Become a Master Naturalist

Anyone can become a Master Naturalist.

It does not require a degree or years of experience. You just need to have a sincere desire to learn and share natural resource information within your community, be able to communicate effectively, and be willing to devote time to volunteering and continuing education.

The Process
  1. Complete this application.
  2. Attend a 45-minute information session. You must attend an information session for your application to be considered.
  3. Once application materials has been reviewed by Extension Staff, you may be invited for a short 30-minute web interview and asked to submit paperwork for background checks.
  4. Accepted applicants will attend a 12 session training from August-October.
  5. Complete 60 hours of volunteer service for the Forest Preserve District of Cook County within two years.  

The training prepares volunteer Master Naturalists to participate in local environmental education and stewardship efforts more effectively. Trainees will learn about and may participate in citizen scientist activities, restoration work days, and interpretive programming. They will be able to share their knowledge, skills, and passion about the natural world with others so they also can become more engaged.

What Does the Training Involve?
Training is a minimum of 40 hours of coursework over the course of three months. Trainees will participate in guided hikes and online discussions as well as independently read literature, watch content videos from natural resource experts across the state, and individually explore and research environmental topics. 

Adult trainees in the Master Naturalist program will learn about:

  • Basic principles about the natural world.
  • The interdependent nature of the plants and animals in the various ecosystems of Illinois.
  • The animals specific to Illinois such as mammals, insects, reptiles and fish and birds.
  • How everyone is part of and impacts nature in rural or urban areas.
  • Practical techniques for both teaching about and managing natural areas.

Training takes place online and at locations across Cook County including at Forest Preserves of Cook County Nature Centers, Environmental Education Centers and local museums. Thanks to the support of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, we are able to offer the training for a reduced rate of $175. This fee includes the Master Naturalist manual filled with helpful resources and reference publications.

When is Training?
Training occurs in August through October and specific dates will be released when applications open up in February.  All dates are required for participation in the Master Naturalist Program.

    Volunteer Service

    As a volunteer training program, it is required to apply the knowledge you gain from training back into your community -starting with your internship, and then beyond with maintaining your certification. 

    The Internship
    60 hours of volunteer work must be completed within the Forest Preserve of Cook County to become certified. This can be done through the Forest Preserve's Volunteer program, on Forest Preserve property, or through programs that partner with the Forest Preserves such as Conservation@Home. There are many opportunities available including: 

    • Citizen Science
    • Restoration
    • Outreach and Education
    • Winter Work


    Maintaining Certification
    Once a certified Master Naturalist, you must complete 30 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of continuing education or advanced training each year. This can be completed anywhere within Cook County and with any organization. We recommend finding an organization or site close to where you live. This can include the Forest Preserves of Cook County, or even a local park district, school, library, and much more!