Picture of native plant Black-eyed Susan with butterfly

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.

Master Naturalist volunteer holding a bag of cleaned seeds for Project Wingspan

The University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalists of Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties were honored in January 2021 by Pollinator Partnership for Project Wingspan as the Most Engaged Volunteers in 2020.

Natures Best Hope book cover

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.

Extension Master Naturalist Julie Robinson documenting outdoor public spaces

“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.

Volunteer Master Naturalist at Wildlife Prairie Park

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.

Nicole Flowers staff photo

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.”

women touching a plant sitting in classroom

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.

Dr. Shelly Nickols-Richardson shaking hands with a 4-H teen

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.

group of Master Naturalists standing in front of display

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.

Christine Belless in action

Christine Belless

Ag & Natural Resources Program Coordinator

cbelless@illinois.edu

 “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.

man helping student use microscopes

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.