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March 21, 2005

Master Naturalist Volunteer Hits Record 5,000 Hours

AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Master Naturalist program began in San Antonio in 1997, with the goal of training citizen volunteers to implement conservation, management and natural resource education and outreach projects in their communities.

Almost eight years later, volunteer Thea Platz has exceeded 5,000 hours of service, a milestone for the program.

“Thea was a student in the first class of the pilot chapter of Texas Master Naturalists,” said Pat Morton, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Conservation Outreach Program Leader. “She emerged as one of the program’s most effective leaders, and is admired by many as a master trainer, administrator and cheerleader for the program.”

Platz was the local chapter’s first vice president and currently serves as president of the Alamo-Area Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalist Program.

“She’s a single parent and has always had a very strong interest in nature,” said Anton Hajek, Alamo Area Chapter secretary.

Hajek was also a founding member and first president of the local Master Naturalist Chapter.

“It started with about 40 people in a sort of glorified garage,” Hajek said. “We actually toasted with champagne that first night.”

Platz racked up many hours just setting up policies and procedures for the initial program, something that turned out to be a two-year job, said Hajek.

“Originally it just had to be done, and somebody had to do it,” Platz said. “And it was just fun; I can honestly say that I never did one single project because I wanted hours.”

In addition to the many hours of “grunt work,” which Platz said just seemed to pile up, she has spent a great deal of time working with San Antonio’s youth–also part of her volunteer activities with the Master Naturalist Program.

“I had the opportunity to work with a man named Thomas Cleaver on an after-school youth program,” Platz said. “These are inner-city kids he was working with and we helped him create a habitat right there at his center, so the kids could do their work right there.”

Platz also helped organize a trip for the kids to Calaveras Lake, where they practiced their birding skills, camped overnight, climbed a rock-wall and kayaked.

Platz’s record achievement of 5,685 volunteer hours through 2004 is valued at $97,725* by the Texas Master Naturalist Program. The value of volunteer service was calculated using $17.19 per hour. The hourly value is based on the average hourly earnings for private nonagricultural workers as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (

After returning from a 3-day nature camp for fifth graders, Platz prepared to head out to a Master Naturalist meeting, then to Houston for more meetings.

“I enjoy what I do, so it’s fun to me,” Platz said. “As far as what most people consider ‘down time,’ I don’t have much.”

There are 30 chapters of the Texas Master Naturalist program, and it is sponsored statewide by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Cooperative Extension Service. The success in San Antonio has led to the inception of a National Master Naturalist program.

Through the 30 local chapters, program volunteers receive 40 hours of in-depth natural resource training by educators and specialists from universities, agencies, nature centers, museums and other organizations. In return, volunteers contribute at least 40 hours of service in community education, demonstration and habitat enhancement projects while pursuing a minimum of eight hours of advanced training in areas of special interest.

For more information about the Texas program, or to find out how to join, please contact Michelle Haggerty, Texas Master Naturalist Program Coordinator at (979) 458-2034 or


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