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

Every spring I yearn for their return. And my worry builds every time I stare at my unattended hummingbird feeders. Then one day a flash of red and green appears and my friends the hummers have once more successfully traveled thousands of miles from central America across land and water to make it back to my house. An amazing journey done without map apps and GPS devices. Humbling when I think of the times I have trouble finding my car in the parking lot.

I'm perpetually in awe of nature. If you share that awe than the Master Naturalist volunteer program may be for you. Master Naturalists possess a curiosity of the natural world, a desire to share that knowledge with others and a need to preserve our natural treasures.

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.

2016 (ECIMN) training includes 13 sessions starting August 23. 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 Maddy Kangas, 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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