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Ryan Pankau
Extension Educator, Horticulture
University of Illinois Extension
801 North Country Fair Drive
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Champaign, IL 61821
Phone: 217-333-7672
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East Central Illinois Master Naturalists

East Central Illinois Master Naturalists

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1. What is a Master Naturalist?

What Is the Master Naturalist Program?

The Master Naturalist program educates and trains adult volunteers to help disseminate natural resource information to the public and to assist with conservation activities. The East-Central Illinois program is jointly sponsored by University of Illinois Extension Champaign County, Champaign County Forest Preserve District, and Urbana Park District.

The East-Central Illinois program exists within the framework of the Illinois Master Naturalist program.

Why Become a Master Naturalist?

Nature is everywhere, in your neighborhood, in your backyard, and in your house. Becoming more educated about the natural world increases your awareness and appreciation of it, enriching your everyday life. In the tradition of John Muir, John James Audubon, and even Teddy Roosevelt, as a naturalist you can contribute to conservation and a greener world. And you can play an important role in sharing that world with others in your community.

Since the establishment of the East-Central Illinois Master Naturalist program in 2005, 235 residents have become active Master Naturalists. Volunteer efforts have provided over 57,000 hours of service valued at more than $1,197,000 to East-Central Illinois.

What Qualifications Must I Meet?

Anyone can become a Master Naturalist - it does not require a degree or years of experience. You do, however, need to:

  • Have a sincere desire to learn and share natural resource information within your community
  • Be able to communicate effectively
  • Be willing to devote time to volunteering and continuing education

What Does the Training Involve?

Training sessions are typically offered one day a week over a two-month period and are led by expert educators in the region. Approximately 70 hours of classroom instruction and field study and 60 hours of volunteer work are required to complete the program and become certified. In order to remain a certified Master Naturalist, 30 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of continuing education or advanced training are required each year.

What Type of Volunteer Opportunities Exist?

Master Naturalists learn to be effective volunteers. There are many ways you can fulfill your commitment of at least 30 volunteer hours per year. Some examples are

  • Assisting with prairie restoration
  • Collecting, cleaning, and transplanting prairie plants
  • Maintaining nature trails in a county forest preserve
  • Assisting a nature center with a native plant garden
  • Collecting data on wildlife populations or water quality
  • Leading a school class on a nature hike
  • Assisting with field surveys of endangered species
  • Improving a wetland habitat along a river
  • Removing invasive species from our woodlands
  • Writing articles on conservation topics

What are the Mission and Goals of the Master Naturalist Program?


To develop an expanding corps of well-educated volunteers to provide service and support for partnering organizations in the conservation, restoration, management, and interpretation of natural resources and natural areas in East Central Illinois.

Goal 1:

Offer Master Naturalist educational programs and materials that provide classroom and field based training on the environmental and cultural resources of East Central Illinois.

Goal 2:

Cultivate volunteers to serve as educators and community ambassadors for environmental initiatives; as stewards in the management of natural resources in East Central Illinois; and as stakeholders who will perpetuate the Master Naturalist Program.


  1. Perpetuate Master Naturalist Program development through web assistance, newsletter development, and Advisory Board service.
  2. Offer assistance in developing new and enhancing existing environmental education offerings to the community.
  3. Provide assistance with the stewardship of regional natural resources.
  4. Act as ambassadors who expand community awareness of environmental activities and initiatives.

Goal 3:

Facilitate cooperation and collaboration among partnering groups and agencies.


  1. Attain representation from local conservation and cultural resource groups on ECIMN Advisory Board.
  2. Identify and approve service projects with partnering groups.

The Master Naturalist Brochure provides a description of the program.