The Florida Master Naturalist Program – an overview
by William “Woody” Woodworth
For 20 years, the University of Florida has offered Master Naturalist classes for those interested in Florida and nature. The stated mission of the Florida Master Naturalist Program is “to promote awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world among Florida’s citizens and visitors.” This is done by adult education courses for teachers, kayak guides, retirees – anyone with a desire to learn. Currently, there are 10 courses, ranging from Upland Systems to Coastal
Restoration, offered at various locations and times throughout the state.
Take one or all ten courses – maybe the Invasive Plants module is of interest, or perhaps taking all three “core” programs and receiving status as “Master Naturalist” is appealing. While there is a fee for each course, the instruction is unique and in-depth. An up-to-date summary of what’s available statewide can be found at https://masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu/
If an interesting program or convenient location is unavailable, keep checking, as courses and locations are periodically added. I recently attended the Upland Systems course in Charlotte County, focusing on Florida’s non-wetland habitats. Classes met on Fridays for 6 weeks, although other courses might have different schedules. We enjoyed weekly field trips, visiting different public lands. One week, we investigated the pine flatwoods around Deep Creek Preserve. The following week it was Myakka River State Park. While the park is (in)famous for large alligators, there is an abundance of dry prairie at the eastern side of the park. Our guide that day was a ranger with years of experience and whose stories added to the experience.
There is more to FMNP than just field trips, of course. Instructors are all very experienced and emphasize interpretive skills. Guest lecturers are often invited to teach a module. Group members compare life experiences and share insights. It is much more than a nature class and well worth checking out.