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Volunteer Newsletter: Master Naturalist Class of 2016

Master Naturalists on a rainy November hike near Bemis Woods. Photo by Brigit Holt.
Master Naturalists on a rainy November hike near Bemis Woods. Photo by Brigit Holt.

It is with great enthusiasm that we announce the completion of the Master Naturalist training of 2016! This year, another cohort of fantastic volunteers has been trained by the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program and is ready to share their experience with residents of Cook County. In utilizing the Forest Preserves of Cook County as an extremely effective lab, Master Naturalists across the county have volunteered their time to steward and manage natural places, cultivate gardens for wildlife, monitor trails, protect endangered species, interpret local natural areas, and share their knowledge through educationally focused pursuits.

Master Naturalists have reported so many changes in their perspectives and interests through the course of the Master Naturalist program, and it is understandable considering the type of training it entails. For ten weeks, trainees travel the expanse of Cook County discovering endangered ecosystems such as rare remnant prairies, wetlands and savannas, foundational research institutions, science labs, and rare natural collections. Exposure to educational leadership from instructors with University of Illinois, Illinois Natural History Survey, The Field Museum, The Nature Conservancy and Forest Preserves of Cook County is also part of the fun!

Master Naturalist trainees are exposed to so many experiences that encompass much of what is driving the environmental revival of the Chicagoland area and beyond. Perhaps the most empowering piece of the Master Naturalist training is exposure and eventual comradery with other like-minded individuals who are just as interested in learning and sharing their knowledge and skills.  This part of the training has proven to be incredibly inspiring, as both participants and staff learn from each other and collaborate to make the kind of impact only a cohesive group can.

Twenty chapters comprise the Master Naturalist manual, and each of them is designed to give enough information and resources to inspire and support self-guided and lifelong learning. With a focus on local natural systems, a greater understanding of the world immediately surrounding us is built. With all of that said, how could anyone stand for the training to end? It is difficult, but engaging in meaningful volunteer projects and connecting others to the resources we are so lucky to possess in Chicagoland is the mission of the Master Naturalist program, and so Master Naturalists are happy to oblige. Master Naturalists complete at least 60 volunteer hours within the Forest Preserves of Cook County after their initial training and 30 volunteer hours plus 10 continuing education hours in the years after to keep certification current.

Interested?  Learn more about Master Naturalists in Cook County.

By Brigit Anne Holt, CIG, University of Illinois Extension Program Coordinator, Master Naturalist.