Serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion Counties

The Mission of East Central Illinois Master Naturalist training program is to develop an expanding corps of well-educated volunteers to provide service and support for partnering organizations in the conservation, restoration, management, and interpretation of natural resources and natural areas in East Central Illinois. See more about our organization below and our sponsoring and partnering organizations as well as individual projects at the bottom of this page.

The East Central Illinois Master Naturalist (ECIMN) organization is a University of Illinois Extension program. University of Illinois Extension is the flagship outreach effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, offering educational programs to residents of Illinois. U of I Extension's programs are aimed at making life better, healthier, safer, and more profitable for individuals and their communities. U of I Extension offers educational programs related to a healthy society, food safety, environmental stewardship, sustainable and profitable food production, and enhancing family and community well-being. The East Central Illinois Master Naturalist program staff is housed at our Champaign County Extension Office. Amanda Christenson is the Local Extension Program Coordinator for the Master Naturalist program. Ryan Pankau and Erin Harper are the leading Extension Educators of this program and the local Master Gardener program. 

The ECIMN group encompasses Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion counties, although membership and projects include locations out of this region. An advisory board assists in decision making within the group and helps direct committee work. Board Officers are President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer, each elected for one-year terms by the membership of the Advisory Board. The Advisory Board has 12 members. Nine members will serve three-year terms with one third (1/3) of the Advisory Board being elected each year. Three advisory board members will be appointed by Sponsor organizations. The Advisory Board meets at least quarterly during the year. An annual meeting of the members is held during the month of November each year for the purpose of electing Advisory Board members as well as other businesses. The Advisory Board may create committees as necessary to carry on the work of the organization with the chair appointed by the President. Standing committees shall be Executive, Education, Membership, Volunteer, and Communication. The minutes of the Advisory Board meetings are available to members by request to the Secretary. You may find our Annual Report for 2019 herepolicies here, and bylaws here.

The Advisory Board Executive Committee members for 2020 are:

  • President - John Bergee
  • Vice President -  Paul Wilson
  • Treasurer - Rhonda Jurinak
  • Secretary - John Beck

Additional Advisory Board members

  • Carl Altstetter
  • Wanda Haschek-Hock
  • Pat Kane 
  • Joe Niernberger
  • Elizabeth Jeffery

Sponsoring Agency Advisory Board members:

The committee and subcommittee for 2020 are:

  • Executive - John Bergee
  • Communications -  John Beck
    • Publicity - Cathy Inman 
    • Field Notes Newsletter - Judy Pece
    • Publication Review - John Beck
    • Event Calendar Management - Allan Penwell 
  • Education - Wanda Haschek-Hock
    • Field Trips - Mary Long 
    • Seminar -  Elizabeth Jeffery
  • Membership and Volunteer –  Paul Wilson

Please refer any questions to John Bergee, or Amanda Christenson,

There are many ways a Master Naturalist can fulfill the commitment of at least 60 volunteer hours during year one and at least 30 volunteer hours in subsequent years. 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.

Test drive different activities. 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. See the ECIMN Calendar for specific opportunities. Items marked “V” are volunteer opportunities; items marked “CE” are continuing education opportunities.

Opportunities include: 


  • East Central Illinois Master Naturalist advisory board or committees
  • Partner organization's board or committee
  • Leadership of stewardship site or team
  • Mentorship of new trainees and interns

Education and Outreach

  • Environmental education events
  • Youth programs
  • Organize a talk or tour
  • Information booths
  • Develop outreach or educational materials or kits
  • Social media or web outreach


  • Invasive species control
  • Trail stewardship
  • Seed collection
  • Prairie restoration
  • Stream monitoring and clean up
  • Prescribed burns
  • Plantings

Citizen Scientist

  • Read and record precipitation
  • Monitor and count animals and plants
  • Assist with permanent collections
  • Collect scientific data
  • Help with bird or bat netting

Additional Volunteer Opportunities/Calendars

Continuing education expands one's depth and breadth of knowledge increases one's value as a volunteer and provides a chance to interact with other Master Naturalists and subject area experts. To maintain Master Naturalist certification, one is required to complete 10 hours of continuing education annually. These hours can come from the classroom, workshop, and/or self-study activities. See the ECIMN Calendar for specific opportunities. Items marked “V” are volunteer opportunities; items marked “CE” are continuing education opportunities.

