East Central Illinois Master Naturalist

East Central Illinois Master Naturalists

What's A Master Naturalist?

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. 

2022 Impact Report

volunteer hours for 2022 graphed. 171 volunteer performed over 12,000 hours of work and study in East Central Illinois

Our Mission

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.

Volunteer Hours

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

Citizen Science

  • 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
  • Monitor stream health with Illinois RiverWatch and Upper Sangamon River Conservancy (See video below!)


  • Invasive species control
  • Trail stewardship
  • Seed collection
  • Prairie restoration
  • Stream monitoring and clean up
  • Leadership of stewardship site or team
  • Prescribed burns
  • Plantings


Picture yourself here!


This video features Master Naturalist volunteers, staff from Illinois Natural History Survey, and our partners over at Upper Sangamon River Conservancy all working with Illinois RiverWatch, one of our featured Citizen Science projects. We are so proud to be a part of this community. 

Continuing Education

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. 

Opportunity Calendar

Items marked “V” are volunteer opportunities; items marked “CE” are continuing education opportunities. 

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 an ECIMN partner, please contact Melissa Berg at mkberg3@illinois.edu.  

Overview VideoActivity Map - Annual Report - Policies

Map of activities
University of Illinois

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. 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. To view a full list of our volunteering opportunities please visit their 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. 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 primarily participate in invasive removal. 


Champaign County Forest Preserve DistrictThe Champaign County Forest Preserve District (CCFPD) is a local, property tax-supported government agency charged with the stewardship of seven forest preserves covering over 4,000 acres in Champaign County. These preserves allow visitors to hike, bike, canoe, swim, fish, and observe wildlife. Occasional volunteers are welcome to join staff at public volunteer events listed on our event calendar at ccfpd.org. Volunteers interested in opportunities like trail stewardship, natural area maintenance, or assisting with historical or environmental education programs should contact Sue Gallo, the Forest Preserve volunteer coordinator.

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.  


Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. The Master Naturalists partner with two local chapters.

The Champaign County Audubon Society (CCAS) includes more than 500 members. Their emphasis mirrors that of the national society which includes conservation of all natural resources.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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.  All proceeds from The Idea Store go toward expanding their 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. 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. 


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