Deadline approaches for new Maine Master Naturalist Program

Students of the first ever Maine Master Naturalist Program course crowd around instructor and MMNP board member Fred Cichocki of Wiscasset while on a geology field trip in September 2011.
Photo courtesy of Cloe Chunn
Students of the first ever Maine Master Naturalist Program course crowd around instructor and MMNP board member Fred Cichocki of Wiscasset while on a geology field trip in September 2011.
Posted March 30, 2012, at 6:26 p.m.

The Maine Master Naturalist Program, an independent organization founded just a year ago, is accepting applications for its 2012-13 Belfast and Lewiston courses to become a Maine Master Naturalist. The 10-month training, September-June, includes 10 evening classes and six daylong field trips at a cost of $300. The application deadline has been extended to April 30.

The 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation was started in the spring of 2011 by a group of four Maine naturalists — Dorcas Miller of Chelsea, Fred Cichocki of Wiscasset, Susan Hayward of Lewiston and Cloe Chunn of Belfast.

“The person with the big inspiration was Dorcas Miller. She’s the author of a lot of natural history books,” Chunn said. “She called the other three of us because she knew we were like-minded natural history buffs, naturalists who kind of shared her dream.”

The four founders currently serve as the board and faculty of the program and work together to teach the course. Their goal is to develop a statewide network of volunteers to teach natural history at parks, conservation organizations and schools throughout Maine.

Upon enrollment in the program, participants agree to 40 hours of volunteer service at a conservation nonprofit or school during the year following certification. And they must continue to volunteer to remain active Maine Master Naturalists.

“We don’t want natural history to be lost in the race for people getting more and more into technology,” Chunn said. “I mean, you can actually use technology to enhance natural history. We just want to make sure that people are learning about the natural world.”

The course is more than 60 hours of classroom and field experience focusing on ecological principles; coastal, wetland and upland ecology; identification of Maine’s flora and fauna; geology; soil science; and teaching skills. Space is limited to approximately 20 students per class, and applicants younger than 18 must have adult permission.

Though the program is a serious commitment, prior education in ecology and biology is not a prerequisite.

“I think applicants should have a lively curiosity about nature and a desire to be more deeply involved and engaged in the natural world and sharing it with people,” Chunn said.

By the end of the program, participants will have developed skills to lead wilderness walks, present talks and slide shows on environmental topics, provide outreach to children in schools or on land trust or park property and teach people how to identify common trees, wildflowers, birds and other plants and animals.

“We’re realizing we’ll have to expand because we’ve already had invitations to teach in Bangor, Orono, Aroostook County and Lubec,” Chunn said. “We’re going to have to start figuring out how to gather and train staff and faculty and host programs all over the state. But we want to make sure our vision and the standards we have right now get replicated. It’s a pretty good workout.”

What’s unusual about MMNP is that it’s an independent organization. In researching, the board found that 30 other states have master naturalist programs, and most of these programs are associated with the government, universities or other organizations.

“The four of us are volunteering ourselves; we’re not paying ourselves to do this,” Chunn said. “And the hosting organizations aren’t charging to have it at their organizations. It’s a volunteer organization teaching a group of volunteers.”

The course fee ($300 per student) pays for an extensive list of books for each student, the organization’s liability insurance and small costs such as entrance to a planetarium show and state parks.

Donations and a $4,000 grant from the Davis Conservation Foundation allowed the board to purchase classroom and field materials such as an LCD projector and animal skulls. The Chewonki Foundation opened up its facilities in Wiscasset last fall to serve as the program’s first host. And this June, the program’s first 20 students plan to graduate as Master Maine Naturalists.

“I feel like we’re definitely on task,” Chunn said. “We’re headed right where our mission wants us to be.”

For information about the Belfast course, call Chunn at 338-1147 or email cloechunn@gmail.com; the Lewiston course, call Hayward at 782-5238 or email shayward@bates.edu. For information and an application form, visit www.mainemasternaturalist.org.

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