The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Apply now for the Master Naturalist program

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

One night after a recent rain I was enjoying the squeaky clean smell of a well-washed earth as my black lab gleefully played in the water puddles. She was thinking of submerged treasures and I was thinking of submerged basements. The sounds of her splashing were accompanied by a chorus of jubilant frogs. Dog or frog. Pine or person. Every creature experiences the world differently. One person's flooded street is another person's personal pool.

Beyond television and technology, have you ever wondered how the world works? Do you ever wonder about your encounters with wildlife? 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 Missouri, Indiana, and Wisconsin have Master Naturalist programs. It is, however, relatively new to Illinois. Since its first training in 2006, 120 people have graduated from East Central Illinois Master Naturalist program. 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, climatology, 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.

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. Master Naturalist describes a person engaged in active learning about the world around them and engaged in active sharing of that information. Indoors or outdoors, Master Naturalists are students and teachers in a classroom, prairie, forest or stream.

The training dates for 2010 are: Tuesdays from 9 AM to 4 PM August 24, 31, September 7, 14, 21, 28, October 5, 12, 19, 26 and two Saturday field trips September 11 and October 2. Training occurs 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 - $175. Cost of Master Naturalist experiences – priceless. Class spots fill fast and class size is limited. So don't delay, send in your application today. Apply on-line or contact UI Extension at 801 North Country Fair Drive; Champaign, 61821; PH: 217-333-7672 or email us at

Master Naturalist Training is also available for the first time in Bloomington (McLean County) starting in August. PH: 309-663-8306

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