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Master Naturalist Profile: Nachusa Prairie Steward

Our first Master Naturalist profile is a man with a heart for conservation, Joe Richardson

Joe doesn’t claim to be anything more than a retired man who loves nature. That stated, on average he volunteers 289.5 hours annually with our conservation partners at The Nature Conservancy’s Nachusa Grasslands. Joe read an article about the return of the bison to Nachusa in 2015.

“I knew with those bison coming I needed to be there,” Joe says.  

He started volunteering and the following year took the Master Naturalist training. Joe will tell you he took the training for selfish reasons, but if you look at the gleam in his eyes when he looks across the Nachusa grasslands and speaks of the prairie and research bison, you will know as well as I do his heart is in his volunteering.

Joe was the only participant from his 2016 class who skipped the internship and graduated directly into being a certified Master Naturalist, fancy University of Illinois Extension name tag and all.  His entire volunteer hours donated to Nachusa. The name tag told the Nature Conservancy he had been given a foundational education on the environment, enough to get someone from any field of study a “head start”, according to Joe. It also said he had put in at least 60 hours of volunteer time giving his certification a second level of knowledge to add a credential to his efforts.

Later in 2016, due to his dedication and admiration for the cause, Joe was offered his own “unit,” Nachusa’s name for a chunk of the grasslands, in need of a steward. This is a considerable honor and he proudly accepted it.

Joe will tell you he only knows certain plants on the prairie, so far.  However, as a naturalist with a native view of the land, he can look at the prairie, or his unit, and tell you if something belongs there or not.  He distinguishes between what is working ecologically simply by their population and aggressiveness or the opposite. When we stood on the unit more than a year ago it was like seeing someone at their proudest moment, except that level of satisfaction could be revisited because of the continual need for The Volunteer. 


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Peggy Doty is an energy and environmental stewardship educator who has been with University of Illinois Extension for more than 20 years. She holds a B.S. in zoology from Southern Illinois University and a Master of Educator from Northern Illinois University. She is interested in human and wildlife interactions, supporting native pollinators and water resources.

Naturalist News is a blog by University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist staff and volunteers who bring you stories highlighting the individuals, places, wildlife and plants that make this state amazing. Join us each week to learn something new, be inspired and become connected to your own community by recognizing the amazing ways we are all intertwined.