An Oldtimers View of the State Master Naturalist Conference – by Sara Beckelman

Sara Beckelman celebrates at 2014 MN state conference

Sara Beckelman celebrates at the MN state conference in October, 2014

Well, the State Conference is old hat for me since I have attended for 15 years (2000 through 2014).  It is kind of nice to stand up with Barron Rector and Anton Hajek (from the Alamo Area Chapter) representing all those who have attended all the State Conferences.
However, I am always thrilled to see everyone from around the state as well as meeting new instructors and seeing familiar ones again.  The training is always wonderful and I take advantage of as many classes as I can.
This year I attended a class by Rich Jaynes entitled “Into the Prairie: A Celebration of Native Prairie Grasses”, which was very inspirational.  It was about how to get people interested in native prairie grasses by relating your own stories of discovery. Later in the afternoon, I went on a trail walk with Ricky Linex (NRCS) and Jim Cathey (Extension) to identify native forbs and grasses as well as invasives.  It was very gratifying to know that I know at least some of the plants.  I know I will never know all of them, but I am learning.
Friday evening, after dinner, I attended a presentation to a larger Master Naturalist audience on the Teaming with Wildlife – True to Texas program.  I am very enthusiastic about this program and I believe it will get more people, organizations and companies interested in preserving wildlife.
Saturday was very full.  I attended a morning class on “Plant ID by Family Association and use of Written & Online Botanical Keys”, with Ricky Linex..  I always want to know more about identification of native plants, but I know I will never make it to Jim Varnum’s or Jim Flood’s levels.  They are both VERY knowledgeable. In the afternoon I attended another update class on the Teaming with Wildlife – True to Texas program.  We had some problems with getting on the internet so the class ended early and I went to John Herron’s class on “Camera, Lenses and Techniques for Nature Photography”.  John Herron is with the Nature Conservancy of Texas and used to be with Texas Parks and Wildlife.  He is a great photographer, as well.  His class was full to the rafters so I stood by an open window in his class and listened to his presentation while I deleted all my terrible pictures from my camera.  My camera is fairly new and I have not figured out some of the features as yet.
After dinner we all met in the auditorium for the Volunteer Awards Ceremony, where those in attendance who had attained a milestone in their volunteer hours received their pins.  We have pictures that will be available through our chapter website.  Our President, Judy Parsons, received both her 250 service hours pin and her 500 service hours pin.  Congratulations to Judy!  Our State Coordinator, Michelle Haggerty, brought us all up to date on the accomplishments of the Texas Master Naturalist Program through December 2013.  We should have this information up on our website soon.
Bidding on the Silent Auction items and on the scrapbooks, newsletters, photo divisions and chapter brochure ended promptly at 9:00 pm so we had to make sure we had voted on our scrapbook, newsletter and member photos, then quickly gather by those items we wanted to purchase to keep someone else from outbidding us.  What a scramble, but worth it.
Sunday morning was our final general meeting and Keynote Speaker(s), John Davis and Rob Denkhaus, who spoke on the Teaming with Wildlife – True to Texas program which is just getting started.  But they did give us a job to do in the meantime.  They need pictures of all the 1300 Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in Texas that are listed in TPWD’s Texas Conservation Action Plan.  If you are interested, you can look under the Blackland Prairie Ecosystem on TPWD’s website under Texas Conservation Action Plan to see what species are in our area.  Pictures should be sent to Todd Sliger, the volunteer coordinator for this program.  His e-mail address is or to Rob Denkhaus at  Your volunteer hours for this purpose should go to TPWD Support.
We also found out that our Chapter won many of the awards.  I was and am so proud of all of you for your efforts.  As Jo Lynne Merrill reported, we won 2nd place in the Chapter Projects division, 1st place for our Scrapbook, 1st place for Jim McIntosh’s wildlife photo of a butterfly from Texas Discovery gardens, 1st place for Carroll Mayhew’s picture taken during our Big Chapter Project at John Bunker Sands Wetland Center in the category of Master Naturalists at Work and Play, and Carroll won on this picture for Best of Show! We also were informed that Jennifer Weisensel’s video prepared on our Native Plants and Prairies Day Project won 1st place. Congratulations to all the winners on their efforts for our Chapter.
It was a letdown after all the excitement of these announcements but we attended classes from 10:15 to 12:15.  I took a class by John Herron on “Putting Concept to Practice of Ecosystem Management”.  It was very interesting and appropriate.  John did a great job.
Then to lunch and checkout.  What a conference and I am still excited about our showing on all the competitions.  I wish more members would attend as we are one of the oldest Chapters in the State.  I think everyone would enjoy it.  Thanks for listening to my 2014 Conference story.

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