The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Cultivate your Curiosity about Nature with the Master Naturalist program

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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; 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. East Central Illinois Master Naturalists (ECIMN) are involved in many projects coordinated by our sponsors and partners including Champaign Park District and Grand Prairie Friends.

Trainees are a marvelous potpourri of people spiced with a variety of walks of life and lines of work. To become a certified Master Naturalist adults 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 Illinois Natural History Survey of the 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: collecting prairie plant seeds; giving interpretive tours; sharing nature with kids; trail stewarding; or writing newsletter articles. Many Master Naturalists embrace the role as citizen scientist as they assist researchers by counting, measuring or photographing specific species.

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, 225 residents have become Master Naturalists. Volunteer efforts have provided almost 45,000 hours of service valued at more than $945,000 to East Central Illinois.

2015 (ECIMN) training includes 13 sessions starting August 25. Most classes are on Tuesdays from 9 AM to 4 PM plus 3 Saturday sessions. Class locations include UI Extension office, Anita Purves Nature Center, Middle Fork Nature Preserve, Homer Lake, Kennekuk Environmental Center 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. Or apply on-line before August 1.

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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