This article was submitted by Stu Blackwell.
I was fortunate this year to be a student in the Ontario Master Naturalist Program at Lakehead University here in Orillia.
Bob Bowles stumbled upon an American version of this course while vacationing in South Carolina.
Bowles founded the program in 2014, partnering with Lakehead University and Ontario Nature. The course originally consisted of six modules but has matured to eight.
Bowles is proud to say that his course is the first Master Naturalist program in Canada.
The program covers the geology of the area and some indigenous history. Other modules include: mammals, species at risk, plants, birds, amphibians and reptiles, invasive species, wetlands and fish, insects and other invertebrates.
Bowles enhances the program with guest speakers who are all specialists in their own right. Classes are very informative and interactive, with Bowles at the helm.
There is never a dull moment, as we all wondered what he would bring to the next class. - a bucket of live fish, a pile of mammal skulls or an herbarium of sedges.
“Hands-on helps enforce learning,” Bowles says.
The best part of the course was taking what we learned in the classroom and applying it in the field. Field trips took us to Matchedash Bay, Carden and the Swift. Each of these outings was inspiring to the senses. You can’t experience a better classroom.
The pinnacle of the course was spent at Georgian Bay Islands National Park, where students were matched up with Parks Canada staff for a Bioblitz. This allowed teams to identify as many species as they could in a day.
On the completion of the Master Naturalist Course, one leaves with a greater foundation and understanding of nature and its interconnectedness. I left with a deeper appreciation of nature and most importantly, the need to protect what is important to all of us – Mother Earth.