The Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program is new to the state and seeks to promote awareness, understanding and stewardship of Wisconsin’s natural resources.
It does this through the help of volunteers, who upon completing the program, provide service in one of three areas: education/interpretation, stewardship or citizen science.
“We focus on parks and native lands,” said Mary Trainor.
She and Sue Eiler teach the course at Hartman Creek State Park.
Trainor holds a doctorate in biology and was on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Eiler is a past president of the Friends of Hartman Creek State Park.
A dozen people from throughout the area took the first Master Naturalist volunteer training course at the park earlier this year. The next one is set for this fall.
It will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on six Saturdays – Sept. 13, Sept 20, Oct. 4, Oct. 18, Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 – in the conference room of the park’s headquarters office.
The cost is $250, with scholarships available for those planning to serve as Master Naturalist volunteers in the park.
People may visit www.wimasternaturalist.org to register.
Registration ends Sept. 5, and if unable to register online, contact Martha Martin, of the WIMN state office, at email@example.com or 608-262-0020.
The course involves 40 hours of training in natural history, interpretation and conservation stewardship, with field trips each week in the park. Students also complete a project.
Topics covered include geology, landscapes, ecology, plant communities, wildlife, interpretation, water, aquatic life and human impacts.
Upon graduation, volunteers must complete 40 hours of service each year, in addition to eight hours of advanced training, in order to maintain their certification.
“The course is an introduction,” said Eiler.
Trainor said, “The program is designed to equip volunteers to be interpreters, to provide education to people on public lands.”
In addition to Trainor and Eiler, the local program includes guest speakers.
Trainor said the program equips people to feel confident about volunteering in state parks.
“There are so many people who use parks and care, but they don’t have the background to volunteer,” she said. “This gives them a solid background.
Both Trainor and Eiler are volunteer instructors, and both said that Park Superintendent Mike Bergum and summer Naturalist Kara Janssen are supportive of the program.
The first graduates of the local class included Bill Herrbold, Megan Karth and Deb Potts, all of Waupaca.
“How many times have you had a question about a park feature, wondered about invasive species when you see a sign about them or just wanted to talk to someone from the park about its general make up?” asks Potts.
She said volunteers may help in that area.
Karth loves nature and said she feels at her best when she is outside.
“I truly believe we need the natural world as much as we do food and water and shelter,” she said.
She believes love and respect for the natural world can and should be taught.
“We are part of this big web, and we depend on it for our survival,” Karth said. “And also, because of our technological marvels, we can do so much more damage to the earth and its creatures, out of ignorance, than other creatures ever could.”
She also wants her grandchildren to love nature and for today’s generation to leave an intact, livable planet filled with healthy diversity for the generations to come after it.
“I want people to see that nature is all around them, not just in parks, and that even in a city, we affect and are affected by the natural world,” Karth said. “The Wisconsin Master Naturalist class reinforced the beliefs I already had, taught me so much about the natural world in this incredible state of Wisconsin, allowed me to meet some real experts, put me with some folks I can work with on future volunteer projects and gives me access to learning opportunities for the future. It provides a good network to do the kind of work I think is valuable for our collective future.”
Herrbold, president of the Friends of Hartman Creek State Park, learned there are people not familiar with nature who need to have it interpreted.
“With a degree in botany, I always had an interest in plants, nature in general,” he said. “As soon as I got the book and started reading it, it reinvigorated my interest.”
After Herrbold graduated from UW-Madison, he served in the U.S. Air Force for five years, during the Vietnam War.
After his service, he spoke to a faculty member at UW-Stevens Point about seeking a Master’s degree there in forestry and also asked about future job opportunities.
At that time, there was one opening in the state and 12 graduate students looking for jobs, Herrbold recalled.
Instead, he worked in insurance for just short of 30 years.
The class refreshed his memory about some topics and taught him much in other areas.
Eiler said, “It’s a common core that draws people together, and you learn from one another.”
Trainor said it is exciting to be part of the initial stages of Wisconsin’s program.
“It really is a new chapter in Wisconsin’s rich conservation heritage,” she said.