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Master Naturalists seek new members

Lovers of nature will have an opportunity to receive education and give back to the environment next year with the Virginia Master Naturalist Southside chapter.

Applications for the chapter’s spring training sessions are due before the first session on Jan. 30.

“Training is 40 hours of lectures. We bring in speakers from all over the state and specialists in the area. They last an hour and a half to two hours. They are getting a big overview of the subject,” said Geoff Payne, VMN Southside member.

The training sessions will run from Jan. 30 until May 22, and the classes are from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. every other Tuesday. A plethora of topics, including basic ecology, forestry and geology, is covered over the four-month span by specialists in their fields.

“Hopefully, it sparks your interest. The training includes field trips with the specialists. Everyone gets a background in the area of interest,” Payne said. “It’s for everybody that’s interested. You don’t have to be super knowledgeable.”

After successful completion of training, all of the students will become Master Naturalists. In order to become certified, students must complete 40 hours of volunteer work and have eight hours of continuing education.

Naturalists get to embark on a multitude of projects with the group, and the VMN Southside website currently has 17 ongoing projects. Students that complete their training aren’t limited to just the projects the group is currently involved with.

“When they’re done they can work on any project they want. They are not constrained to do one project,” Payne said.

The projects the VMN work on provide vital data to some organizations. The group is sponsored by large organizations in Virginia, including the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Virginia Department of Forestry.

“We are being entrusted as citizen scientists,” said Stella Payne, also a VMN Southside member. “They don’t have some of the personnel that we do.”

VMN holds one class every year, and there are only 20 open seats in every class. Because of large interest in the group, the classes are packed full every year. The group can only host a specific number of students due to space constraints, Geoff Payne said.

When applying there is a $125 fee per person, or $190 for couples, that covers the cost of classroom lectures and field trips.