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Alamo Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists Marks 10th Anniversary
SAN ANTONIO — The Alamo Area chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist program is this year celebrating a decade of achievement in environmental conservation, restoration and education. The movement to produce a trained corps of dedicated citizen volunteers has since spawned a nationally-recognized statewide program with 41 other local chapters across Texas, but it all began here 10 years ago.
“It’s been a real joy to see the growth of the program; when you have something that is fulfilling a need, it really takes off,” said Thea Platz, Alamo Area chapter vice president and founding member. In 2005, she became the first master naturalist to earn 5,000 hours of service. “The program has been like the Starbucks of environmental education, with new chapters springing up everywhere.”
The Alamo Area chapter held its first training class in March 1997. Originally the organization was called the Natural Initiatives Program, but the name was changed to Master Naturalist in 1998 when the statewide Texas Master Naturalist program was created as a joint project of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Cooperative Extension.
Each volunteer naturalist is required to complete a 40-hour multidisciplinary educational program. To remain active, each year they must complete eight hours of advanced training and a minimum of 40 hours of volunteer service to their local community.
“Our main advantage is that we are very highly trained and so we are a lot different than some volunteers people have worked with in the past,” said Platz. “We can jump in and understand scientific projects, work with technical data and handle just about anything.”
Within the first three years, the Texas Master Naturalist program spread throughout the state. The group’s first annual report in 2000 revealed more than 22,600 hours contributed by naturalist volunteers statewide, with the Alamo Area chapter reporting more than 19,000 volunteer hours at its first annual meeting in October of that year.
The state program won national recognition from the Wildlife Management Institute with the President’s 2000 Award for promotion of “improved public understanding and appreciation of natural resources and the role of management, and also because of the exceptional initiative invested to ensure its widespread adoption and success.”
The Texas Master Naturalist program also received a Take Pride In America award in 2005 from the U.S. Department of the Interior. This national partnership program supports and recognizes volunteers who work to improve public parks, forests, grasslands, reservoirs, wildlife refuges, cultural and historic sites, local playgrounds, and other recreation areas.
Most recently, the program was named the Texas Association for Environmental Education’s “Educator of the Year” on Oct. 13.
“When we first started, it was during our second training session that we were already beginning training for different chapters in the state,” said Platz. “We were sort of flying by the seat of our pants.”
Today there are 41 Texas Master Naturalist chapters and more than 4,500 volunteers who have been trained through the program. To date, the value of the service provided by volunteers is approximately $10.1 million. Their work has stretched across 80,000 acres of land and reached more than 100,000 youth, adults and private landowners each year.
The group’s influence radiates beyond Texas, since 28 states have now implemented a Master Naturalist program modeled after the idea begun in San Antonio 10 years ago.
“I would not hesitate to guess that the numbers of hours that have actually been performed are two or three times what we have recorded,” said Alamo Area chapter President J. W. Pieper. “The Master Naturalist movement is just exploding in Texas.”
The Alamo Area chapter has partnered extensively with the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, contributing tens of thousands of hours of service that are evident in green spaces along rivers, in parks and other spots across the city.
San Antonio area milestones include the chapter’s signature native plant Wildscape along the River Walk, landscaping projects for Habitat for Humanity, and land surveying of 6,050 acres acquired for the aquifer recharge zone. Presently, the chapter, along with other Texas Master Naturalist local chapters, is working on transforming a newly created gorge near Canyon Lake into a park.
Recognizing the group’s many contributions, San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger declared Oct. 12-14 to be Texas Master Naturalist Volunteer Days. In a proclamation the mayor said, “Texas Master Naturalist volunteers play an integral role in providing education, outreach and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas of Texas.”
Volunteers have also helped biologists place tracking tags on birds, bats and monarch butterflies and worked with archeologists to uncover Native American rock art pictographs.
“It’s enriching for members because they have lots of unique, scientifically-based opportunities with what we’re doing,” said Platz. “We wouldn’t be able to do these things without trust, and we have established a reputation that when we sign on to do something we can follow directions and understand scientific procedures.”
“I think that what we’ve achieved so far is wonderful and as we continue to grow, I want to continue to keep the same reputation of being valid and setting the bar high for the quality of volunteers,” said Platz.
Complete information about the Alamo Area chapter, including how to receive volunteer training, is available on the group’s Web site. A complete listing of statewide chapters and training opportunities is on the Texas Master Naturalist Web site.
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