Volunteer naturalists are certified, celebrated and ready to serve

Twenty-one central Ohioans received their Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program certificates at a May 30 celebration at the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware, Ohio.

The OCVN program is a research-based education program of Ohio State. It emphasizes hands-on natural resource and environmental education coupled with volunteer service.

“Participating in the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist program is a great way to invest in your ability to lead nature programs and share the natural world with others,” said Saundra McBrearty, outreach and volunteer specialist with Preservation Parks of Delaware County and co-coordinator of the Central Ohio OCVN Chapter.

Anne Baird, OSU Extension program director in Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, and Joe Bonnell, watershed management program director with the school, oversee the OCVN program.

OSU Extension and the school are both part of CFAES.

McBrearty said OCVN offers a lot to organizations such as hers.

“Our agency, along with numerous other organizations in the area benefit from organizing and training this pool of talented potential volunteers,” she said.

“We relish the opportunity to showcase our parks and volunteer opportunities to this skilled group of potential volunteers. And we call on our OCVN community to assist with school field trips, special events, citizen science opportunities and other programs.”

Becoming certified

OCVN certification requires the completion of 40 hours of coursework and 40 hours of volunteer service at any Ohio organization with a compatible program mission.

The curriculum has 13 core topics, including ecological concepts, geology, soils, plants, forests, insects, aquatic life, stewardship, and interpretation and education.

The manual for the curriculum was written by SENR faculty and staff and by experts from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, local park districts and organizations such as the Ohio Audubon Society.

“Each training is instructed by a leader in the field, who is connected with local organizations which rely on volunteers to fulfill their nature-related mission,” McBrearty said.

“The training connects you with other like-minded lifelong learners who want to make a difference for the natural environment through volunteerism,” she said.

Service areas

This year’s central Ohio class engaged in a wide variety of service, including program support, land stewardship, citizen science and educational outreach.

Some of that service included coordinating a women’s retreat for the nonprofit conservation group Arc of Appalachia, supporting a 5th-grade natural sciences program called Messages from the Earth at the Stratford center, providing rain garden education at the Northern Olentangy Watershed Festival, and providing moth education at the Midwest Native Plant Society meeting.

The class also provided service for a frog watch conducted by the Marion County Park District, bluebird monitoring for the Ohio Bluebird Society, butterfly monitoring for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, bat surveys in Delaware County, stream monitoring in central Ohio and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s North America-wide bird survey called Project FeederWatch.

On becoming an OCVN

“We learned by doing,” said Thomas Wendt, now a newly certified OCVN, who’s pictured below. “The broad range of topics made each session of the training exciting and included many hands-on experiences.

“The field experiences allowed us to apply information being learned and heightened my awareness of local resources for community enjoyment and education. Lifelong learning was incorporated into each experience, and volunteers were encouraged to honor what people already know while encouraging them into learning something new.”

The class was well organized and had passionate instructors, Wendt said. The training facilitated a “common ground for environmentally conscious people to connect with nature as well as other people, and promote preservation of our natural resources.”

Wendt said his volunteer service at Delaware’s Gallant Farm makes him feel like he’s “contributing to the preservation of time-honored crafts and ways of life.”

“Providing opportunities for visitors to interact with their natural environment and walk away with a positive experience is a worthwhile goal that translates to a greater respect for our precious natural resources,” he said.

Written by Molly Bean, Communications Program Manager, SENR. Top photo by Rich Niccum, Preservation Parks of Delaware County, Ohio.

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