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The Pascagoula River Audubon Center is starting 2018 off right with their Audubon Naturalist Volunteer Training program.
The program allows community members to take part in an exciting and insightful class at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. The Audubon Naturalist Volunteer Training program is designed to expand participants’ understanding of our local environments. The course stays true to the center’s educational mission of connecting people not only to nature, but to our own region’s unique ecology.
Participants in the program are taught about the basic processes that formed and affect the landscape around them, the habitats and organisms that make up and live within the landscape, and the key social and environmental issues affecting the environment. The underlying theme of the Audubon Naturalist program is that habitats exist and function as integrated parts of the overall landscape. As such, the program is habitat-based and focuses attention on the major habitat types in the area where volunteers are trained. The end results are volunteers that are well-versed in local natural history.
The Master Naturalists finish the course ready to teach others about natural history in Mississippi- so they become incredibly helpful and confident volunteers at any number of sites along the Coast. “We can’t run our Center without their time, knowledge, and energy- we utilize their talents for everything from teaching summer camp programs to creating new displays to put on exhibit to planting native plants on our grounds”, said Erin Parker with the Audubon Center. “We offer the course twice a year, once during the winter/early spring and a second in the summer so that teachers can take it for credit during their brief summer vacation!”
“What’s great about the Master Naturalists is that they can help us with all kinds of things, from teaching to native plant landscaping to citizen science projects”, says Parker. “Some of them come weekly, some monthly, some complete projects at home that we incorporate into our exhibits or grounds. And after they’re trained, they might also volunteer at one of the many other sites across the coast- from the Grand Bay NERR to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge to the Crosby Arboretum”, she said.
This program is based on the Mississippi Master Naturalist Program, developed by Mark W. LaSalle for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. The program began in coastal Mississippi in 1998 with support from the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery. The Audubon Naturalist program is also supported by Chevron. The program expanded into north Mississippi in 2005 with additional funding provided by a grant from the North Central Mississippi Resource Conservation & Development Council and the Natural Resources Initiative of North Mississippi.
The class costs $250 for non-members of the Center and $225 for members. It includes ten days of teaching, 4 books, and a giant binder of materials, plus all the field trips. “We feel that it’s a great value for people that are interested in really learning about our coastal habitats and ecosystems” said Parker.
The Naturalist program for winter 2018 will take place on Wednesdays running from January 17th through March 21.Parker mentions how the program is a series, and everything builds on the previous class. While there is a different focus each week, everything is interconnected. Participants get to learn everything from geology to weather to plants to wildlife and get to take field trips to a wide range of ecosystems along the Coast.