Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Virginia Master Naturalists

Blue Ridge Foothills & Lakes Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program

            Jim Pilversack is wild about nature. And now that he’s semi-retired, the Smith Mountain Lake resident is taking the time to smell the flowers and help his community in the process.

            "I’ve always had an interest in nature," said Pilversack, an active member of the Blue Ridge Foothills & Lakes Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program. "My career was in health care and business management."

            Pilversack said his club membership also indulges his curiosity in the nature surrounding his home and Smith Mountain Lake.

            The Virginia Master Naturalist Program began in 2006 and was modeled after the Master Gardener’s Program. The Blue Ridge Foothills & Lakes Chapter, which includes SML, started in 2007. Today there are 25 chapters serving 636 members statewide, including 26 from the lake area.

            The club’s mission is to provide "education, outreach and service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas within our communities." Pilversack said anyone can join the program but must first complete 40 hours of basic training at The Franklin Center in downtown Rocky Mount.

            The training covers basic identification of plants and animals located in the region. Afterward, members must contribute a minimum of 40 volunteer hours each year. There are three areas of interest for each member to choose from: education, citizen science and stewardship.

            Pilversack said he enjoys concentrating his efforts toward stewardship and citizen science. Some of his stewardship hours have included creating a natural landscape on the waterfront along the southwest side of the lake at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center. Some of his citizen science volunteer hours have included counting microorganisms in the local streams, which helps biologists determine the health of the water.

            Pilversack said another member of the chapter is delving into citizen science by drawing maps for the Booker T. Washington National Monument that identify the many different types of wildflowers in the park.

            As an educational outreach, the club is seeking people interested in volunteering to offer wildlife-based educational seminars. Plant identification in both new and established neighborhoods around the lake is another needed skill.

            Club member Victoria Keenum is growing her own batch of budding naturalists at Boones Mill Elementary in Franklin County. Keenum has participated in the Master Naturalist Program since its inception and, after her initial hours of training, decided to fulfill her volunteer hours by reaching out to youth at the school where she’s a Pre-K teacher.

            Keenum began an after-school nature program for students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade in January 2008. Since then, she said she’s enjoyed witnessing the growing inquisitiveness of the children toward the subject of natural science.

            "How can you not have an ‘a-ha moment’ each time you see students enthusiastically learning about the world around them?" Keenan said.


For more information about the Blue Ridge Foothills & Lakes Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program, visit brfal.org.