In my current role as a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension, I have the pleasure of working with Master Gardener volunteers who share a love of the outdoors and a willingness to give back to our communities.
U of I Extension is building a new group of volunteers that complements our Master Gardener program. This new group of volunteers is called Mater Naturalists. Our mission aims toward conservation and education.
Do you or your children remember that person who visited the classroom to teach about a specific nature topic? Perhaps they were referred to as the Bird Lady or Butterfly Lady. Today, these are our Master Naturalists.
It is critical to develop foundations of conservation and a land ethic at a young age and foster these connections for adults and decision-makers. Our Master Naturalists partner with local conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy or Pheasants Forever to educate youth and adults about habitat and wildlife.
Master Naturalists work side-by-side with scientists and leading researchers. From archeology to zooplankton, we strive to learn about the natural world and help preserve it for future generations.
There is much work that needs to be accomplished in addition to education. Research is a critical component to conservation and is being conducted on a massive scale through Citizen Science projects, most of which are pursued by Master Naturalists.
Land management is another component of being a Master Naturalist. Identifying native plants, fostering their development, invasive species monitoring and removal, learning to recognize the natural systems at play in a landscape, are all critical to preserving a piece of nature for the youth and adults we teach.
The University of Illinois Extension will be offering Master Naturalist training throughout West-Central Illinois beginning in September and concluding in early November. Typical training schedules have trainees meeting one day per week but depends on your local Master Naturalist coordinator. Contact your local Extension office for further schedule details.
Master Naturalist training operates mostly outdoors. When we learn about prairies, we visit a prairie. When we learn about wetland ecology, we put on hip waders or hop in a boat.
You don't need to have a rich history with nature to become a Master Naturalist. In fact, several volunteers describe themselves as city kids or "creatures of suburbia". They grew up interacting little with the outdoors, but now have a yearning to connect with nature and be stewards of their community.
If you are interested in becoming a Master Naturalist, contact your local Extension office. For those residing in Henderson, Knox, McDonough, & Warren Counties contact Chris Enroth at 309-837-3939 or email@example.com.