The Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program is volunteer training program offered by University of Illinois Extension. East Central Illinois Master Naturalist is our local chapter of the program which includes volunteers from Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion counties. Find other Illinois Master Naturalist groups on the state website.
Since the establishment of the East-Central Illinois Master Naturalist program in 2005, almost 400 residents have taken our Master Naturalist training. Volunteer efforts have provided over 98,000 hours of service valued at more than $2,000,000 to East-Central Illinois. With many hands, we make a big difference.
2021 Impact Report
The mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist program is to provide science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards.
To give individuals the opportunity to experience nature, develop knowledge of and respect for the environment, and practice natural resource stewardship.
- Offer Master Naturalist educational programs and materials that provide classroom and field-based training on the environmental and cultural resources of Illinois.
- Cultivate volunteers to serve as educators and community ambassadors for environmental initiatives; as stewards in the management of natural resources in Illinois, and as stakeholders who will perpetuate the Master Naturalist Program.
- Facilitate cooperation and collaboration among partner groups and agencies.
There are many ways a Master Naturalist can fulfill the commitment of 30 volunteer hours a year. Test drive different activities listed below. You may find you have an affinity for a certain subject area, location, or type of effort. Or you may find that variety is your thing. Volunteer efforts support our collective missions and benefit our community. It also expands one's knowledge of the natural world and provides a chance to socialize and get to know other Master Naturalists, partner organization staff, conservation professionals, and subject area experts. See below for the volunteer activity categories.
- Environmental education events
- Youth programs
- Organize a talk or tour
- Tabling events
- Develop outreach or educational materials or kits
- Social media or web outreach
- East Central Illinois Master Naturalist advisory board or committees
- Partner organization's board or committee
- Mentorship of new trainees and interns
- Read and record precipitation with CoCoRaHS
- Monitor and count animals and plants
- Assist with permanent collections at the Illinois Natural History Survey
- Collect scientific data with iNaturalist
- Help with bird or bat monitoring
- Invasive species control
- Trail stewardship
- Seed collection
- Prairie restoration
- Stream monitoring and clean up
- Leadership of stewardship site or team
- Prescribed burns
Continuing education expands the depth and breadth of knowledge, increases value as a volunteer, and provides a chance to interact with other Master Naturalists and subject area experts. To maintain Master Naturalist certification, volunteers are required to complete 10 hours of continuing education annually. These hours can come from classroom, workshop, or self-study activities. Acceptable continuing education is that which supports the mission and goals of the ECIMN chapter, and/or furthers knowledge and skill related to service in the ECIMN region.
Items marked “V” are volunteer opportunities; items marked “CE” are continuing education opportunities.
It is essential that you report all volunteer hours earned using the ECIMN reporting website. These hours enable the sponsors to understand the value provided by Master Naturalists and to justify continued support for the program. But even more important, it provides the basis for grant funding from a variety of sources. These dollars allow our sponsors and partners to have a much greater impact than they might otherwise have.
Where we work
The East-Central Illinois Master Naturalist (ECIMN) program is sponsored by the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Champaign Park District and Urbana Park District. All funds are maintained by University of Illinois Extension. East-Central Illinois Master Naturalists partner with area agencies and organizations whose mission is consistent with ECIMN. Together they develop appropriate master naturalist projects with the partners providing resources in exchange for volunteer service. ECIMN partners may change on a regular basis depending on the project needs of the community and the resource needs of the organization. Some of our current partners are highlighted below. If your group would like to become a ECIMN partner, please contact Amanda Christenson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allerton Park and Recreation Center
Allerton Allies assist park staff in the protection and restoration of natural lands in Allerton Park near Monticello, Illinois. Allerton Park has National Natural Landmark designation and encompasses the Sangamon River, floodplains, lowland and upland forests, a meadow, and a 30-acre demonstration prairie along with 14 miles of interpretive hiking trails. Volunteers may remove non-native plants, plant native plants, clear and mark trails, or help with other maintenance of the natural areas. Scheduled workdays are typically the 1st Saturday of the month.
