Master Naturalists are citizens of the community who share a passion for the environment and stewardship. They are specially trained in topics such as Natural history of Illinois, Urban Areas and Wildlife, the Art of Interpretation and Teaching, and much more. Our certified Master Naturalists receive approximately 50 hours of initial education, giving them a comprehensive background on natural resources and the environment. They then apply this knowledge to work in their community by volunteering their time throughout their years of service.

This education and training allows our volunteers to be better equipped to share natural resource information with others in their communities and to assist with environmental conservation and restoration activities. We all have a responsibility to protect the natural resources in the places where we live in order to ensure our world is fit for the future. The University of Illinois Extension partners with local agencies to accomplish the Master Naturalist mission.


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 Cook County.

To service this mission, we strive towards our three main goals:

1. Offer Master Naturalist educational programs and materials that provide classroom and field-based training on the environmental and cultural resources of Cook County.

2. Cultivate volunteers to serve as educators and community ambassadors for environmental initiatives, as stewards in the management of natural resources in Cook County, Illinois, and as stakeholders who will perpetuate the Master Naturalist Program.

3. Facilitate cooperation and collaboration among partnering groups and agencies.

We meet these goals by:

  • Perpetuating Master Naturalist Program development through web assistance, newsletter development, and Advisory Board service.
  • Offering assistance in developing new and enhancing existing environmental education offerings to the community.
  • Providing assistance with the stewardship of regional natural resources.
  • Acting as ambassadors who expand community awareness of environmental activities and initiatives.

The Cook County Master Naturalist Program is run through the University of Illinois Extension serving Cook County. All funds maintained by University of Illinois Extension.

The geographic area covered by the Cook County Master Naturalists is countywide.


      Qualifications to become a Master Naturalist

      Anyone can become a Master Naturalist - it does not require a degree or years of experience. You do, however, need to:

      • Have a sincere desire to learn and share natural resource information within your community
      • Be able to communicate effectively
      • Be willing to devote time to volunteering and continuing education

      The Process:

      1. Applications for the 2021 session will be posted on this page when they become available. The Cook County Master Naturalist application period for 2021 is now open. If you are interested the Cook County Master Naturalist training, please complete the application by March 22nd 2021.  

      2. Be available for a short 40-minute online interview to determine qualifications for the program.

      3. Pass background check.

      4. Accepted applicants attend a 10-session training August-October.

      5. Complete 60 hours of volunteer service for the Forest Preserves of Cook County within two years.

      To Maintain Your Certification:

      • Annually complete 10 hours of continuing education.
      • Annually complete 30 hours of approved volunteer activities anywhere within Cook County.


      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. 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?

      We offer expert led training sessions over three months. Approximately 50 hours of classroom instruction and field study and a minimum of 60 hours of volunteer work must be completed within the Forest Preserve of Cook County to become certified. Once a certified Master Naturalist, 30 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of continuing education or advanced training are required each year and can be completed anywhere within Cook County.

      When is 2021 Training?

      The 2021 training is scheduled for ten in-person sessions held on Fridays from August through October. If needed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the training will be moved to a hybrid delivery format. All dates are required for participation in the Master Naturalist Program.

      Locations are TBD and may include Forest Preserves of Cook County Nature Centers, Environmental Education Centers and local museums throughout Cook County. 

      What is the Cost and What Will I Learn?

      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.

      Adult trainees in the Master Naturalist program will participate in at least 50 hours of training where they 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.

      Please record your volunteer hours for all programs. Use following link to record your hours.  Volunteer Time Tracking System 

      Our 2021 local policies can be found here. These policies are in addition to the policies by the University of Illinois Extension State Master Naturalist Program.

      If you have not already, please download and complete this form; mail it to the Master Naturalist Coordinator.  This form must be filled out and mailed annually to maintain certification.  Master Naturalist Yearly Agreement

      To get updates on events going on with your fellow Master Naturalists and to share your own events visit the Cook County Master Naturalist Facebook Page. If you are a Master Naturalist and not currently part of the Facebook group submit a request through the group.

      Earn continuing education hours by watching University of Illinois Extension YouTube videos

      • TrailWatch
      • Conservation@Home
      • The Field Museum
      • Forest Preserves of Cook County
      • Fridays in the Field: Little Red Schoolhouse
      • Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network
      • Garfield Park Conservatory
      • Lake Katherine Nature Center
      • Midewin National Tallgrass Prairies
      • Mighty Acorns
      • Openlands Birds in my Neighborhood
      • Montrose Beach Restoration and Citizen Science Activities
      • Skokie Lagoons
      • Treekeepers
      • Project Feeder Watch
      • Bud Burst Program
      • Urban Monarch Project
      Reasonable Accommodations

      If you need reasonable accommodations to participate in this program, please contact Abigail Garofalo at or (708) 449-4320.