Master Naturalists


Master Naturalist Logo

Our natural resources provide us with so much from physically and mentally. From clean water, food, and fiber to stress relief and beauty, the environment has a lot to offer. In Cook County, we need to take steps to protect our natural resources more than ever. Our state and local agencies are working to engage, learn, and steward the resources, but there is simply more to do than people with the skills to steward our natural resources. In Extension, we believe knowledge empowers us to act. This is why we train citizens on Cook County’s natural resources and empower them to steward our environment.  

The Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program is a volunteer training program offered by University of Illinois Extension. Cook County Master Naturalists serve the natural resources of Cook County including Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. Find other Illinois Master Naturalist groups on the state website

Since the establishment of the Cook County Master Naturalists in 2009, we have provided over
42,000 hours of service valuing at more than $1,000,000 to the Chicagoland area.
With many hands, we make a big difference.

Applications for 2024 Training have closed. Check back later for information on our next training!

A Master Naturalist is a citizen of the community who shares 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 in order to carry out their stewardship of Illinois’ natural resources.

Outreach and Education
tea cups held in a circle

Sharing their passions with the world is a specialty of Master Naturalists in which they do anything from guided hikes or our vast natural areas to online lessons about conservation.

  • Fridays in the Field
  • Walk and Talks/Guided Hikes
  • Wellness Programming
  • Mighty Acorns
"I hosted my first Forest Therapy Walks at Robinson, Caldwell and Thatcher Woods as well as the Chicago Park District’s Portage Park. The Forest Preserves of Cook County has provided a beautiful space for me to bring people together, while honoring ancestral land and bring awareness to this practice. The time I spent in Forest Preserves of Cook County as a U of I Extension Master Naturalist volunteer, laid the foundation for me; supporting my connection to nature as well as improved health, renewed care for the planet and simply falling in love with nature."
Kim Diaz Hay, 2017 Master Naturalist
grassland with yellow flowers

The rough and tough outdoor work done by our Master Naturalists in restoration include a whole host of activities such as invasive species removal, seed collection, and plantings.

"When I first began volunteering for stewardship workdays, I selected spots from the Volunteer page on the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s website. My plan was to taste test as many of the North Branch sites as possible and pick a favorite. I have found multiple things that I like about each site, and the stewards and volunteers at each spot are excellent. The work we do is generally dictated by the season, so while I’ve spent a lot of time removing invasive plants, I also got to collect seeds and even plant some new shrubs."
Jen Pagnini, 2019 Master Naturalist
Citizen Science
Insect on a stick

So much is unknown about our natural world and Master Naturalists are searching to find out. By collecting data on birds, plants, insects, and even rivers, our Master Naturalists are assisting in the discovery of Cook County’s natural ecology.

"Over the past 6 years with the program we've learned a lot about odonates, from surveying 3 sites, publications, web sites, programs and other monitors. We love sharing our knowledge with others. Keeping watch over odonates helps monitor water quality...our citizen scientist contribution. And the dragon and damsel flies have enriched our lives with beauty and wonder!"
- Annette and Dan Pletcher, 2014 Master Naturalists
Where We Work

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