This post is the first in a series about the classes and field walks I participated in as a student of New York’s Master Naturalist Training, September 23-25, 2011. Future posts will cover specifics of our classes on NY State’s flora and fauna.
The New York Master Naturalist Program is a high-quality, science-based training program designed to teach adults about New York’s natural resources, empowering them to educate others and participate in on-the-ground conservation management projects.
I don’t know how I first heard about state-run Master Naturalist programs. It was around a year ago, and the source may have been the nature blog of Philadelphia naturalist Donna Long. I liked the idea, so I did some serious Google sleuthing (the program’s web presence still leaves something to be desired), and determined that New York does indeed have a Master Naturalist Program. Unlike some states (Texas, for example) with long-established programs and multiple chapters, New York is new at the Master Naturalist game. Run by the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, the program has been in existence only three years and is still making changes, based on feedback from participants.
The heart of the program is an intensive weekend of classroom and field training at Cornell’s beautiful 4,000-acre Arnot Teaching and Research Forest.
The weekend provides 16 credit hours, after which participants receive a certificate, making them “Certified Naturalists.”
To become a Master Naturalist, students must continue their training over the coming year with an additional 14 hours of approved coursework and 30 hours of volunteer work.
It all sounded good to me. And besides, what Manhattanite couldn’t use an autumn weekend in the woods?
So it was that last Friday morning, I hitched a ride to the Arnot Forest with fellow student Kimberly Eierman, a Bronxville-based landscape designer and state-certified Master Gardener with a passion for native plants. We headed north in sometimes heavy rain for a 4 1/2-hour drive, passing through some sadly flood-damaged communities on our way.
The largest pumpkin known to man appeared and disappeared in the fog.
After arriving at the forest in the late afternoon, I snagged a bunk in a cabin and unrolled my sleeping bag.
Then students gathered in the Main Lodge for the official welcome and introduction by Kristi Sullivan, Director of the Master Naturalist Program and a biologist with Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources. The lodge would serve as our indoor classroom, dining hall and social area.
I was impressed with the turn-out. There were 26 of us from around the state: men and women, young and old, with a wide variety of backgrounds and knowledge of natural history. There were trained foresters, elementary school teachers, nature center staff members, landscapers, backyard gardeners, a wildife rehabber with a particular interest in turtles, a recent college grad with an impressive knowledge of mushrooms as well as a couple of recent retirees and a few people considering a career change.
Kristi distributed fat binders full of information
and a schedule of classes, some with an outdoor field study component:
Bats and Bat Conservation
Threats to Forest Ecosystems
Amphibians and Reptiles
Deer and Biodiversity
Mushrooms and Fungi