What is a Master Naturalist?

Master Naturalists are all volunteers, but their interests range widely. Some really enjoy cleaning up area hiking trails, while others have fun looking for tiny critters in local creeks. Some like identifying and mapping native plants and wildlife in state parks. Others derive satisfaction from coaxing wildflowers to bloom in a meadow or cultivating native and other plants useful to early Ozark inhabitants.

However, they all love learning more about nature, while doing what they can to keep the natural state natural. And every fall they start hunting for more like-minded individuals.

The newly formed chapter of Foothills of Arkansas Master Naturalists (FAMN) recently opened applications for a new class of volunteers for 2017, according to chapter president Tom Nowlin. The chapter invites residents who are interested from Heber Springs, Conway, Clinton and surrounding areas to apply.

The course for “Naturalists in Training” begins January 28 and concludes with graduation May 6. The application form and class schedule are available on this web page: http://wordpress.arkansasmasternaturalists.org/how-do-i-join/. (Scroll down to “FAMN.”)

“New members have a lot of fun learning about everything from rocks to plants and animals found in the Ozarks,” says Nowlin.

Experts teach classes in eco-regions, geology, astronomy, mammals, Interpretation, entomology, herpetology, ornithology and botany. Lessons also include practical skills like stream monitoring and trail maintenance. Nowlin emphasizes that you do not have to have a college degree to participate. Everything you need to know to be an active member will be provided during the training. Students receive their own guidebooks in many fields. Age is not a factor either.

“But there are no exams,” Nowlin reassures. “We learn by listening, observing and doing. We also schedule special advanced training classes in various topics for all members throughout the year.”

FAMN members will also organize purely recreational activities, such as hiking trips on area nature trails and float trips on the Buffalo River and other streams in the area, he added.

Ongoing projects will include monthly stream water monitoring on local streams. Stream team members evaluate local creeks by testing water chemistry and collecting and counting bugs and other critters in different creeks, including Archey Fork and the Little Red Rivers in Van Buren County.

New members’ classes begin January 28, with orientation at the Faulkner County Library in Conway. Other classes will be held at the Fairfield Bay Education Center and Fairfield Bay Marina, the Van Buren County Library, Clinton City Park, the University Central Arkansas, Conway, Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Mayflower and Woolly Hollow State Park to name a few. The class is limited to 30 applicants, so Nowlin urges interested persons to apply soon.

For more information, prospective volunteers may email Tom Nowlin at twnowlin@artelco.com or call Tom at (501) 723-5122.