By Naturalist Allie Moskal
I started my journey at the Dunes Learning Center in June of 2018 and have grown tremendously as an Interpretive Naturalist. The majority of my knowledge about the incredible ecosystems here in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been through professional development and trainings at work. DLC provides all new naturalists the opportunity to participate in the Indiana Master Naturalist (IMN) program. IMN is a hands-on learning experience designed to educate environmental enthusiasts about Indiana’s natural resources. Upon completion of the classes, final exam, and 30 hours of environmental volunteer work, participants earn a certificate.
The class met at Gabis Arboretum in Valparaiso for class every Wednesday over the course of three months. The classes covered environmental topics including botany, ornithology, amphibians, and wildlife rehabilitation. All of the courses have provided me with new knowledge that I’m able to incorporate into my interpretive hikes at DLC. Having the opportunity to take these courses has reignited my passion for the environmental sciences.
Wildlife Rehabilitation was my favorite class. Local certified wildlife rehabilitators brought wounded animals in and talked about how we can help wildlife in emergency situations. I had the opportunity to hold an alligator and corn snake, pet a tortoise, and observe a red tailed hawk. I was overjoyed interacting with these incredible wild animals. This class reminded me of my passion for animals, something I hope to turn into a career in the future.
Botany of trees was another fascinating class that I was able to immediately apply to my lessons at work. The day after class, I led a group of students on a hike through the oak savannah. We found blue spotted salamanders and puffball mushrooms, but the best part was their interest in trees! The students had lots of questions about trees, all of which I was able to answer. We identified, discussed the life of deciduous trees, and counted the rings on several fresh cut trees. I could feel the enthusiasm from the students. I always look forward to learning new information that will help me improve my skills as an Interpretive Naturalist.