The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Cultivate your Curiosity about Nature with 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. 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 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; no matter whether the splendor is in your backyard, your neighborhood or in a local nature preserve.

University of Illinois Extension, Champaign County Forest Preserve District and Urbana Park District sponsor the local east central Illinois program serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.

Modeled after the successful Master Gardener volunteer program, any adult may become a Master Naturalist. It does not require a degree or years of experience. To become a certified Master Naturalist you will need to: successfully complete the approximately 70 hours of daytime training and appropriate paperwork; 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 with many from the Illinois Natural History Survey and Prairie Research Institute.

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 or children; assisting professionals with natural areas inventories; writing newsletter articles; or serving as a natural areas steward. East Central Illinois Master Naturalists (ECIMN) 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 and the stories of nature. Indoors or outdoors, Master Naturalists are teachers and students.

Since the establishment of the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist program in 2005, 195 residents have become active Master Naturalists. Volunteer efforts have provided over 35,272 hours of service valued at more than $741,000 to East Central Illinois.

2014 (ECIMN) training includes ten sessions starting August 26. Classes are on Tuesdays from 9 AM to 4 PM with two Saturday field trips. Class locations include UI Extension office, Anita Purves Nature Center, Middle Fork Nature Preserve, Homer Lake and Lake of the Woods. Thanks to our sponsors' contributions, the cost of the training and manual - $175. Cost of Master Naturalist camaraderie and competencies – priceless. Partial scholarships are available.

Class size is limited. Contact UI Extension at 801 North Country Fair Drive Ste D; Champaign, IL 61821; PH: 217.333.7672 for an application and more info. Or apply on-line before July 21.

Questions? Contact Diane Wilhite our Master Naturalist program coordinator at or PH: 217.333.7672.

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

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