What Qualifies as Education?

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. Find opportunities in the members only, weekly announcements. Members shall review the stated mission and goals of ECIMN, and if they think the activity furthers the mission and goals and their own expertise, then the educational program should be submitted as continuing education hours. You may reach out to Amanda at if you have questions. 

How do I Suggest Education Ideas?

Ideas for continuing education are welcomed by the Education Committee of the ECMIN Advisory Board. Please route your suggestions to them. Master Naturalists are also encouraged to share their knowledge by delivering education. If you have a class/workshop idea you would like to pursue, please let the Curriculum Committee know.

Additional Education Opportunities

How do I Report Volunteer Hours and Why?

Keep a log of your volunteer and continuing education hours and at the end of every quarter, report your hours online.

It is essential that you report volunteer hours (even those exceeding the goal) using the ECIMN reporting form. 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.

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.

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.

The forest preserves include:

  • Lake of the Woods
  • Middle Fork River Forest Preserve
  • Homer Lake Forest Preserve
  • River Bend Forest Preserve
  • Sangamon River Forest Preserve

Some of the more popular features across these preserves include:

  • Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden
  • Lake of the Woods Golf Course
  • Environmental Education Center
  • Museum of the Grand Prairie 
  • Middle Fork Campground
  • Children’s Playscape at Homer Lake
  • Dark Sky Preserve for Middle Fork 

Current volunteer openings are posted on the 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.

Trail Stewardship

For nature lovers trail stewarding is the perfect activity. You can do it on your own time (the commitment is once a month for a year), with family, friends, and pets, and the only "work" involved enhances your hand-eye coordination. You see trash, you pick it up. You find branches on the trail, you toss them into the woods. You find large trees across the trail, you report them. If you're lucky to find only a few stems of evil invasive plants, you pull them up or lop them off. When you find large infestations of those same exotics, you report them. If you find something odd or unusual or interesting, you report it. The report is very streamlined (paper or online). The payoff is some quality time in nature (for Master Naturalists it's also a great service to the Champaign County Forest Preserve District or Allerton Park.) Happy Hiking!

For more information about the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, please visit their website at:

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 UPD preserves the following natural areas available for hiking and plant and wildlife appreciation:

  • Busey Woods
  • Meadowbrook Prairie
  • Perkins Road Wet Prairie
  • Weaver Park

The Anita Purves Nature Center, located at the north end of Crystal Lake Park, is an environmental education facility open free to the public. Next door you'll find Busey Woods, a 59-acre forest preserve with a boardwalk loop, seasonal ponds and more. The Anita Purves Nature Center offers a variety of environmental education programs and services to area educators. Programs include school tours, naturalist in the classroom, and educational loan kits.

Located in south Urbana, Meadowbrook Park features a farmstead, herb garden, 80 acres of recreated Illinois Tallgrass prairie, the Timpone Ornamental Tree Grove, organic garden plots, a sensory garden, a shade garden, hard and soft walking trails, the District's largest play structure and the Wandell Sculpture Garden.

The Urbana Park District uses volunteers in many of its programs and facilities. Opportunities include school tours, work days to maintain natural areas, seed collection and native plantings, invasive species eradication, and assistance with park events. Contact the Park District Development Manager at (217) 367-1536 for more details.

For more information about the Urbana Park District, please visit their website at:

East-Central Illinois Master Naturalists (ECIMN) 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. If your group would like to become a ECIMN partner, please contact Amanda Christenson at 

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.


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.

Contact: Mindy Brand, (Visitor Center) or Sarah Hurley at Allies)

Champaign County Audubon Society

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.


