The city of Bellevue is looking for more citizen volunteers to help join the effort to protect the environment.
The city’s Master Naturalist Training Program is accepting new members until Nov. 30 for the next class planned to run from January to April in 2019. The program takes a class of volunteers through an 11-week training course on in-depth knowledge of environmental concepts and issues that will help inform them on volunteer projects throughout the year.
Park Rangers and Environmental Programs coordinators Laura Harper and Curtis Kukal help organize the program and will be working on the 2019 class. Harper, the founder of the program in 2010, said the program works by bringing in volunteer instructors to help teach each of the classes. Meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the class covers a wide variety of topics that help bring volunteers up to speed on the city work to restore and maintain the local environment.
The class teaches concepts of natural resources, how global climate change affects Bellevue, ecology, geology, Bellevue’s history, wildlife, restoration work, and more, she said. The volunteer instructors are working professionals within the relevant fields and professors of the subjects being taught from universities around the area, she said.
Kukal said that once citizens finish the training program, they go on to volunteer with various environment-focused projects year-round. Volunteers monitor and maintain previous restored areas, weeding and collecting data, and participate in other events like the monthly Eco Friday and Stewardship Saturday events where participants plant trees and shrubs, remove invasive plant species, and restore trails.
Master Naturalists also help run the Canoe the Mercer Slough program at the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center. Kukal said that the Master Naturalist volunteers are instrumental in that program by helping with logistics and support. Volunteers also participate in individual projects at the Lewis Creek Visitor Center, the Lake Hills Green Belt Ranger Station, and the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center.
Harper said a lot of the feedback they receive is that people enjoy the social aspect just as much as the education. A sense of community is formed by participants, who all have similar interests, going through the class together.
Kukal also mentioned that the class is accessible to people of all knowledge levels.
“We’ve got such a wide variety of topics we cover. It doesn’t matter if you have a master’s degree in environmental science, you are going to learn something in this program,” he said. “We’ve had people who come from real estate, from unrelated fields, and still had come away learning a lot. The feedback is that they don’t come away completely overwhelmed.”
Harper said she started the program to give the community a behind-the-scenes look at the city’s environmental project processes. Volunteers at the time were really invested, but didn’t feel included in the projects they helped out with.
The program is loosely based on the master gardeners program run by state universities, she said. Harper attended a conference about the program and spoke to a representative from Fort Collins, Colorado, which was the only city implementing the program successfully on a municipal level.
Applications to join the 2019 class are currently open until Nov. 30. Interested Bellevue residents can find the application on the city’s website at parks.bellevuewa.gov/master-naturalist. Applications must be mailed to Lewis Creek Visitor Center and must be postmarked by Nov. 30. For more information on the program, interested citizens are encouraged to call 425-452-4195.