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It's time to sign up for one-of-a-kind master naturalist program

Orillia's Bob Bowles pioneered first program of its kind in Canada; Registration open for spring session

Would you like to join a select group of people that can be called a master naturalist?

Registration is now open for the ground-breaking Ontario Master Naturalist certificate program offered through Lakehead University in both Orillia and Thunder Bay.

The idea was the brainchild of Orillia’s Bob Bowles, who pioneered the program – the first of its kind in Canada.

He stumbled upon the American version of the program while vacationing in South Carolina and, in 2014, started work on a made-in-Orillia program tailored for Canadians.

He enlisted the help of Ontario Nature as a partner and then reached out to Lakehead University in Orillia.

The inaugural class at the Orillia campus quickly filled to capacity. Bowles was astounded when he discovered that 30 people not only signed up for that first program, more than 50 others put their names on a waiting list.

“The program has grown exponentially since,” said Bowles, noting the program blossomed to eight modules, expanded to Thunder Bay and continues to have a waiting list of people who want to participate.

The success of the program is a testament to Bowles and the partnerships he created, said Linda Rodenburg, a long-time professor at Lakehead in Orillia who serves as the coordinator of community programs.

 “The program really reflects our commitment to lifelong learning as accessible, academic, and interactive,” she said. “This program is the first of its kind in Canada and it is incredibly popular with all sessions filling up and a wait list for the certificate program of over 200 people.”

The key to the success, she said, is Bowles.

“Bob is passionate, knowledgeable and inspirational. He coordinates this program and he really takes his inspiration from our local environment, drawing out incredible experiences for our participants in the classroom and in the field,” Rodenburg told OrilliaMatters. “He IS a Master Naturalist and his depth and breadth of knowledge is inspirational and, at times, a bit daunting. But he's always willing to share.”

Bowles believes the program’s success is, in part, because of its format.

“It’s hands-on … you go out and you actually are immersed right in nature,” he said, noting students must also complete 30 hours of volunteer work at an environmental non-profit organization to obtain their certificate.

He also noted student naturalists welcome the chance to learn from his 45 years of experience in the field.

“I have such a passion for it and just love to share that experience,” he said. “I get a lot of joy out of passing that on to others.”

This year’s 2019 spring program in Orillia will be composed of the following sessions:

  • MODULE 1 – Geology and Anthropology - Sat. May 11
  • MODULE 2 – Mammals and Species at Risk - Sun. May 12
  • MODULE 3 – Botany and Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers - Sat. May 25
  • MODULE 4 – Ontario Bird Species - Sun. May 26
  • MODULE 5 – Amphibians and Reptiles - Sat. June 1
  • MODULE 6 – Invasive Species - Sun. June 2
  • MODULE 7 – Wetlands, Water and Fishes - Sat. June 15
  • MODULE 8 – Insects and Other Invertebrates - Sun. June 16

In addition to these modules, there is also a daylong bio-blitz on June 22 at Georgian Bay National Park in partnership with Parks Canada.

The cost for the certificate program is $499 (plus HST)

Overall, students receive about 40 hours of classroom/field instruction.

They also get a "write-in-the-rain" notebook and pencil for field notes in addition to a package of course material pertaining to every module in the form of study notes, fact sheets, and other written information supporting the content of the module.

For more information or to sign up, visit the Ontario Master Naturalist Program page on the Lakehead University website.