Champaign County Soil & Water Conservation District (St. Joseph Wetland & Barnhart Prairie)

The St. Joseph Wetland project is located on both sides of US 150 on the west edge of St. Joseph. It was purchased from landowners by the CCSWC in 2005.  The CCSWCD Board wanted the project to be a place where residents could enjoy the wetland and students could learn wetland ecology.   The Barnhart Prairie is a restoration prairie of approximately 80 acres.



CoCoRaHS is an acronym for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network.  CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications.


Embarras Volunteer Stewards

The Embarras Volunteer Stewards began in 1994 to help public and private land owners in their efforts to preserve and restore native prairie and woodland sites. They are affiliated with The Nature Conservancy's Volunteer Stewardship Network and support an area that includes seven counties: Coles, Cumberland, Clark, Douglas, Edgar, Moultrie, and Shelby

Volunteers do monitoring, seed collecting, exotic species control, controlled burning, tree planting, seeding, trail maintenance, tours, talks and slide presentations, and butterfly monitoring. Workdays and tours last about two hours, and are announced in their Fall and Spring newsletters.


Grand Prairie Friends

Grand Prairie Friends is an all-volunteer, not-for-profit, conservation organization committed to preserving and restoring tallgrass prairie and woodlands in east-central Illinois. GPF acquires and helps manages prairie and woodland remnants, conducts prescribed burns, propagates and plants native prairie and woodland species in restorations and generates interest in natural areas through a variety of educational programs. GPF helps to maintain thirty-seven natural areas in east-central Illinois. They own six sites that range in size from 1.4 acres to 14 acres.

Volunteers are needed to steward sites, remove invasive species, collect seed, plant native species, and participate in education and community outreach. Opportunities to serve on the GPF Board of Directors or lead committees are also available.


Heartland Pathways

Heartland Pathways, a 33-mile ribbon of trails and wildlife habitat, is a natural and cultural treasure in the making in East Central Illinois. These lands were formerly Railway corridors containing valuable prairie remnants and three magnificent truss bridges -- two across heavily wooded sections of the Sangamon River and one at the western end of Heartland Pathways, across Salt Creek near Clinton. Heartland Pathways all tie in with Monticello and the 7-mile corridor managed by the Railway Museum.

With the help of volunteers, prairie remnants have become more diverse and vibrant and trestle bridges have been rebuilt and signs posted. As resources permit, Heartland Pathways hopes to refine and carry out major projects to improve the trail and enhance its many benefits.


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. This store supplies everyone – teachers, students, artists, crafters, program directors, community groups, churches, homeschoolers, and the curious with quality, safe reusable materials for artistic creations, the classroom, experimenting and more.  So shop, donate, volunteer, create and celebrate in a fun and educational way.

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.


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.

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.  To view a full list of our volunteering opportunities please visit our website:  Please contact Rachel Vinsel at for more details.

Volunteers can help with various plant and animal surveys. The Herbarium uses volunteers to assist with plant sample preparation and recording.


Kickapoo Krew

The Kickapoo Krew assist park staff in the restoration of natural lands in the Kickapoo State Park near Danville, Illinois. The Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, a federal and state designated Scenic River, runs through the park. Kickapoo encompasses bottomland and upland forests, a prairie at the Middle Fork State Wildlife Area, and miles of hiking trails as well as a mountain bike trail. Volunteers may remove non-native plants, collect, clean and broadcast prairie seeds, clear and maintain trails, or help with other maintenance of the natural areas. Scheduled workdays are typically the 3rd Saturday of the month.

Contact: Amanda at

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. Contact for details.


Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. Everything they do is rooted in good science. The Nature Conservancy pursues non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions to conservation challenges and operates openly and transparently.

Many of the partners from Central Illinois listed on this page are part of the Nature Conservancy's Volunteer Stewardship Network.


UI 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.


Prairie Rivers Network

Prairie Rivers Network is Illinois' leader in river conservation. We strive to protect the rivers and streams of Illinois and to promote the lasting health and beauty of watershed communities. By providing information, sound science, and hands-on assistance, Prairie Rivers Network helps individuals and community groups become effective river conservation leaders.

