As she was cleaning up flood damage at her northern Jefferson County home, Sue Haskins spotted and picked up a small garter snake. She showed it to others who were helping her as the Meramec River receded, then she let the snake go on higher ground.
Because of her training, she knew the snake was not harmful and used the moment to teach others about the nature around them. That’s just something Haskins does. As a master naturalist certified by the state Department of Conservation and the Missouri University Extension Service, Haskins was living the mission of mixing science and service.
“It’s a great program if someone wants to get involved in their community and conservation,” Haskins said. “You get a real understanding of how things work in the natural world.”
The mission of Missouri Master Naturalists is to engage Missourians in the stewardship of natural resources through science-based education and volunteer community service.
Once you have received your training and completed your service, you’ll become a certified Master Naturalist. Each year following, you will complete eight hours of additional advanced training and contribute 40 hours of service to maintain your certification.
Potential naturalists shouldn’t worry that the study will be rigorous or require a scientific mind.
“I’m a day-care provider. I just love learning and teaching,” Haskins said. “The training course is really simple. There is some paperwork, but it’s mostly hands-on activities and group work.”
11 LOCAL CHAPTERS
After completing the course work, new naturalists join one of 11 local chapters around the state. Haskins is a member of the Franklin County group called Miraguoa that meets at the Shaw Nature Reserve near Pacific and at the Jay Henges Education Center near High Ridge.
Membership also requires a commitment to community service in conservation and continuing education throughout the year. Those opportunities come a lot easier than people think, Haskins said.
“Forty hours a year to give back to your community is nothing, and the eight hours of training you can get through the monthly chapter meetings,” she said.
Leading nature programs and visiting classrooms seem much more of a reward than a requirement.
“We go into schools and talk to the classes. What a great opportunity that is for those students, to have so many teachers there for them,” Haskins said.
The other reward for master naturalists is the camaraderie developed through dedication to conservation and the environment.
“Some of my best friends over the past few years are the members of our chapter,” Haskins said. “It is a chance to get together with people of like minds wanting to encourage others, especially children to get out and enjoy the outdoors.”
But don’t get the idea that all master naturalists are identical.
“Anybody can get involved. We have young couples and seniors. It’s a real good mix of people,” she said.
Haskins has been in the program for 10 years and but looks forward to the upcoming classes for new members because she will get to participate by sharing her experiences with the students.
Class openings are limited and registration fills quickly, so anyone interested in the course should contact the St. Louis County MU Extension Office soon at 314-400-2115. For more information, search for Missouri master naturalist at extension.missouri.edu.
John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for Outdoor Guide Magazine, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.