Volunteers taking care of our state parks and natural areas

Photo credit: Emily Stone

Becky Sapper, Director, Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program
Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center Office
University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension

Total time – 3:00

0:11 – What is the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program
0:37 – Examples of volunteer work
1:28 – Specific project
1:55 – How many Master Naturalist volunteers
2:13 – What is the motivation to volunteer
2:42 – Where to get more information
2:53 – Lead out




Lorre Kolb: Volunteers taking care of our state parks and natural areas. We’re visiting today with Becky Sapper, Director of the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension and I’m Lorre Kolb. Becky, what is the Master Naturalist Program?

Becky Sapper: Well, the Master Naturalist Program works with partners across the state to train individuals about Wisconsin’s natural resources. And the program teaches us about our past human impact and the positive future impacts we can have as volunteers on our natural environment. And the program helps to promote opportunities for people to volunteer across the state of Wisconsin, as well as opportunities to continue to lean more so that we can create a better understanding and stewardship of our natural resources throughout Wisconsin.

Lorre Kolb: And what are some projects that volunteers work on?

Becky Sapper: Volunteers provide service to so many different projects across the state. And all of our volunteer work is done together with existing nature centers, parks and local to statewide programs. About half the volunteers perform an educational or interpretive service which can include everything from doing and educational program to youth or creating trail guides or even writing website content. Another quarter of our volunteers are citizen scientists and they help collect data that’s important for making key management decisions about natural resources, this includes activities like recording information about monarch butterfly populations or taking part in frog and toad surveys or bird counts or even measuring water quality in rivers and streams and then the remaining quarter of our volunteers provide stewardship activities like invasive species control or trail maintenance and prescribed burning or creating pollinator gardens. There is a wide variety of opportunities across the state.

Lorre Kolb: Can you give us a specific example of a project that the volunteers have worked on?

Becky Sapper: One neat example is Jordan Park Nature Center which is located in Portage County and the nature center was actually closed down in 2010 due to loss of funding, but a group of Master Naturalist volunteers got together with the county parks director and they worked to reopen it in 2015. And since 2015 it’s been open Memorial Day through Labor Days on Saturdays and fully staffed by Master Naturalist volunteers.

Lorre Kolb: How many volunteers are involved in the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program?

Becky Sapper: Well since 2013 there’s been 60 different volunteer training courses held across the state and by the end of 2018 there will be nearly 900 people who have taken part in a Wisconsin Master Naturalist volunteer training and over 100 instructors located across the state.

Lorre Kolb: And why do people volunteer for this program?

Becky Sapper: Volunteers are often motivated by different reasons that inspire them to action, but one of the things they have in common is they like to make a difference about things that are important to them. And Wisconsin is lucky to have an abundance of people who care about the natural environment in the places where they live, work and play. And volunteers do make a difference, in the first five years of the program, Master Naturalists have provided over 55,000 hours of volunteer service and they’ve reached over 164,000 individuals through volunteer-led educational programming.

Lorre Kolb: Where can people get more information if they would like to become a Master Naturalist?

Becky Sapper: The best way to find more information about how to become a Master Naturalist volunteer is to visit our website at wimasternaturalist.org.

Lorre Kolb: We’ve been visiting today with Becky Sapper, Director of the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension and I’m Lorre Kolb.

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