Thursday, June 29, 2006

Introducing East Central Illinois Master Naturalist

[Audio for this spot currently unavialable.]

Have you ever found yourself wishing you had a better understanding of the wildlife and natural systems of east central Illinois? Have you wondered about how you might get involved in conservation work as a volunteer?

A program beginning this Fall, East Central Illinois Master Naturalist, may be just the ticket for you.

Sponsored cooperatively by University of Illinois Extension, the Urbana Park District, and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, the Master Naturalist Program is designed to educate and train a corps of volunteers to provide support for the conservation, management, and interpretation of our natural resources. As its name suggests, the Master Naturalist program is modeled on Extension’s much loved Master Gardener’s program.

You need not have a college degree or years of experience to participate in the Master Naturalist program. You do need to have a sincere desire to learn about the natural world, and some interest in and capacity for sharing your knowledge with others.

More of a challenge, perhaps, you need to be able to make time for the classwork, volunteering and on-going training required for Master Naturalist certification.

Classes for the Master Naturalist program will typically be offered one day a week over a two month period, and they will be led by expert educators from around the region. For the inaugural session, which will begin on September 5th of this year, classes will be held on Tuesdays from 9 am to 4 pm.

Class instruction is designed to provide Master Naturalists with a framework for understanding the natural world and how people fit into it. Class topics will include reptiles and amphibians, insects, birds, mammals, and aquatic life. Participants will also learn how the components of various ecosystems—prairies, forests, and wetlands, for example—function together, and how human activities past and present have affected those systems.

Fall training for the Master Naturalist program will also include three Saturday field trips to natural areas around the region.

After completing their initial training, participants will have the opportunity to assist local conservation organizations in any number of ways, depending on their interests and capabilities. As a Master Naturalist volunteer you might find yourself collecting seeds from native plants with the Grand Prairie Friends, leading a nature hike for schoolchildren at Busey Woods in Urbana, or helping restore the Point Pleasant wetland at the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve. Or you might write newsletter articles and help with outreach and education at a local non-profit group.

You can learn more about the East Central Illinois Master Naturalist program by contacting University of Illinois Extension’s Champaign County office. Applications for Fall 2006 training are available via their website or by phone [217-333-7672], and are being accepted through July 25th.