Camping Trip with the Youth Conservation Corps in French Creek
I love eating dinner outside watching the sun set and feeling the warm day begin to cool down a little. I love sitting around the campfire and hearing the cackling of the wood and watching its shadow dance. I love sharing laughs, stories, and music. I love the smell of marshmallows as they catch just a little bit of fire and get toasty outside and melt on the inside. I love laying down and stretching out my body ready for rest while staring up at the stars. I love being able to see the brightness of the stars, away from city lights, surrounded by the silhouette of trees. I love waking up to the sound of birds chirping feeling the warm sun shining on my face gently waking me up. I love opening my eyes and having the tips of tree branches come into focus as I wake up~
VAFO hosts a summer long event called the summer challenge for staff members. The challenge is to participate in at least three activities outside of the department you work for. I think this is really cool because it gives staff members the opportunity to experience first hand what others do on their day to day. One activity I participated in was learning the reenactment process of shooting a musket. The person leading this activity gave us a bit of historical background before teaching us how to load and fire the musket. This was one of my favorite history lessons because I was able to visualize and feel the weight of the muskets that soldiers had to carry. I was able to take a small step into history and imagine part of what day to day life was like for these soldiers. This helped me understand the importance of preserving historical structures and artifacts to allow people to envision snippets of historical events.
With practice, I have been getting better at identifying different species of butterflies. With some skippers, the first step to take is to make sure it actually is a butterfly. I learned an easy way to sometimes distinguish between a moth and butterfly. The coloration isn’t what gives it away- many skipper butterflies have similar dull color patterns as some moths however, some moths have distinct hairy antennae. This was a dead giveaway when trying to identify this one:
However, not all moths will have the easily distinguishable hairs on their antennae.
This one is missing the distinct hairs on the antennae but I also read that butterflies tend to have a little bulbs on the tips of their antennae. This moth is also missing those slightly thicker tips on its antennae. I am still going to look through the butterfly identification book I am using to be sure it is not a butterfly but for now it most likely isn’t.
This is an example of a thought process I go through while being out in the field walking the transects, looking through binoculars, and flipping through the identification book to be able to say which species of butterflies are present on the field.
And just because I thought it was really awesome, here is a picture of me standing next to a milkweed that was basically the same height as I am (5’3″). The monarch butterfly solely relies on milkweed as their host plant so it made me really happy to see this one growing so well!
“Nothing is obvious to the uniformed”
A dedicated park volunteer told us this quote I really liked!
As I was walking slowly along the meadow and looking for butterflies I reflected on this. I am a person who at times finds it hard to speak up for myself but this quote really helped and made me realize there is no reason to not speak up for yourself after all, we are interning at national parks to learn!
I have really been enjoying the walks along the transects for my butterfly monitoring project. Before this summer, I had never walked along the path and paid attention to insects. Typically I would look up at the trees, look for birds at times, look for large wildlife, and look at the shrubs and grasses on the sides. Now, as I walk along trails even when I am not looking for these fairly small insects, I find myself paying attention to the smaller details that many people don’t usually find the time to stop and look at. This project has allowed me to slow down in this often fast paced world to observe and appreciate the little details.
Listening to the sound of water running through streams or rivers soothes me. I enjoy feeling the fresh current run through my hands. Who knew this is what a day in my internship would be like?!
I had the joy of joining the person who monitor’s Valley Forge and Hopewell Furnace’s water quality. After calibrating the probe, we set out to the various streams we were going to inspect.
In Valley Forge, the stream was a short walk away. During this walk, there was a little section that was muddy and laying there fully displaying its yellow and blue wings was a gorgeous Eastern tiger swallowtail!
In all my excitement, I didn’t get the chance to take a picture but just so you all get the idea of how beautiful this species is here is an image from google:
This is a species of butterfly native to this area. I knew that it has been previously seen at the park however, I had not encountered it while walking the transects for my project so I was so happy to finally see it!
Being in Hopewell Furnace was also amazing. This park has a very peaceful feeling to it and walking through forest under-story to get to the stream was great! This is one of the streams we checked for
quality. To do so, the air temperature barometric pressure were taken. Then the probe would be placed into the water and the sensors would measure the pH, dissolved oxygen available, conductivity, and water temperature. Then the stream width and depth were measured using a transect. This description may sound a little dull but I really enjoyed being out in the field and monitoring the water quality for three streams!