Rain Garden Stewardship
ECIMN is also cooperating with the Champaign County Master Gardeners and the University of Illinois Facilities and Services to manage the Red Oak Rain Garden, located at 1005 W Gregory St. Urbana, IL on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Volunteers assist with design and maintenance activities during the growing season including pruning, weeding, planting, and fall leaf removal.
Illinois Natural History Survey
Since 1858, the Illinois Natural History Survey has been the guardian and recorder of the biological resources of Illinois. With a staff of over 200 scientists and technicians, it is recognized as the premier natural history survey in the nation. Its mission is to investigate the diversity, life histories, and ecology of the plants and animals of the state; to publish research results so that those resources can be managed wisely; and to provide information to the public in order to foster an understanding and appreciation of our natural heritage. This organization provides many instructors for ECIMN. Volunteers can help with various plant and animal surveys. The Herbarium uses volunteers to assist with plant sample preparation and recording.
The Illinois Natural History Survey’s Mollusk Collection needs volunteers! One of our most pressing projects is replacing failing curation materials before they destroy our specimens but we also have other opportunities, such as databasing uncataloged specimen data and cutting felt for our dry archival boxes. Please contact Rachel Vinsel at email@example.com for more details. To view a full list of our volunteering opportunities please visit our website.
University of Illinois Pollinatarium
The University of Illinois Pollinatarium is the first free-standing science center in the nation devoted to flowering plants and their pollinators. It serves as a campus resource for research and teaching and a major regional attraction for the community and its visitors. Multiple exhibits acquaint visitors with a broad range of disciplines involved in the study of pollination. The Pollinatarium is the physical home of Beespotter, a UI web-based citizen science effort to engage the public in monitoring the distribution and abundance of Illinois honey bees and bumble bees. The Pollinatarium is located in the midst of the UI Arboretum and is adjacent to a prairie with walking paths. Volunteers can assist science center staff in their educational and outreach mission and help with prairie maintenance.
I-72 Demonstration Prairie
A small prairie tended by East Central Illinois Master Naturalists as an example of prairie restoration and management. It is located on the northwest corner of University Ave and Country Fair Drive in Champaign, IL. Volunteers participate in invasive removal primarily.
Champaign County Forest Preserve District
The Champaign County Forest Preserve District (CCFPD) is a local, property tax-supported government agency charged with the stewardship of five forest preserves covering 3,899 acres in Champaign County. These preserves provide visitors with the chance to hike, canoe, swim, fish, and observe wildlife. Current volunteer openings are posted on the cuvolunteer.org website. Volunteer opportunities include trail stewardship, work days to maintain natural areas, and assistance with both historical and environmental education programs. Sue Gallo is the volunteer coordinator for CCFPD.
Champaign Park District
The mission of the Champaign Park District is to enhance the quality of life through positive experiences in parks and recreation in the Champaign, Illinois community. They currently have 60 parks, 11 trails, and 14 facilities totaling 654 acres. Four parks currently have sections of natural areas: Heritage, Porter Family, Scott, and Sunset Ridge. They hope to expand these areas in the future. Volunteers may remove non-native plants, plant native plants, or help with other maintenance of the natural areas.
Urbana Park District
The Urbana Park District (UPD), located in Urbana, Illinois, maintains parks and facilities and offers recreation programs for Urbana citizens. With 22 parks comprising nearly 600 acres and hundreds of programs, there are many activities to enrich the community. The Urbana Park District uses volunteers in many of its programs and facilities. Opportunities include school tours, workdays to maintain natural areas, seed collection and native plantings, invasive species eradication, and assistance with park events.
The Champaign County Audubon Society (CCAS) began as a bird-watching club in 1940 and became affiliated with the National Audubon Society in 1945. Today the group includes more than 500 members. Our emphasis mirrors that of the national society which includes conservation of all natural resources. Membership in CCAS means being part of a thriving local group that is actively involved in the study, enjoyment, and conservation of our native habitats. Volunteer opportunities include serving on the board, participating in bird counts, leading field trips, and offering educational programs.