Volunteers help with media research, events, mailings, river-cleanup, rain garden planting, program research needs and other ongoing projects. By participating with organizations like Prairie Rivers Network, you are exercising your rights as a citizen to express your own values and priorities about clean water, rivers, wildlife, and the protection of these resources for future generations.


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 wiht 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.



Rain Garden Stewardship

The East Central Illinois Master Naturalists have taken over maintenance of the 1700 sq ft rain garden at the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, 302 N 1st St, Champaign, IL 61820 in 2015. This rain garden, established in 2007, is full of multi-season native forbs, grasses, shrubs and trees and handles the runoff from the building parking lot very efficiently. Maintenance of the site includes removing weeds, replacing plants, and spring clean-up. Contact: Cathy Barnard at

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.

Contact: Karen Folk at or Eliana Brown at


Bottenfield Elementary Natural Area 

Bottenfield Elementary School (1801 S Prospect Ave, Champaign, IL) parents have embarked on an ambitious project to create natural areas among the elementary school playgrounds in the summer of 2015.  The Kindergarten through 2nd Grade area will consist of seasonal “pollinator pockets” representing spring, summer, and fall. The design will demonstrate native plants across the growing season, with a visual progression that will move across the play area from West to East.  This also aligns with planned ECIMN led 4H programming in the fall, which is focused on habitat development.  The Grades 3-5 area is a nature and fitness circuit.  This natural area will be developed with less structure, a variety of native prairie plants, and builds on the rain garden already present. It will lie within the confines of the walking path.  Currently, ECIMN stewards of other school prairies are advising this project on plant selection. Volunteers will be needed to consult further and help with planting/maintenance until the parent groups are comfortable with the activities.

Contact: Sandy Lu Newport at


School Prairie Gardens

The East Central Illinois Master Naturalists established prairie gardens at two area public schools with the help of staff and students.  These plots are living classrooms for environmental education as well as the history of the Tallgrass Prairie in Illinois. The Unit 4 science curriculum includes a Tallgrass Prairie unit in the 3rd grade.  It is inspiring to see students observing a variety of insects and sketching and drawing the prairie plants.

Both gardens had a phenomenal start in 2013!  Most of the plants bloomed their first year, and because of the late spring planting, it seemed that most of the plants were blooming at the same time!  Volunteers are needed to maintain these plots which involves weeding, further development and additional planting and seed collection. Work days typically occur on Thursday mornings from 9am-11am.

The two schools currently in the program are:

  • Jefferson Middle School (1115 S Crescent Drive, Champaign, IL)
  • Booker T Washington School (606 E Grove St, Champaign, IL)  

Contact: Jim Hamilton,


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.

Contact: Diane Wilhite,


Pollinator Pockets

ECIMN and Master Gardeners are partnering to promote the use of pollinator-friendly plants in the landscape by providing ready-made designs that anyone can use to install an oasis for pollinators. These designs are intended to provide a cross-season food supply with plants that are reasonable to grow and maintain. 

Volunteers can help in a variety of ways:

  • Test drive the recommended pollinator pockets
  • Submit your own successful pollinator planting
  • Encourage others to spread the use of native/non-native pollinator friendly plantings
  • Information:


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, just south of the International Society of Arboriculture. Volunteers participate in invasive removal primarily.

Contact: Chandler Womack,


Kickapoo High Pond Disability Trail and Prairie Gardens

ECIMN Kickapoo Krew and Kickapoo State Park partnered in December of 2012 to clear the High Pond Disability Trail so that people could walk through the overgrown trail. This project evolved into not only removing invasives and pruning limbs/branching but establishing prairie gardens.

 Volunteers can help in a variety of ways:

  • Weeding and caring for prairie plants in the prairie gardens
  • Collecting and broadcasting prairie plant seeds
  • Removing invasives such as honeysuckle, autumn olive trees, garlic mustard etc.
  • Pruning limbs, branches or small trees and bushes encroaching on the trail
  • Provide guided tours to the public
  • Perform workshops such as Butterflies, Pollinator Pockets, Prairie Plants to the public

Information: Contact Amanda at