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Master naturalist program gives participants a deeper understanding of nature
The master naturalist program can help you identify a Japanese Maple, Purple cone flower and a Cerulean warbler among other flora and fauna.

Elachee’s Georgia Master Naturalist Program
When: 12:30 to 5 p.m., April 13 through May 25, plus four field trips, dates to be determined
Where: Elachee Nature Science Center, 2125 Elachee Dr., Gainesville
How much: $125 for all seven sessions and four field trips
More info: 770-535-1976

For the first time, Elachee Nature Science Center will offer locals a chance to identify wildflowers and trees, bird calls and manage natural resources, among many other skills, all in effort to become a "master naturalist."

The master naturalist program will offer close to 50 hours of education during seven sessions and four field trips.

"It is a partnership between the Warnell School of Forestry at UGA and the University Cooperative Extension Service," said Cynthia Taylor, natural resource manager at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville. "So they sort of cooperated to create this program for the state and it’s offered by different entities — DNR does some through the state parks, and that’s sort of how it originally started to train potential volunteers for state parks, but it also is offered by different nature centers and different extension services through different counties."

The program, with just 30 openings for participants, will cover topics including geology, stream life, spring wildflowers, vertebrate animals and natural resource management.

According to the Warnell School of Forestry Web site the program is hands-on environmental education that explores habitats and ecosystems in Georgia and human effects on those environments.

There are just a few spots available for the master naturalist program, but Taylor said Elachee has plans to offer the course again in the fall.

"We trained about 350 people in 2009 and maybe 250 in 2008 and 150 in 2007," said Mike Mengak, professor of wildlife ecology and outreach specialist at UGA. "It’s designed to provide science-based environmental education for people who are interested in either nature studies for a personal enrichment or who want to volunteer and work at a nature center, or a state park, county park."

The program includes 50 hours of instruction and will be taught by Elachee staff and guest speakers, including Brenau University President Ed Schrader, who will be speaking about geology.

"I’m going to take a few minutes to briefly introduce the class to the concepts of plate tectonics — that’s continental drift," said Scrader, who has a Ph.D. in geology from Duke University. "Then after that I’m going to talk about the general geology about the state of Georgia and how we came to be and in doing that I will talk a little bit about some of the mineral resources in Georgia, specifically the gold belt up this way in Dahlonega and the clay belt, which is down along the fall line."

Schrader said he also will take students out to look at the rocks on Elachee property and sediment at the lake.

"I wish everyone was a master naturalist, no matter if they live in the heart of the city or in the middle of the country," Schrader said. "Because it really is another way, in my mind, of describing environmental balance."

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