The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Announcing Master Naturalist program

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

It's 10:00 pm. I can hear the sweetness of a tame rain on the eager plants outside my window. The sounds of the rain are accompanied by the rapturous trill of a gray tree frog. He is looking for a sweetie or maybe he is exhilarated by the feel of a long-needed rain. Some people might ponder on the source of the sound outside their window and perhaps figure it's a baby bird calling for its mom or a boisterous bug bugling. Other people would turn up the TV to drown out the "noise". We all react differently when nature "comes a callin'".

Do you ever wonder about your encounters with wildlife? Do you appreciate the difference between a weed patch and a prairie patch? If gaining an understanding of the natural world around you and sharing that knowledge with others sounds like a worthwhile experience, than the Master Naturalist program may be for you.

The Master Naturalist program is modeled after the successful Master Gardener program. Several states such as Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin and Virginia have Master Naturalist programs. It is, however, new to Illinois with the first training in Rock Island County. In 2006 forty people graduated from East Central Illinois Master Naturalist program's first training. University of Illinois Extension in Champaign County, Champaign County Forest Preserve District and Urbana Park District sponsor the east central Illinois program.

Any adult can become a Master Naturalist. It does not require an educational degree or many years of experience. To become a certified Master Naturalist you will need to: successfully complete the approximately 70 hours of daytime training; have a sincere desire to learn and share information with others; and be willing to devote time to volunteering and to continued education each year.

Training engages volunteers in a broad-based, scientifically-sound curriculum of topics including botany, ecology, geology, archaeology, amphibians, mammals, fish, birds, insects, forests, prairies, wetlands, lakes and streams. It includes classroom and field study with an emphasis on hands-on experiences. Instructors are experts in their field and most from the Illinois Natural History Survey literally "wrote the book" on natural areas and wildlife in Illinois.

Once training is completed, Master Naturalists are involved in a wide variety of volunteer opportunities which may include: assisting in local natural areas management; giving demonstrations or interpretive tours for adults and children; assisting professionals with natural areas inventories; writing newsletter articles; or serving as a natural areas steward.

East Central Illinois Master Naturalists are involved in projects coordinated by Grand Prairie Friends, Allerton Park, Urbana Park District, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, and additional partners throughout east central Illinois.

Master Naturalists are volunteers involved in their communities. They wear many hats including amateur scientist, interpreter, advocate, and steward. Each responsibility requires information, training, and continued learning. No area is ever mastered. Master Naturalist describes a person engaged in active learning about the world around them and in active sharing of information. Indoors or outdoors, Master Naturalists are students and teachers in a classroom, prairie, forest or stream.

The training dates for 2007 are: Tuesdays from 9 AM to 4 PM August 28, September 4, 11, 18, 25, October 2, 10, 16, 23, 30 and two Saturday field trips September 15 and October 6. Training is held in several locations including the Extension office, Anita Purvis Nature Center, Middle Fork Nature Preserve, and Lake of the Woods. Cost of the training and manual - $125. Cost of Master Naturalist experiences – priceless. Class spots fill fast and class size is limited. So don't delay, send in your application today! You can apply on-line or contact U of I Extension office at 801 North Country Fair Drive; Champaign; PH: 217.333.7672.

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