My first year as a Master Naturalist and my first Texas Master Naturalist state conference. The conference was an exciting and altogether delightful experience. A gorgeous drive on Friday, October 24, 2014, through the Texas Hill Country, the last fifteen miles winding along the Guadalupe River, brought us to the site of the conference, Mo Ranch, tree-shaded acres sloping down to the river and dotted with hill country stone buildings.
Check-in at the Main Building was quick and easy, a matter of picking up our name tags and conference packets. After setting up our chapter project in the Main Auditorium building and unloading our bags in our room, we attended a wine and cheese reception under the spreading oak trees then adjourned to the huge main dining room for a fajita dinner. The room was totally filled with Master Naturalists from all over Texas, almost 400 of them, most in their Master Naturalist gear, meeting, greeting, and eating.
Saturday, after breakfast, our workshops began. The topics were many and varied, and I had a very difficult time choosing between a nature walk, water conservation, or archaeology, but finally settled on an all-day invasive species citizen scientist training workshop. Our workshop group, as were most, was small – about 15 Master Naturalists from the Good Water Chapter (Williamson County), the Mid-Coast Chapter, Elm Fork Chapter, and our North Texas Chapter. The workshop leaders from The Johnson Wildflower Center and the Forestry Service were knowledgeable and entertaining and kept things moving with lecture, discussion and outdoor field work.
Saturday evening, after the (nerve-racking) presentation and judging of the chapter projects, an al fresco barbeque beside the mirror-smooth Guadalupe River gave us a chance to compare notes on the various workshops (all received rave reviews) and visit with new acquaintances. Afterward the entire group adjourned to the Main Auditorium for a formal welcome by Michelle Haggerty, the conference director, congratulations to chapters having anniversaries, and the presentation of Milestone service pins to those who had accumulated 250 (many), 500 (not quite so many), 1000, 2500 and 4000 (just a few) hours of volunteer service. After the meeting we had a chance to place bids for a great variety of nature-oriented items in the silent auction, view the varied and creative chapter project displays, and view and vote on photos in categories including wildlife, landscape, and Master Naturalists at work and play, chapter scrapbooks, chapter newsletters, and artwork in three categories, painting, needlework, and sculpture.
Sunday morning after breakfast we heard a keynote presentation on Teaming with Wildlife. Then, the long-awaited nail-biter: the announcement of the contest winners. The North Texas Chapter virtually swept the awards: video – first place, chapter project – second place, scrapbook – first place, wildlife photo – first place, Master Naturalists at work and play photo – first place AND best of show.
The conference was a perfect balance of learning, socializing and enjoying the glorious setting. It was humbling and gratifying to be part of such a large group, all committed to and working for conservation and education in so many hundreds of projects around the state, and to hear how those efforts have improved the quality of life of all Texas residents in ways that could not have been achieved without Master Naturalist volunteers.