By Mary Lou Lael
Becoming a Master Naturalist had extraordinary effect, not only on my retirement, but on my 40-acre property. Through the training, I was introduced to people who helped me transform what was once a cow pasture into a six-pool wetland and nearly 20 acres of prairie.
Nineteen Master Naturalists spent many volunteer hours hand seeding the prairie, removing invasive species, and helping organize and supervise field trips to the project.
In the last three years, a variety of organizations have taken field trips to my project, including: The Friends of Sangamon Valley, Trees Forever, Jacksonville Sunrise Rotary, The Illinois Native Plant Society, Morgan County Herb Guild and a Master Naturalist class from Sangamon County, totaling approximately 170 people. Trips are currently planned for two 4-H clubs and a Scout troop. In addition, two professors from Illinois College are interested in bringing students to do long-term studies on water quality and insect life.
Also, I have partnered with the fifth grade classes at Our Saviour School in Jacksonville. Over the course of two years, I have given classroom presentations on native plants and animals, the value of wetlands and an overview of my project to 74 students. The students have also come to tour the wetland, conduct water testing and participate in the “Great Migration Game” from Cornell University lab of ornithology, and they also release 12 Monarch butterflies that were raised in their classroom.
None of the above activities could have happened without the Master Naturalist program, and the incredible program materials and teachers. The program is an invaluable resource, and a valued part of the programs provided by the University of Illinois Extension Service.