Master Naturalist FAQ

Interested in the Master Naturalist Volunteer training but still have some questions?  Below are some of the most common questions, and if you still have questions please contact us at!

The Class - - - -

What materials will I get with the class?

You will be given a four inch thick binder (from the UW Extension) chocked full of information that will equip you well to be an informed, effective naturalist. This includes background teaching, examples of interpretive and citizen science programs, maps, identification guides, etc. In addition, you will receive special handouts that pertain to the additional content provided at Hartman (e.g., guides for our field trips, copies of powerpoints, Hartman Park information, guest speaker handouts).

What's a typical class day like?

A typical class morning includes an activity (e.g., interpretive activity, learning about owls and vultures from a graduate of the program, invasive species identification fun), and then interactive learning about the topic of the day (e.g., ecology, glaciers, wildlife). Typically, after lunch (everyone brings a sac lunch) we go on a field trip and meet with a guest speaker. Most of the field trips are right in Hartman Creek State Park, as the Park includes pine and hardwood forest ecosystems, wetlands, lakes, creeks, prairie).

Are there exams?

There are no exams or any performance evaluations involved.  The only requirements for graduation are attendance at the 40 hour class, and participation in the short project (which will be discussed in the last class).

How much time out of class will I need to put in?

The notebook you are provided the first day contains much useful information to study in between classes or after the course is completed.  If you have time between classes, you are free to study the relevant sections of the notebook but this is not required.  The project, you will complete during the course, requires three hours of time outside of class.

There's a lot of topic areas listed - will I have to know a lot about all of them?

This course is a lifelong learning opportunity for you!  It provides you a little information about a lot of topics, in a practical and motivating way, related to nature in Wisconsin, but you will find that you are more interested in some of the topics than others.  The course helps you focus on what areas you are particularly interested in pursuing for volunteering. It provides you the flexibility to delve deeper into the topics you are particularly interested in. 

I can't make one of the days of the class - is that OK?  Can I make it up?

We, the instructors, work with individuals if an issue arises that cannot be avoided.  The schedule is very full, and you will not want to miss anything.  If a part of one class has to be missed due to illness or unforeseen circumstances, you will need to make up the work and the instructors will help you know what you need to study.

I don't know much about the topics in the class but I really want to learn - is that OK?

Absolutely! The course has no prerequisites, and no assumptions about prior knowledge. Just show up with an eagerness to learn more about nature and make a difference! And, an interest in meeting other people who (like you) want to volunteer in some way in our Wisconsin public lands. Most of the Wi Master Naturalist students have no background in the academic topics that are included in the course (e.g. ecology, geology)...but have an eagerness to get linked up to volunteer opportunities, and to gain confidence for fun volunteering.

What should we wear and bring to class?

As much of our time is spent outside (rain or shine) you will wear outdoor clothes to the course.  This means: hiking boots or shoes, a hat, long pants, and a jacket.  Bring sunscreen, bug spray, and a water bottle -- as well as your lunch.  We like to have a time of snacking during the day as well, so if you are able bring a snack to share too.  And, bring your notebook and a pen to take notes.

Is the course handicapped accessible? I am disabled, and yet I wish to learn more and volunteer. Is the course for me?

Yes, absolutely.  The instructors make efforts to ensure that all students regardless of disabilities, benefit from all aspects of the course.  The Field Trips will be planned accordingly, and special transportation will be provided for those who cannot hike.

Volunteering - - - -

Where do Master Naturalists volunteer after they complete the course?

Master Naturalists volunteer in any of the state public lands or schools.  This can be in your local community nearby, or can be elsewhere in the State.  We provide you maps of the public lands.  Our graduates range from students to retirees, from teachers to professional naturalists, from gardeners to hikers, from citizen scientists to those just wanting to know more about the world outside around them.  Some of our course graduates use their new information to enhance their existing volunteering, while others just are getting involved for the first time and this gives them the foot in the door.  Our graduates volunteer in:  State Parks, City and County Parks, Trail systems, Wildlife areas, School Forests, BLM lands, Zoos, Museums, Schools, Camps, etc.

I'm worried I won't be able to find 40 hours of volunteering hours to put in - is there help finding hours?  What qualifies as volunteer hours?

Oh my, yes. You are given many opportunities to volunteer, and then you are provided a network to become a part of which will provide you many volunteer opportunities as time goes.  And, you will get to know new people who you can collaborate with as well. Volunteering includes citizen science monitoring, stewardship (e.g., planting butterfly garden, pulling invasive plants), and interpretive programs (e.g., making brochures, volunteering at a Park facility,  leading hikes).  And, when you add up your hours in being out in the field and participation in meetings and planning and driving and studying there is no problem getting your 40 hours in within one year.  Graduates of the Program report that they put in way more than the 40 hours, as it is such a fun new thing in their lives.

I am not interested in leading hikes or teaching about nature, but I am interested in being part of ongoing citizen science or stewardship efforts. Is that OK?

Yes, no problem. You can volunteer in whatever way that interests you.  And, you will learn lots about the different ways you can volunteer.

Other Questions - - - -

What are the qualifications of the two instructors to teach this course?

Sue Eiler and Mary Trainor are certified instructors by the Wisconsin Master Naturalist Program, having been sent by the Friends of Hartman Creek State Park to the instructor program in Madison a few years ago.  They have already taught three Wi M N courses, and over 50 graduates.  Mary Trainor has a Ph.D. in biology and used to teach biology at UWSP.  She is an experienced volunteer in public lands, and has hiked, kayaked, and studied ecosystems all over.  She has a heart for the wilderness, lives in the woods, and wants to see more people fully appreciate the complexity and diversity of organisms right around us.  Sue Eiler has lived in the Wisconsin woods most of her life, and has dedicated her life to knowing about the species around her.  She is an on-the-ground expert regarding native plants, invasive plants, medicinal plants, wetlands.  Sue has led naturalist interpretive programs for all ages for decades.  She is the former President of the Friends of Hartman Creek State Park.

We also will have guest speakers throughout the course who are experts in particular areas we will study, and we have arranged for them to teach while out in the field.  Each guest speaker is selected based upon their expertise and experience.  You will learn about the specific guest speakers for the course a week before the course, when the course schedule will be emailed to you.

I am interested in signing up, but I can't afford the $275 tuition.  Are there scholarships?

Yes, on the registration page for a course there is a link to the Master Naturalist Scholarship application.  Please read through the instructions before registering for the course.  A list of all courses, and the link to the scholarship info can be found at

The $275 tuition is really a lot. Why does it cost so much?

The two instructors for the course, Sue Eiler and Mary Trainor, do not get paid to teach the course. The guest speakers who come to lead field trips do not get paid to teach the course.  The State Park does not get paid to host the course.  The $275 fee sounds like a lot, and yet when you complete the course and look back on all that you have obtained it seems like very little.  The $275 goes towards: the huge notebook of resource information you will obtain on the first day, your becoming part of the Wi M N community (website, program administrative support), and $50 for each student goes to the sponsoring organization (in this case: The Friends of Hartman Creek State Park -- which puts these funds back into the program for supplies such as microscopes and handouts and for publicity).  To have a 40 hour hands-on course with well-qualified experts in a multitude of areas ranging from forestry to wildlife biology to water quality to ichthyology (fish) is a heck of a deal!