As a child I always liked looking at the different colored layers of soil on the side of recently eroded mountains. I enjoyed following a single layer as far as I could and watching the line of the layer randomly curve and straighten out. I liked looking at the soil horizons as the sun would hit them with its rays and they would glisten back. I was taken back to this as I helped the park’s archaeologist analyze the soil horizons visible from the creek trying to unravel stories and events of the past.
^ Here’s a picture of the archaeologist determining which color the soil was using a soil color book for classification.
For the first image:
After wetting and mixing the soil, it was analyzed by following a table and running a couple tests such as the ribbon test. The table helps determine what type of soil it is based on its physical characteristics.
Stood in silence for a minute and enjoyed the light breeze grazing my skin in the hot humid morning. Took in the sound of cars driving past and a variety of bird songs all coming together. I glanced around at the tops of trees hoping to find one of the sources behind the choir of bird songs. Then from behind the branches of a tree, a vibrant orange dot was seen. When observed with the scope, you could see it moving it’s beak to make its contribution to the choir calling out, “Hear; hear; come right here; dear.”
Walking along, the trail winded out from the shaded understory and opened out into a sunlit meadow. As the sporadic breezes of wind blew the taller plants swayed along with it. During one of these breezes another bird was seen bobbing up and down perched on the plant. It opened it’s beak and sang, “Hip; hip; hurrah boys; spring is here!”
This week as we were out cray-fishing we received a call from our supervisor telling us a park ranger had found an injured robin. We quickly gathered some gloves, pair of cutters, and a cage and headed over to where the robin was found. When we got there she was hobbling in the grass with a white string dangling behind. When a fellow intern picked it up, we saw that the string was wound pretty tightly in her wing resulting in a cut. We started cutting off pieces of the string and gently began removing it. Luckily, she was able to move her wing but since she had a bleeding wound, we took her to a local sanctuary. They told us to check on the robin next week to hopefully bring it back to Valley Forge.
On another note, we had crayfish core today and I was leading a group of volunteers that were a family with two kids. The kids were really energetic and loved learning. They instantly began asking many insightful questions and began making observations out loud. As the biotech here in Valley Forge debriefed everyone on the importance of flipping back some of the rocks to not disturb the environment, he pulled out an invasive weed nearby and the kid looked up to him and said, “Didn’t you just kill that plant?” This is why I enjoy working with kids. I enjoy hearing the questions and comments they blurt out and despite being young, older folks can still learn from them.
This week I had the opportunity of visiting the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. This was my first time visiting a National Historic Site so I wasn’t sure what to expect but the site was a beautiful area surrounded by meadows, forests, and wetlands as well as the French Creek State Park. When we first arrived here, we had some time to explore some of the artifacts and talk to the park rangers inside the visitor’s center. Afterwards, we removed some invasive plants and helped replace a fence that was protecting a re-seeded area from deer. After lunch, we had some time to walk around the historic site and I got to learn a little about how wood was transformed into charcoal. Ignited wood was built into what they called a three corner chimney, covered with leaves and dirt, and ignited in these charcoal pits (picture to the left). For 10-14 days, workers would keep an eye on the ignited stack of wood to stop any open flames while they waited for the wood to fully char. Once the wood was fully charred, the cooled charcoal would be loaded onto wagons and taken to a cooling shed.
I look forward to spending more time in Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and learning more about the history there. This week’s visit was a nice sneak peek at what there is to learn about.
Later on in the week, we participated in crayfish corps. It is a volunteer based program in the park that works on removing the invasive rusty crayfish. While we were out in the creek with a group of volunteers, we found a crayfish with eggs! Luckily, this particular crayfish species was a native so we were able to place it back into the water safe and sound.
My name is Elizabeth. I was born and raised in southern California. I studied Conservation Resource Studies with a minor in Forestry in northern California and just graduated! I love being outdoors hiking, swimming, or even just sitting under the shade of a tree. This summer, I will be interning at Valley Forge National Park in Pennsylvania. It is my first time on the east coast and so far, I have had a great time! I have already had many insightful conversations with several staff members in the park. I got to learn and take part in managing an invasive crayfish population in the creek that runs along the park. I had a great time feeling the fresh water running past my feet while looking for and collecting rusty crayfish. It has only been a week and I have already learned a lot.
I am definitely interested in working towards conservation but I have yet to find out what specific field I want to dive into. This week, I communicated my long list of interests within conservation to my supervisor and thankfully, I will have the opportunity to explore many of these interests throughout the summer. Through this experience, I am hoping to find which specific aspect of conservation I would like to pursue as a career.
I am really excited for what is to come this summer!