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February 1, 2009

News Article:

By: Joe Tennis |

Published: February 01, 2009


ABINGDON, Va. - One week, you might learn about the nearly unpredictable weather raining down on Mount Rogers.
The next, you could be face-to-tail with a salamander.
Then come the trout, swishing through mountain streams like the Straight Branch on the outskirts of Damascus.
All this - plus field trips to the marshy Well Fields Park of Saltville - could be yours if you sign up to become a Virginia Master Naturalist.
This Virginia Master Naturalist program, similar to Virginia Master Gardeners, instructs volunteers on how to become better stewards of the land surrounding them, especially in the Appalachian Mountains.
"We had about 27 students who went through the class last year," said Steve Lindeman, the president of the Holston River chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists.
Lindeman, for one, knows the value of keeping creeks clean and not chopping down every tree you see. By day, Lindeman serves as the land protection program manager for The Nature Conservancy's field office in Abingdon.
Other times, you might find him in a field, volunteering to build a trail.
It's all part of being a protector of plants and a cheerleader for all things green.
"Everybody involved in it is a volunteer," Lindeman said. "And we're hoping we're going to get another 25-plus students trained as naturalists who can work as volunteers in agencies throughout this part of the commonwealth."
Class sessions include talks from various officials and experts, like Kevin Hamed, who teaches biology courses at Virginia Highlands Community College.
"We have multiple teachers," Lindeman said. "Generally, we have two or so instructors each night."
Angie Watland graduated from the Virginia Master Naturalist program last year and now serves as the outreach committee chair for the Holston River chapter.
Watland praised the various volunteer instructors, saying, "What's so cool about this program is it's a mix of conservation scientists and your next-door neighbor whose interest is in birds and gardening and bats."
Regular course sessions are held on Thursday nights at the People Inc. office in Abingdon at 1173 W. Main St.
Then, every other Saturday, Lindeman said, field trips go to places like Saltville's Museum of the Middle Appalachians or the Buller State Fish Hatchery, near Adwolfe, in Smyth County.
"We try to find sites that are not five hours away," Lindeman added. "And we have plenty of great sites locally."
At the end of the course, participants are encouraged to attend the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally, held in May.
"We sort of neatly encapsulated the naturalist rally at the end of this program," Lindeman said. "If folks go to that, the cost of the tuition pays for them to go and automatically get their eight hours of advance training."
Participants do not need to be Virginia residents, but volunteer projects must occur in Virginia.
Partners in the program include Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

What: Virginia Master Naturalist Program
Where: Abingdon, Va.
When: Classes are held on Thursday nights, 6:30-9:30 p.m., Feb. 19 to May 7, with some Saturday field trips planned.
Cost: $75
Info: (276) 676-2209