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Project Wild America Wrap Up

Posted on Aug 27, 2015

It’s 7am and about 55° on the morning of our last turtle trapping day with our Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors. I roll up to the Riverwalk to find all our students ready to give things a final go. All of us are beat from a long couple weeks of intensive trapping efforts and exploration of various sites along the Chadakoin River. However, we each feel accomplished with how many different species we have found and the impact we have made on the local community through the sharing of our findings and experiences. There is a dwindling optimism as we deploy our 35 foot seine net, graciously loaned to us by NYS DEC, to try to capture these elusive turtles one more time. Since there is a good amount of remnant debris on the bottom of the Chadakoin left from the city’s industrial days, a few PWA crew members set the net at strategic checkpoints while the rest jump into the river upstream and work their way to the net, in hopes to drive some spiny softshell turtles into it.

Alas, at each site, we pulled up the net and it comes up with only a few fish. Not exactly what we were hoping for. Our last efforts proved unfruitful and frustration had quickly settled in. Upon hauling our net out of the river and putting all our equipment away, we all took some time to dry off and reflect a bit on what we had learned throughout the summer.

The seine net worked great for catching some of the fish that live in the Chadakoin; however, the turtles we believe were a little too smart to get caught up in this big net.

The seine net worked great for catching some of the fish that live in the Chadakoin; however, the turtles we believe were a little too smart to get caught up in this big net.

From my perspective, I learned a lot working with our crew comprised of six high school students and two college students, each of which were phenomenal. Although I was often leading the trainings or pointing out different things to be on the lookout for, our crew regularly taught me through their observations or own perspectives of what they were learning and what it meant to them. Many of our students had had little exposure to the Chadakoin River prior to this project. I was on the river relatively often taking down turtle observations or noting interesting birds; however, once this project got underway, the Chadakoin became my Wild America. What I mean by that is, when Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher set off to explore the North American continent, Roger had already seen much of it while James had not. Through the eyes of James, Roger gained a new perspective on America and through their explorations, they discovered the wild untamed stretches still in existence within the areas they traveled. With PWA, the students found so many interesting species and made a lot of great observations I previously had not. Through them, I have an even deeper respect for the Chadakoin and know that upon closer inspection, it is chock full of incredible life!

Hoop Traps

Setting hoop traps, another method we used for turtle trapping, in the Chadakoin River.

Handling a snapper

Throughout the summer we did have some success trapping other turtle species. We found 5 different turtle species within the Chadakoin, and the Common Snapping Turtle, Painted Turtle and Musk Turtle were some of the turtles we frequently caught. Here Twan is demonstrating the proper way to handle a snapper so that neither the turtle or handler gets hurt.

Black Crowned Night Heron

This was an exciting find in the marshy areas along the outlet: Black Crowned Night Heron.

Spiny Male Swimming

Our elusive target species, the Spiny Softshell Turtle.

Musk Turtle

Much to our excitement, we pulled a Musk Turtle or “Stinkpot” out of one of our nets. These turtles have a very small range within our region of NYS.

And from our students perspectives, I know that they learned a great deal and this project really made an impact on them as well as the many others that we interacted with on the river and beyond. Our students accomplished so much this summer and I believe will remember the experiences they had throughout their lifetime. I can hear the stories now being told to their fellow classmates starting out as, “This summer I dove into the Chadakoin after a turtle!…”

PWA-Alex, Kurt & Hailey Chadakoin Cleau-up

As we worked along the Chadakoin we found lots of pockets of garbage, so we decided to do a clean-up and in the process removed 18 tires, an old TV, siding and shingles from a house, two large plastic tubs, and overfilled a dumpster. All of these things will no longer have the chance to pollute the wetlands surrounding the Chadakoin.

PWA-Alex & Elyse Chadakoin Clean-up

We rolled two of these out of the trails next to the river!

PWA Crew & Leaders

Here’s the entire crew sporting our Turtle Trappin’ t-shirts. From left to right: (in tree) Griffin Noon and Adolf Zollinger; (front row) Matt Elia, Jeremy Hatfield, Kurt Moeller, Erros Quinones, Hailey Dutton, Elyse Henshaw & Alex Shipherd.

PWA Riverwalk Display

On our last day together, we had the opportunity to set up a display of some of the things we saw and learned about this summer and talk to the public about our findings.

With the Riverwalk Festival as our last attended event, we have officially wrapped up the project. We are looking forward to next year already and can’t wait to see what else we might discover living within our own backyards here in the city of Jamestown, the county of Chautauqua, the state of New York and well beyond. If you would like to learn more about our project, hear from the student’s personal perspectives, or learn about some of the species we found please visit www.projectwildamerica.org.

Our crew leader Alex Shipherd and his mom manning the table at the Riverwalk Festival this past weekend.

Our crew leader Alex Shipherd and his mom manning the table at the Riverwalk Festival this past weekend.

Elyse Henshaw
Conservation Technician