Art and nature go hand-in-hand for Extension Master Naturalist and artist Peggy West. She uses her skills and expertise to educate and advocate for critical issues of the environment.
For a few years, new volunteers had the choice to complete the 60-hour Extension Master Gardener training in one of two ways: a face-to-face class or individually online.
Volunteer efforts can lead University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists (EMN) on some fun adventures. Sometimes those adventures are as close as their backyard. Citizen Science programs have given EMNs serving in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties opportunities to use their skills and knowledge to impact their communities and beyond.
From the perspective of University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists, the new prairie project at the Peoria County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) is an excellent way to increase native plant and pollinator populations. To the JDC administrators, the project is an excellent way to save a lot of money and time mowing grass. Both reasons are making a positive impact in the community.
The opportunities are vast when it comes to inspiring others to enjoy nature. University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist (EMN) Pam Tomka uses her grant writing skills to help Wildlife Prairie Park make facility improvements, which in turn will draw more people out into nature.
Each year in the United States, over one million acres of native habitat are transformed into urban and suburban lawns. The loss of these native plant resources is directly related to the decline of the native bird population by 3 billion birds. As news of species decline becomes more common, University of Illinois Extension has significantly increased the native plant educational programs to address this concern.
One of the less mentioned benefits of being an Extension Master Gardener or Master Naturalist is the time you get to spend with other volunteers learning together and from each other. While shelter-in-place and social distancing protocols are being followed, University of Illinois Extension staff created virtual book study groups for our master volunteers that began in late March with the book Nature’s Best Hope and have continued to a second book.
Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, located north of Havana, may be unknown by many people, but for millions of waterfowl, migratory birds, and wildlife it is a very popular place. University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Carla Montez is helping to educate the public about the value of Chautauqua and the wildlife that live and feed there through educational articles.
“I just want people to spend more time outside,” explained University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Julie Robinson.
This was the passion driving Robinson to build a website called Local OPAL, which stands for Outdoor Playing And Learning, www.localopal.org. She created an online resource that helps everyone easily find publicly accessible outdoor locations in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, Tazewell, Marshall, and Woodford counties.
Wildlife Prairie Park (WPP) is one of the many natural resource treasures in Illinois. Their mission of conservation, education, and recreation goes hand-in-hand with the mission of the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists (EMN) which is to provide educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. Within the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, 25 Extension Master Naturalists invest their time and talents as members of the 380-person WPP volunteer team.
University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit is pleased to announce Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle, of East Peoria, has joined the team as the new horticulture educator. Her new role will include a wide range of horticulture programs, educational resources, and overseeing the unit Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs.
“Attending the Master Naturalist training last year was one of my favorite educational experiences,” mentioned Nicole. “It is exciting to be working with that program in my new position.”
University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, Master Naturalists and Masters Gardeners have become involved in a partnership among the Illinois Department Natural Resources (IDNR), Mason State Tree Nursery, and Pollinator Partnership in an effort to enhance land across the Midwest to support our imperiled pollinators. The goal of Project Wingspan is to increase monarch and Rusty Patched Bumble Bee habitat in hopes of seeing an increase in their quickly declining populations.
The work being done through University of Illinois Extension programs and partnerships in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties is recognized for its positive impact at many levels through the University system. College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) dean, Kimberly Kidwell, recently returned for her second unit tour, along with the new Extension director and associate dean, Shelly Nickols-Richardson. The duo spent the day learning about a few of our programs, engaging with unit staff, and networking with volunteers, 4-H members, and partners.
Fulton-Mason Eagle Day is a popular annual community event organized by the Emiquon Partnership attracting well over 1,000 visitors this year. University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist volunteers assist in a variety of ways each year to help educate youth and adult visitors and inspire them to connect with nature. At the 2019 event, seven Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit Master Naturalists played important roles in the success of this event which has venues on both sides of the river.
Ag & Natural Resources Program Coordinator
“I coordinate logistics and volunteers for commercial agriculture and natural resource programs. I work closely with our team of 90 Master Naturalists as they deliver educational programs, complete continuing education, and work with our partners on projects such as restoration of natural areas and environmental stewardship events.
Since 2014, University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists serving in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties have collaborated with several partners for a special event called Science Adventure Day. Over a two-day period in September, all Canton District 66 fourth graders experience six separate hands-on sessions and the natural beauty at Lakeland Park.