The Virginia Environmental Endowment announced awards of nearly $250,000 to protect and improve the region’s natural resources, including $20,000 for the Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) program, which is based in the college. The program will use the award to compile existing and develop new educational materials to teach Virginia Master Naturalists and other relevant public audiences about the ecology of the major ecosystems in Virginia and connect them to volunteer projects that benefit the natural resources in those systems.

A new VMN curriculum will provide more consistent and high-quality basic training to the more than 550 trainees added each year to the program and will facilitate the dissemination of that knowledge to the communities those volunteers serve. Since the program’s inception, Virginia Master Naturalists, whose volunteer time is valued at more than $2 million annually, have educated more than 100,000 people and improved more than 15,000 acres.

The project will focus on four key curriculum areas — forest, wetland, aquatic, and coastal and estuarine environments — while promoting existing and new volunteer service projects that improve conservation efforts across Virginia.

“By investing in improving the knowledge and skills of existing and new VMN volunteers, we can increase their capacity to provide impactful, relevant educational programs across Virginia, as well as their capacity to conduct high-quality citizen science and stewardship projects,” said Michelle Prysby, VMN special projects coordinator.

The VMN program also received a $5,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry to fund five service project mini-grants for volunteers and to enhance curriculum specifically focused on urban and developed systems and ecology.