Master Naturalists get out in the field to protect Illinois’ natural resources

URBANA, Ill. – On a chilly fall morning, amid a background of trees boasting autumnal colors and birds flying south overhead, Master Naturalists gathered for a day of hands-on learning about Illinois’ natural resources. By wading into cold creeks to survey for mussels, fish, and macroinvertebrates and getting dirty collecting root and soil samples, volunteers learned how local actions can have a positive impact on a large scale.

More than 100 volunteers and University of Illinois Extension staff from around the state met at the annual Master Naturalist State Conference on October 17 at Allerton Park in Monticello. Together, they took to the field to explore geology, agroforestry, fungi, freshwater aquatics, nature photography, and birding.

The conference returned after two years of virtual meetups during the pandemic. Duane Friend, State Master Naturalist and Climate Change Specialist, says the goal was for volunteers to network and learn new skills to bring home and share through local nature awareness, education, and stewardship projects.

“The Master Naturalist program educates and trains adult volunteers so they are better equipped to share information in their communities and to assist with environmental conservation and restoration activities,” Friend says. “We all have a responsibility to protect the natural resources where we live to ensure our world is fit for the future.”

The mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist program is to provide science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature in their community and help them become engaged environmental stewards. The program educates and trains adult volunteers so they are better equipped to share natural resource information with others and to assist with environmental conservation and restoration activities by partnering with local agencies. 

Those interested in becoming a Master Naturalist should contact their local Extension office at go.illinois.edu/extensionoffice to find out more about joining.

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.

Photos: 
- Master Naturalist volunteers explored Allerton Park for a day of hands on learning at their annual conference in October. One of the classes included nature photography. 
- Shibu Kar, Assistant Dean and Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy Program Leader, kicks off the conference by discussing the importance of the Master Naturalist program across the state and the need to share the program with local community leaders and legislators.