Over the past few years Leslie and I have used our time carefully to prepare ourselves for the job market. We attended Penn State University, where we focused on good grades and involvement on campus. Between the two of us we have completed five internships and held five part-time jobs.
However, the one thing we haven’t done much of with our time is volunteer. We plan to change that now that we are taking a gap year. Over the next year we plan on volunteering our time to help give back.
In fact, we have already begun to volunteer with the National Park Service working alongside the Crayfish Corps at Valley Forge National Historical Park.
WHO ARE THE CRAYFISH CORPS?
Throughout the summer in Valley Forge National Historical Park, Crayfish Corps volunteers work alongside National Park Service staff to help protect native crayfish populations. Most Saturdays, volunteers are welcome to join in by physically removing the invasive “rusty” crayfish from Valley Creek.
The rusty crayfish, originally from the Ohio River Basin, were introduced to the area as fishermen bait. They are larger in size, more aggressive, and take away natural resources from the native crayfish in the creek. A staff member even told us that rustys have been seen dragging native crayfish out of their homes to make it their own! Unfortunately, just one prego rusty can start an entire population!
Native (Acuminate) Crayfish
Invasive Rusty Crayfish
If nothing is done, the invasion of the rustys will eventually start to effect nature’s delicate balance: vegetation will become more scarce, insect populations will dwindle, and eventually larger pray such as trout will be affected. The long-term goal of the Crayfish Corps is to maintain a ratio of one or less rusty crayfish for every native crayfish.
WEEK ONE: LEARNING THE ROPES
Since our Saturdays are mostly booked for the summer, we contacted the park staff to see if we could volunteer during the week. They agreed and signed us up for July 7th at noon! So that Tuesday, we joined eight Youth Crayfish Corps members, slipped on our water shoes, and waded into Valley Creek.
First, I learned that Brad’s “nature boy” childhood would serve him very well in capturing crayfish. He seemed to effortlessly keep up with the experienced Crayfish Corps members, and caught a crayfish right away!
Brad’s first catch of the day…make that one native!
I was a little hesitant at first, putting most of my effort into not slipping and falling on the slimy rocks. Eventually, I started to get the hang of balancing myself against the current, holding the giant fishing net, and lifting rocks in hopes of finding a crayfish hiding underneath.
Our group slowly made its way upstream. Working against the current is key because when you lift up a rock, the water will help guide the crayfish into your net. Additionally, it will help to ensure a native crayfish is not counted twice.
Once captured, you have to determine what kind of crayfish you caught – native or invasive? Identifying between the two was somewhat difficult at first, but the markings to look for on a rusty include black-tipped claws and pronounced rust-colored spots on their sides. Rustys were collected in a bucket, while natives were simply counted and returned to the water.
PUTTING THE RUSTYS TO SLEEP
While Leslie and I don’t stand for the killing of living creatures, when it comes to invasive species we must think of what is best for the entire ecological system. In the case of the rusty crayfish we understand the importance of removing them from the Valley Creek. By removing them it will in turn help to protect the native plants and animals of the area.
In order to humanely euthanize the rusty crayfish, they are placed in a container that is then placed into a freezer. The cold helps to slow the metabolism of the crayfish and make it fall asleep. Then while already asleep, the crayfish will freeze and die without feeling any pain.
So far we have volunteered with the Crayfish Corps twice, for a total of 7 hours. Not only have we learned a great deal about the different species at Valley Forge National Historical Park, but we have also helped to protect them. Below are the results from each day we have volunteered
Week One (July 7):
On our first day volunteering we worked with the Youth Crayfish Corps for three and a half hours. During our time in the creek we counted 300 Native Crayfish and removed 68 Rusty Crayfish. On top of that we saw many different living creatures including a dragonfly nymph, ebony jewelwing, fishing spiders, a queen snake, and a young water snake.
Mating fishing spiders
Young water snake
Week Two (July 21):
Our second time volunteering with the Crayfish Corps was just as fun as the first! Even though our group had less people, we ended up catching more crayfish. In three and a half hours we counted 415 Native Crayfish and removed 99 Rusty Crayfish.
A few of the Youth Crayfish Corps team members
Counting the rustys!
Week Three (July 28):
With Leslie unable to come this time around, I was left to volunteer on my own. Without my partner in crime, I decided to track how many crayfish I personally caught/counted. In three and a half hours the group counted 178 Native Crayfish and removed 120 Rusty Crayfish. By the end of the day I had counted 25 of the 178 native crayfish and removed 35 of the 120 rusty crayfish!
How cute are these crayfish babies?!?
The team hard at work
Special thanks to Patrick Allison Jr. for providing some of the photos in this post!
This was our first experience volunteering in a long time. Have you volunteered recently? If so, tell us where in the comment section!