The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Curious about nature? Join the Master Naturalist program.

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Naturalist John Muir made this statement in 1911 but it is as true today as it was then. Beyond television and technology, have you ever wondered how the world (including us) is hitched?

If gaining an understanding of the natural world around you, sharing that knowledge with others and preserving our natural treasures for the future naturalists sounds like a worthwhile experience, than the Master Naturalist program may be for you.

As the Master Naturalist manual states: "When we begin to see how nature works, we are awestruck by the literal beauty of its complexity: a beauty that is more than skin deep." The Master Naturalist volunteer program explores the complex beauty of nature. It is modeled after the successful Master Gardener volunteer program. Several states such as Missouri, Indiana, and Wisconsin have Master Naturalist programs. It is, however, relatively new to Illinois. University of Illinois Extension in Champaign County, Champaign County Forest Preserve District and Urbana Park District sponsor the east central Illinois program serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.

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 to fulfill their 60 hours of internship. Volunteering 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 many projects coordinated by our 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.

2012 training includes ten sessions starting August 21. Classes are on Tuesdays from 9 AM to 4 PM with two Saturday field trips. Classes are held in several locations including UI Extension office, Anita Purves Nature Center, Middle Fork Nature Preserve, and Lake of the Woods. Cost of the training and manual - $175. Partial scholarships are available. Cost of Master Naturalist experiences – priceless.

Class size is limited. Contact UI Extension at 801 North Country Fair Drive; Champaign, 61821; PH: 217.333.7672 for an application and more info. Or apply on-line

Check out the Master Naturalist state website or contact your local UI Extension office to find a program near you.

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