide education and service to help their local community can become a Master Naturalist volunteer. You do not need to have a college degree or years of experience, but you do need to have a sincere desire to learn and share information about nature and be willing to devote time to volunteering and on-going continuing education.

Each Master Naturalist volunteer participates in 40 hours of initial training. The classes are held in a variety of locations, but most of them will be presented at Douglas-Hart Nature Center in Mattoon. Training sessions include lecture, discussion, hands-on activities, and field trips. Training will be every Tuesday, from 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm, beginning August 13 through October 15, 2019. An additional field day is scheduled for Saturday September 14 from 9:00am – 1:00 pm at Warbler Woods, south of Charleston.

After volunteers complete training, internship begins. Certification requires the completion of 60 hours of volunteer time. To remain certified, a MN volunteer must complete at least 30 hours of volunteer service and 10 hours of continued education each year.

Volunteer service projects may include wetland, forest, and prairie restoration projects; fish, wildlife, and plant inventories; and environmental education presentations for youth and adults. All volunteer projects are established and approved by program partners, therefore you can expect to be volunteering at Douglas-Hart Nature Center, Grand Prairie Friends' Warbler Woods, and special events conducted by the University of Illinois Extension.

If you are interested in becoming an Illinois Master Naturalist volunteer in the Extension Unit 19 area, you will need to complete an application and background check as a first step. Next, you will participate in an informal interview and orientation. The program participation fee is $150.00, which covers the cost of classroom and field training, handouts and the Master Naturalist curriculum manual. This participation fee is a reduced price for the inaugural 2019 training.

The application deadline for the fall 2019 training is August 1, 2019, or until the class is full. For an application or more information about the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program, contact Dave Shiley, UI Extension Educator, 543-3755 or dshiley@illinois.edu .

If you are interested in becoming a University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist volunteer in Extension Unit 13, which serves Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties, contact Amanda Christensen at the Extension office in Champaign at 217-333-7672.

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