Fairfax Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists Launches

Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Summer 2007

Virginia Master Naturalists logoA new organization in Northern Virginia aims to boost the number of volunteers striving to protect local lands and waters. The Fairfax Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program will train residents of Fairfax County, Falls Church and the City of Fairfax to become volunteer naturalists, then connect them with vital volunteer stewardship, citizen science and education opportunities in public parks and natural areas.

The Fairfax Chapter is one of 21 existing or forming chapters throughout the Commonwealth, and is only the second in Northern Virginia. (The Banshee Reeks Chapter in Leesburg was established last year). The Fairfax Chapter’s creation comes at an opportune time, as local jurisdictions struggle with rapid urbanization and population growth.

“Fairfax Master Naturalists can supply trained volunteer leaders to help guide the growing number of grassroots environmental groups,” says chapter sponsor Jim McGlone of the Virginia Department of Forestry. “Certified Master Naturalists will help these groups achieve their goals of protecting and enhancing the natural resources of Fairfax County, Falls Church and the City of Fairfax.”

The Virginia Master Naturalist program is based in the state Department of Forestry within Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History underwrite and jointly sponsor the program.

In September, the Fairfax Chapter will debut its three-month certification course, which consists of 36 hours of classroom instruction and 24 hours of field work. The curriculum covers a wide range of natural history and ecological topics, including ornithology, herpetology, geology and climate. While all Master Naturalist chapters provide the basic training that its volunteers will need to work in the field, each chapter tailors the course to fit its local environment and community.

The Fairfax Chapter intends to offer two training courses a year, with the second one beginning in early 2008. Next winter, it will also begin chapter meetings, which will feature a speaker series.

Roughly 20 environmental and scientific experts have volunteered to teach the first basic training class. Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District staff with expertise in soil and aquatic ecology are among the faculty.

Graduates of the basic training also must provide 40 hours of volunteer service and take eight hours of advanced training before being certified as a Virginia Master Naturalist. Volunteer service undertaken both by trainees and certified Master Naturalists will include activities such as mapping and evaluating hiking trails, restoring stream valleys by getting rid of invasive weeds and replacing them with native plants, studying wildlife, leading nature center programs, and monitoring stream health.

The Fairfax Chapter anticipates participating in NVSWCD’s water quality protection programs, including volunteer stream monitoring and storm drain education. The district is one of several corporate and government sponsors of the chapter, an arrangement that benefits both the volunteer program and the sponsoring organizations. Sponsors may offer classroom space, training instructors and materials; in return, they are connected to a corps of well-trained volunteers eager to participate in the organizations’ many environmental and conservation projects.

Questions about the Fairfax Chapter or requests to be added to the chapter’s e-mail list should be sent to FairfaxMasterNaturalists@gmail.com.

Special thanks to Stacey Evers and Harry Glasgow for contributing to this article.

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