Each award recipient received a decorated plate in commemoration of their achievements.

Each award recipient received a commemorative plate in recognition of his achievements.
Image Credit: Clemson University

CLEMSON — The South Carolina Master Naturalist Program has recognized five outstanding naturalists as first-time recipients of a newly established award.

Inducted into the “Honorary South Carolina Statewide Master Naturalist Class of 2015” are five people who have had significant impact both in front of and behind the scenes.

The first recipient is Rudy Mancke, the longtime co-host of South Carolina ETV’s “NatureScene.” The award-winning nature series, which ran from 1978 to 2002, still is being aired on public television. Before starting his career in television, Mancke was the natural history curator at the South Carolina State Museum for 10 years and was a high school biology and geology teacher.

“Rudy’s field trips, which are broadcast nationwide, have earned him a legion of dedicated viewers,” said James Blake, state coordinator for the S.C. Master Naturalist Program, which is run by Clemson Cooperative Extension. “His knowledge of the complex inner workings of different ecosystems and his great admiration for the natural world make him the perfect guide.”

The second recipient is Patrick McMillan, host, co-creator and writer of “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan.” The renowned nature series, which recently won its fourth Emmy Award, began airing in 2007 and has taken viewers on compelling journeys through gorges, forests and even Arctic tundra. McMillan is also director of the South Carolina Botanical Garden and is a faculty member at Clemson University.

“Over the past 15 years, Patrick has worked as a professional naturalist, biologist and educator,” Blake said. “He has concentrated on botany, but he is also well-respected through his work in ichthyology, herpetology and mammalogy.”

From left, Rudy Mancke, Patrick McMillan, Chris Marsh, Tim Lee and Austin Jenkins.

From left, Rudy Mancke, Patrick McMillan, Chris Marsh, Tim Lee and Austin Jenkins.

The third recipient is Chris Marsh, one of the key members who started the inaugural S.C. Master Naturalist Program in 2000 in cooperation with Clemson Extension in Beaufort County. Marsh has been executive director of The LowCountry Institute since its inception in 1998 and was a biology professor at Coastal Carolina University, where he taught ornithology, ecology and animal behavior.

“Chris has worked extensively with municipal governments to help improve water quality, land conservation practices and manage lands in the Lowcountry area,” Blake said. “He also teaches Master Naturalist programs in the Lowcountry and has graduated more than 700 S.C. Master Naturalists.”

The fourth recipient is Tim Lee, who has been an Interpretive Ranger for the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area for 16 years. Lee is responsible for developing, marketing and presenting nature-based educational programs and other materials. Lee is a founding member of the Upstate Master Naturalist Program, and he has led numerous advanced trainings for Master Naturalists all over the state.

“Encompassing Caesars Head State Park, Jones Gap State Park and Wildcat Wayside, the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area covers more than 11,000 acres of pristine southern mountain forest, which makes his office one that’s full of diverse and rare plant life — not to mention breathtaking views,” Blake said. “Tim remembers overhearing a child say one morning at Caesars Head Overlook: ‘I can see the whole world from here!’ ”

The fifth and final recipient of the 2015 awards is Austin Jenkins, a longtime naturalist who currently teaches natural history and environmental biology at the University of South Carolina Sumter. During his varied and diverse career, Jenkins has been natural resources manager at Clemson University’s Sandhill Research and Education Center in Columbia and the executive director of Katawba Valley Land Trust, a nonprofit conservation organization in the Piedmont.

All five recipients are passionate about the beauty of nature.

All five recipients are passionate about preserving the beauty of nature.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

“Given his general interests in all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, Austin is best described as a naturalist,” Blake said. “His goal is to make certain that his students gain an understanding and appreciation of the natural world. During his two years at Katawba, the land trust doubled its membership, initiated a Master Naturalist Program and closed on more than 1,000 acres of conservation property.”

The awards were announced at the recent S.C. Master Naturalist Program’s fourth state conference at Seabrook Island. There were 125 participants, 30 educational sessions and 32 presenters.

The S.C. Master Naturalist Program began in 2000 and went statewide in 2007. There are now more than 1,500 certified graduates in South Carolina. The monetary value of their work was estimated at almost $400,000 in 2014 alone. Master Naturalists do everything from trail maintenance to assisting in nature outreach programs at parks to helping scientists collect data on animals, plants and water quality.