Located in Vermillion County, the Middlefork Audubon Society was formed in 1995 as a chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society. Several Middlefork Chapter members volunteer at events in our county parks and preserves, and the chapter helps provide educational materials for school classes participating in the district’s “Outdoor School Program” which is now in its 36th year. This group also has an extensive Bluebird Monitoring program and recruits volunteers to monitor throughout Vermilion County. Middlefork Audubon partners with the Vermilion County Conservation District.
Grand Prairie Friends
Grand Prairie Friends is volunteer-led, not-for-profit, conservation organization and land trust committed to preserving and restoring tallgrass prairie, wetlands, and woodlands in east-central Illinois. GPF acquires and helps manage prairie and woodland remnants, conducts prescribed burns, propagates and plants native prairie and woodland species in restorations, supports citizen science and research on their properties, and generates interest in natural areas through a variety of educational programs. Grand Prairie Friends now owns over 1,060 acres across east-central Illinois in Champaign, Coles, Iroquois, Shelby and Vermilion counties. The majority of Grand Prairie Friends preserves are registered or designated as either nature preserves or land & water reserves through the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission. Volunteers are needed to steward sites, remove invasive species, collect seed, plant native species, participate as citizen scientists, and participate in education and community outreach. Opportunities to serve on the GPF Board of Directors or be a member of committees are also available. Volunteers with marketing and communication skills are also needed.
Headwaters Invasive Plant Partnership (HIPP)
The Headwaters Invasive Plant Partnership works to stop the spread of invasive plants that are already in central Illinois and block the flow of invasive plants entering the area. Invasive plant species crowd out and smother our native plants. In the Master Naturalist program, some of our volunteer work revolves around the removal of invasive plant species in natural areas. Removing these invaders allows the natural diversity of plants to be re-established as well as the natural diversity of wildlife dependent on these plants. Their document "Invasive Plants of East-Central Illinois" identifies invasive species and includes alternative plants for landscaping applications." Volunteers can assist by physically removing invasive species; raising awareness in the community and recommending alternatives; establishing partnerships with garden managers, garden centers and nursery professionals; and working with government officials to implement appropriate policies.
The IDEA Store
The IDEA Store is Central Illinois’ Premier Eco-Edu-Art Creative Reuse Marketplace! This place is a store, a community, a donation center – they are a marketplace of items and ideas! With a massive and ever-changing inventory of donated materials, projects of all sizes have never been as easy or Earth-friendly. In supporting this store, Master Naturalists are helping to reduce waste that may otherwise end up in landfills by promoting REUSE and upcycling while also supporting the arts and education. Volunteering at The Idea Store is a great way to meet and work with some of the area’s most creative artists, educators, and innovators. Whatever your specialty is, we’d love to incorporate it into our work. And since all proceeds from The Idea Store go toward expanding our mission of fostering education, creativity, environmental stewardship, and community, donating your time and talent benefits everyone.
Land Conservation Foundation
The Land Conservation Foundation is a not-for-profit land trust founded in 2003. LCF’s mission is to preserve and restore natural communities, to create interconnected corridors, to provide wildlife habitat, and connect people and nature for future generations. The current focus is on protecting the Sangamon River. LCF owns three properties located in Piatt, DeWitt, and Champaign counties. LCF has a wide range of volunteer opportunities for Master Naturalists or other interested members of the public. There are three general categories of these activities: Stewardship, Outdoor Education, and Social Media/Graphic Arts.
Upper Sangamon River Conservancy
The Upper Sangamon River Conservancy (USRC) was established in the Spring of 2009, growing out of a grassroots effort by community members who are concerned about the Sangamon River. USRC activities include river clean-ups, river monitoring, information and education displays at community events, and mussel surveys. Most importantly, perhaps, the group provides free access to canoes for members and it helps people get out on the river with regular paddling events. The USRC provides resources for anyone interested in finding out more about our Sangamon River.
Vermilion County Conservation District
The Vermilion County Conservation District (VCCD) administers four county parks which include Forest Glen Preserve, Kennekuk, Lake Vermilion, and Heron County Parks. All are unique in what they offer. The VCCD specializes not only in offering an array of recreational opportunities but also conservation education, special events, historical interpretation, and forestry research. Our parks contain six Illinois nature preserves and a state historical site.