Photos and video: Following the Master Naturalist class into the depths of Four Holes Swamp

jkidd@beaufortgazette.comJune 4, 2013 

Enjoying the Lowcountry 's breathtaking landscape and unique wildlife is as easy as looking out the window for many residents. Teaching them about nature's inner workings -- and how to protect it -- is a different proposition.

That's the sort of knowledge the LowCountry Institute's Master Naturalist program seeks to impart.

The institute was founded in 1998 to promote good management of privately owned natural areas, and to protect the water quality and marine resources of the Port Royal Sound. Two years later, the LowCountry Institute worked with Jack Keener, the late Beaufort County Extension agent, to form the state's first Master Naturalist program, and the institute became the program’s local provider in 2003 after Keener retired.

The Master Naturalist program trains participants to understand the underlying geology, specific inhabitantants (birds, plants, mammals, etc.), ecology and the impacts of humans on the landscape,) according to the LowCountry Institute's website.

"It really enriches participants' pleasure of the outdoors and the environment because it teaches them where they can go to bird or fish," said Susan Leister, a Spring Island resident who is trained as a teacher and a zoologist. Herself a master naturalist, Leister is a volunteer assistant to LowCountry Institute executive director Chris Marsh, who runs the Master Naturalist program.

Through the years, the program has expanded from one course per year to four, one of which is taught to teachers one Saturday a month.

"In addition to being highly knowledgeable, Chris is a master of teaching," Leister said. "I've never known anyone who can take things down to any level and make people understand it the way Chris can."

The teachers’ program started five years ago, in cooperation with the Beaufort County School District, according to Marsh. The idea is that when some of the county’s best teachers are familiar with their surroundings and are shown how to incorporate this familiarity into their lessons, they can instill appreciation and knowledge of our natural surroundings in those they instruct.

It's an increasingly important mission, Leister said, because "it's really scary what the next generation doesn't know."

Full disclosure: My wife currently is enrolled in the program for school teachers which culminates this month. Her participation and my interest in starting the Untamed Lowcountry blog seemed like a good reason for me to tag along for the May class. They visited Beidler Forest near Harleyville, part of Four Holes Swamp, which in turn is part of the Edisto River basin.

In the video below, Marsh explains further the Master Naturalist program for teachers. The accompanying photo gallery includes pictures from participants' trip to Beidler Forest.

The map does what maps do -- it shows you how to get to the Audubon Center at Beidler Forest. If you visit, you might also be interested in this free iPhone app designed to guide you along the boardwalk.

View Larger Map

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