This article originally appeared on Virginia Master Naturalists.

We aim with this award to recognize a project that has been created and led by a VMN volunteer or chapter and that has made significant and noteworthy positive impacts for natural resource education, citizen science, and/or stewardship within the last 1 to 2 years.  We received some terrific nominations, and all of the projects are really noteworthy.  The winning project is one that was an outgrowth of a collaboration among Virginia Commonwealth University and our program focused on the greater Richmond metro area, and it has since evolved to include 100 volunteers from at least 10 different VMN chapters and a new collaborator, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The Vernal Pool Cooperative has volunteers finding, identifying, and monitoring vernal pool habitats in many areas of the state.  Thus far, volunteers have identified 335 vernal pools in Virginia, and their data will help fuel conservation efforts for these special habitats.  As I mentioned, many chapters are involved: Rivanna, Historic Southside, Peninsula, Shenandoah, New River Valley, and others, but since we had to choose where to give the award, we are giving it to the Pocahontas Chapter because that’s the chapter of a lead volunteer for the project, Lee Hesler.  From the beginning, Lee stepped up to assume the management of the project’s online database, and has since managed the projects’ membership, pool inventory, data collection and submission, and data archiving. He has participated on the project’s steering committee and has helped to streamline the VPCV monitoring protocols. Lee has selflessly given up many of his Saturdays to help train over 300 volunteers in the data collection and entry process during 15 advanced training classes held around the state with participants from 11 MN chapters. In addition, he has continued to monitor and enter data on his own vernal pools sites in Chesterfield Co. Lastly, Lee has recruited and trained another Master Naturalist to take over for him, as he gets ready to retire from these past three years of oversight and effort.