The love of nature started in childhood when playing outdoors in Duluth—no matter the season.
"We thought we were cool because we were so tough, playing outside in negative 75 degrees," laughed Amy Rager, Extension educator and program director for the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program.
Amy's first exposure to Extension began in St. Louis County 4-H, where Sherry Boyce was her mentor. Then after a beloved college job at Jay Cooke State Park, where Amy chased bears and found lost campers (not at the same time), she landed a job in Extension providing 4-H programming.
In 2004 her work became solely natural resources and environment, which was also around the time the Master Naturalist Program was getting up and running in Minnesota, thanks to Rob Blair, who is the faculty program director for Master Naturalist. A 2005 grant from the National Science Foundation got the first pilot class rolling: Big Woods, Big Rivers.
The mission of the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program is to promote awareness, understanding, and stewardship of Minnesota's natural environment by developing a corps of well-informed citizens dedicated to conservation education and service within their communities.
The program trains the trainers, who in turn teach the volunteers. Instructors and volunteers live and work all around the state.
"Our instructors are incredible." Amy cites an example of working with instructor and botanist Craig Lee. "He knows the Latin name for every plant, and I know the common name. Doing tours with him is really entertaining!"
There are three courses covering the three ecological provinces of Minnesota. Volunteers usually take the course of the biome in which they live. The hands-on courses have a local feel, while also teaching general concepts of ecology and geology.
Taking one of the courses is only the first step for a Master Naturalist—it's really about the remarkable volunteer service they provide in their communities. Master Naturalist volunteers lead stewardship projects such as invasive species removal or restoration projects, education and interpretive service such as public presentations or leading hikes, and/or citizen science service where volunteers collect essential data for research projects such as monarch larvae or water quality monitoring. Volunteers can also contribute to program support by running local chapters.
Since its inception in 2005 and as of the end of 2012, Minnesota Master Naturalist volunteers have logged 204,704 service hours.
As you can imagine, Amy interacts a lot with the volunteers, which is also her favorite part of the job. "I love the volunteers. They are so smart and creative."