Are you interested in learning more about the environment? Do you have a desire to serve as a volunteer environmental steward? If so, you may want to consider becoming a University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist volunteer.

In Coles County and the others in our Extension Unit, the Illinois Master Naturalist program will be offered for the first time in the fall of 2019, as another volunteer opportunity for residents interested in environmental stewardship. The program provides science-based educational opportunities that connect people with nature and help them become engaged environmental stewards. With the help of local experts, University of Illinois Extension provides the educational support for the program, while volunteering is typically coordinated through local partners. In our Extension Unit, program partners currently include Douglas-Hart Nature Center, Grand Prairie Friends, and the Coles County Soil and Water Conservation District.

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The Illinois Master Naturalist program is designed to educate and train a corps of volunteers to provide support in the conservation, management, and interpretation of the area’s natural resources in collaboration with local partners. In Extension Unit 19, the Illinois Master Naturalist program includes projects and partners in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties.

So, you might be asking, who can become a Master Naturalist volunteer? Any adult over 18 years of age who loves the outdoors, has a concern for the local environment and wants to provide education and service to help their local community. You do not need to have a college degree or years of experience. You need to have a sincere desire to learn and share information about nature and be willing to devote time to volunteering and ongoing training.

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Each Master Naturalist volunteer participates in at least 40 hours of initial training. The classes are held in a variety of locations, but many of them will be presented at Douglas-Hart Nature Center. Training sessions include lecture, discussion, hands-on activities and field trips. After volunteers complete training, the internship begins. Certification requires the completion of 60 hours of volunteer service. To remain certified, a MN volunteer must complete at least 30 hours of volunteer time and 10 hours of continued education each year.

Volunteer service projects may include stream bank, wetland, forest, and prairie restoration; fish, wildlife, and plant inventories; environmental education programs for youth and adults; interpretive tours at the visitor center. The list of volunteer activities is endless. Many of the activities in which you can participate will be at Douglas-Hart Nature Center and at Grand Prairie Friends’ Warbler Woods. Continuing education opportunities are provided by the program partners in our Extension Unit.

The training begins on August 13th and continues every Tuesday through October 15th. The training will be conducted in the evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m..

If you are interested in becoming an Illinois Master Naturalist volunteer you will need to complete an application and background check as a first step. Next, you will participate in an informal interview and orientation. The program participation fee, which covers the cost of classroom and field training, handouts and the Master Naturalist curriculum manual, is $150. The application deadline for the fall 2019 training is August 1, 2019. For an application or more information about the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program, contact Dave Shiley, UI Extension Educator, 217-543-3755 or dshiley@illinois.edu.

For more information on University of Illinois Extension programming in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie and Shelby counties, visit our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/index.html or call us at 217-345-7034 The University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need reasonable accommodation to participate in this program, please contact the extension office at 217-345-7034.

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