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Naturalist News

The Naturalist News blog is back!

The Illinois Master Naturalist program recently welcomed Duane Friend as its new coordinator earlier this year. Duane Friend has been with Extension for more than 30 years and is excited to share some new updates to the program that will expand training opportunities, reach youth, and give volunteers continued education opportunities.

A note from Duane to Illinois Master Naturalists

As the new Master Naturalist State Coordinator, I first want to thank you for your patience awaiting the return of our blog. For this post, I’d like to introduce myself and provide an update on several Master Naturalist initiatives.

I’ve met quite a few Master Naturalists over the years, having presented Weather and Climate, Soils, Natural Divisions, and Geology sections at many units across the state. My career with Extension spans almost 30 years in various natural resource education positions, and I grew up on a small farm in Mason County. Prior to Extension, I managed a county Farm Services Agency office and worked as a resource conservationist for a Soil and Water Conservation District. The enthusiasm and passion for the program is evident in both volunteers and coordinators. This I already knew but was happy to see that the pandemic hasn’t dampened spirits!

Since starting the position in mid-March, part of my time has been spent traveling to units and visiting with local coordinators and volunteers. There is a good variety of program offerings across the state, and we are hoping that eventually, every Extension unit in the state has a Master Naturalist program.   

Hybrid training

Recently a small group of people along with myself have started to develop a hybrid Master Naturalist program for statewide use. Face-to-face instruction is still by far the most desired form of instruction, but it’s known that some people cannot always commit to face-to-face instruction due to work or other commitments.  A hybrid program will combine online and face-to-face field activities to hopefully interest more people and provide flexibility for units. Several units have already developed hybrid programs, and these will be used as a template for a state program.

Jr. Master Naturalists

We are also working with the State 4-H office to pilot a Junior Master Naturalist program. The pilot Jr. Master Naturalist program is designed to:

  • Utilize the existing Special Interest4-H Club structure and current Illinois 4-H policies on club operation.
  • Utilize interested Master Naturalist volunteers to be a leader/mentor for each club
  • Conduct a minimum of six, one-hour, sessions with hands-on activities with the first 3 to 4 sessions chosen by the Master Naturalist volunteer, and the last 2 to 3 sessions focused on the specific interests as voted on by the youth club members themselves. One of these sessions must address the subject of climate change in some manner.
  • A menu of approved 4-H curriculum options on several natural resources topics, with supply kits, will be built and made available upon request. 

 It is hoped these special interest clubs could be started this fall. For more information, contact me at or Curt Sinclair at

Continuing education opportunities

Master Naturalist continuing education webinars will start up again in August. Navigating the Night Sky will feature Dr. John Martin from University of Illinois-Springfield and will be presented at 6 pm August 17. Register at

The State Master Naturalist conference be in person this fall at the Memorial 4-H Camp on October 17. It will feature an outdoor, interactive format. Watch your emails for more information soon.

I should also mention the other part of my new position is as a climate specialist. If there is ever a need for someone to talk about weather trends, extreme weather, or changing climates, feel free to contact me.

Hope you all continue to volunteer your knowledge, excitement, and time for the Master Naturalist program. Your efforts DO make a difference and they are sincerely appreciated!

Duane Friend
State Master Naturalist and Climate Change Specialist
(217) 243-7424 |


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. Sign up for notifications when new Naturalist News posts are available.