The master plan: Area environmentalists think globally, act locally

In a culture where fads spread more quickly than disease, a group of local individuals view environmentalism as more than just “going green,” and are educating people on their direct impact on the preservation of nature.

A local chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program calls from Pocahontas State Park, seeking a few nature-oriented individuals to fill open spots for next year’s certification course. The class begins in January 2011, and is open to volunteers eager to undergo a unique, grassroots education of issues surrounding Virginia’s natural resources.

The Virginia Master Naturalist program is a statewide operation dedicated to teaching its volunteers the knowledge of environmental preservation in the state. Members of the program’s local chapter in Chesterfield will be offered opportunities for active involvement in a variety of different settings.

 “It’s a good program from a lot of different angles,” said Rich Marino, chairman of the communications and outreach committee for the Pocahontas chapter. “Personal involvement is key, and there are numerous opportunities for people to be actively involved in supporting Virginia’s natural resources.”

 People can participate in the program in three ways: The implementation of stewardship, such as the maintenance of trails and restoring wildlife habitats; teaching youth and adults about environmental issues and mentalities; and Citizen Science, like collecting data on wildlife and plant population, water quality, etc.

Marino adds that focusing on the education of young people to instill an early reverence for the natural world will have long-lasting benefits in the future. In fact, he feels that concentrating on everyone within the community is a key component of progress.

 “You can’t save the world by yourself,” he said. “The only thing you can do is think globally and act locally.”

The program starts in January and those volunteering can reach full certification in six to 12 months. The Pocahontas chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program maintains that, to become a fully-certified member, all volunteers must complete one 40-hour basic training course, eight additional hours of advanced training and 40 hours of volunteer service.

Marino said the program is a “meaningful endeavor, and involves an impact beyond taking care of yourself. … We’re ignorant of some of the major impacts we have on the environment,” and could all use the wakeup call.

For volunteers to join, a fee of $125 is to be submitted with the application as both are sent to the park. With the extensive education and hands-on training the volunteers attain, Marion feels “the money is well-used and well-stewarded.”

The money is used for materials, displays and the purchasing of binders, among other things, like giving gifts to the chapter’s speakers. Professors, such as John Hayden, professor of biology at the University of Richmond, and John Pagels, Ph.D, professor emeritus of biology at VCU, have attended in the past, along with Dan Gecker, a member of Chesterfield County’s Board of Supervisors.

“People in the past felt it was a great deal,” said chapter President Lisa Quigley. “This is not a money-making operation. … People receive high-leveled, top-shelf instruction from people very proficient in their field.”

The chapter at Pocahontas has extended its cutoff date for applications and is actively accepting additional ones until the anticipated spots are filled. Volunteers can sign up now for the January training by visiting www.pocahontasvmn.org, where they can also find more information about the application process, including the submission of $125 with a printed and completed application to Pocahontas State Park at 10301 State Park Road, Chesterfield, VA 23832. Further information about the state-wide Master Naturalist program can be found at www.virginiamasternaturalist.org.

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