Virginia Master Naturalists care for public landscapes and educate visitors

VMN Journal

The public landscapes of Virginia benefit from an active corps of volunteers. Devoted to protecting the state’s natural ecosystem, these citizen scientists and stewards do everything from monitoring the health of important pollinators to transporting recycling materials at state parks.

These volunteers are certified members of the Virginia Master Naturalists program, which started in 2006 and now has 29 chapters spread across the state.

Committed nature stewards

Becoming a certified Virginia Master Naturalist requires completing a 40-hour basic training course. This course acquaints participants with the program and the ecology of the state and their specific region. Members must complete 40 hours of volunteer service within a year of finishing the class. Maintaining certification requires 8 hours of continuing education and 40 hours of service each year.

Summer is a time when many of these groups are gearing up to train new members, and nine VMN chapters are currently taking applications. If you live in Virginia and love the natural world, this could be just the opportunity for you. Chapters work on projects that improve the public landscapes around Virginia.

Trails come to life

Just south of Richmond, the Pocahontas chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists has used Plants Map’s interactive plant signs and tags to add an educational element to its projects.

Pocahontas CollectionsMembers Grace and Rich Marino were hiking in another part of Virginia when they got the idea to create a tree identification trail at Pocahontas State Park. They wanted to include QR codes to link visitors to educational information about the trees, and found Plants Map’s signs were an easy way to do that.

The park now has two trails with trees bearing identification tags. The Forest Exploration Trail is a wooded walk with a wide variety of tree species, and the Shelter Loop Trail is a shorter paved trail that is accessible to visitors using wheelchairs and strollers. The tags on this trail are mounted lower so that everyone can see them.

Pocahontas Cover

Forest Exploration Trail

The trees’ profile pages include interesting facts about the species and links to Virginia Tech’s dendrology database and the U.S. Forest Service’s tree database to allow visitors to get as much information as possible.

Grace Marino said she’s been pleased to see home-school groups using the trails, and the park staff uses the them frequently with visiting school groups. “We’re really happy with the way it’s turned out,” she said.

The Pocahontas chapter has also used Plants Map to catalog many of the other plants found at Pocahontas, the largest park in Virginia’s state parks system. Landscape gardens throughout the park have been organized under one collection, and other projects like a demonstration rain garden the group maintains, are also detailed.

Vacant land becomes habitat

In Madison, Va., the Old Rag chapter recently completed a habitat restoration project in the town of Washington, which turned what had been a mowed field at an intersection into a landscape that attracts pollinators. President Don Hearl approached the mayor about the project and got buy-in, along with some seed money, from the town.

“With those funds, and a lot of volunteer hours, we were able to transform this field into a natural habitat with walking trails and native plants and pollinator gardens,” Hearl said.  “We’ve created a place for the townsfolk to enjoy.”

The landscape includes more than a hundred types of native plants and shrubs, and its public position makes it an ideal location for educating visitors about using these kinds of plants in their own landscapes. To accomplish that, the group has used Plants Map’s interactive plant signs and tags to label the plants in the landscape.

“With these plant signs, visitors can walk up to a butterfly bush or a swamp milkweed or a red oak and there’s a sign there that identifies that particular shrub, plant or tree,” he said. “They can see it and say, ‘This is something I may want in my yard,’ rather than some non-native butterfly bush or something like that.”

The Old Rag chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists has taken advantage of the ability to add a custom logo to Plants Map tags. Their tags display both the state Virginia Master Naturalist logo and the logo for their chapter.

Growing a network on

American SycamoreThe Virginia Master Naturalists has started a network of its chapters under the group’s state profile. Through this network, the organization can create a map of chapters and share information about their individual projects.

Additional chapters on include:

The Headwaters Chapter, located in Rockingham and Augusta counties, has documented the trees of the Cooks Creek Arboretum on the site. Pictured here are American Sycamores believed to be some of the oldest trees in the arboretum.

From their profile: Cooks Creek Arboretum is approximately 9 acres and is part of the Bridgewater, Virginia, town park system.  Planted trees, a walking path, Cooks Creek, wetlands, and a variety of birds and wildlife make this park a pleasant destination for a walk, picnic and wildlife observation.

The Riverine Chapter is based in the Richmond area. Their profile includes trees along the trails at Powhatan State Park and the Landscaped Gardens of the park also maintained by the chapter.

To learn more about the network feature for organization profiles visit: Organizations Network Connections & Roles.

More chapters are invited to create a profile and connect with their network.


Follow Pocahontas Chapter Master Naturalists, Headwaters Master Naturalists or Riverine Master Naturalists, &  Old Rag Master Naturalists, on Plants Map.