The 2015 Illinois Master Naturalist class ended its 11 week course with a field trip to a prairie located near Ashley on Saturday, May 2. The prairie is a 10 acre restoration project on private land. Participants observed a prairie planted entirely from seeds – all of local origin.
The Master Naturalist program is sponsored by the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service. It 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.
Featured on the field trip were prairie plant identification, a demonstration of prescribed burning equipment, prairie habitat activities, and exotic invasive species removal technique. In attendance were two 2014 Master Naturalist graduates and ten 2015 Master Naturalist Trainees. Martin Kemper of Nashville (2014 graduate) led the field trip with assistance from Brenda Lyons, Extension Coordinator, and local volunteer Dennis Malawy of Posen.
“Despite the virtual eradication of the original prairie ecosystem in Illinois (the ‘Prairie State’), prairies still hold a special fascination. Small prairie remnants can still be found in Washington and surrounding counties, although these small remnants are going to disappear soon unless rescued – primarily from the in-growth of woody species,” noted Kemper.
“This is an exciting new program we a pleased to be able to offer to citizens in our area,” according to Master Naturalist program coordinator Gail DeVilbiss. “Our communities need an increased awareness of natural resources and our trained volunteers are already raising awareness about nature and undertaking important stewardship and citizen science projects. Our program is designed to provide enjoyable outdoor experiences and provide the means for graduates to contribute to the future well-being of our environment.”
The 2015 class which met in Nashville, began in February with an orientation to the program presented by Extension Educator Laurie George. Additional sessions on writing, journaling, and Illinois ecology were presented by Susan Post and Michael Jeffords. Susan and Michael, both formerly with the Illinois Natural History Survey, are a husband and wife team who are well known natural history authors and educators. Michael is one of the foremost nature photographers in Illinois.
Additional training has included classes on geology, birds, forests, environmental ethics, reptiles and amphibians, insects, wetlands and the art of interpretation. Field trips to local natural areas are also part of the curriculum. This is the second class organized in the joint Bond, Clinton, Jefferson, Marion, and Washington County Extension Unit. The first class of 14 students graduated in spring 2014. The program, patterned partly on the very successful Master Gardener program, began as a pilot program in just two counties in 2006 and has been growing annually.
Master Naturalist Class Members attended a field trip at the conclusion of the Master Naturalist Class. Front row, from left: Kathy Kingsley, David Stein, Ellen Schumacher, Sarah Lee and Jackie Friend. Back row: Dale Kingsley, Mike Claypool, Marty Kemper, Brenda Lyons, Jeff Friend and Monty Tyner.