Tag Archives: Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Definitely wouldn’t do that with kudzu…

Today we are hearing from Mallory Gyovai, an AmeriCorps intern at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia.

Invasive species management is a prevalent issue at any national wildlife refuge, but it is especially important at Canaan Valley NWR. With its unique ecosystem that has been noted as “a little bit of Canada, gone astray”, the battle against non-native and invasive competitors is fought fiercely. Generally, our invasive species list targets those hard to remove ones, like Japanese stilt grass and autumn olive, but we also target different areas of the refuge that need to remain in the successional habitat that they currently are. So, when the biology team began to discuss the grasslands and shrublands located throughout the refuge, the presence of juvenile non-native Scotch pines within those ecosystems were also mentioned.

AmeriCorps intern Mallory Gyovai showing off a “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree/Credit Lauren Merrill

AmeriCorps intern Mallory Gyovai showing off a
“Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree/Credit Lauren Merrill

That is when an idea struck. What if we removed the pines, which are the most common species of Christmas tree in the United States, and host an event that gives back to the community? It would be an invasive species management themed tree giveaway that would offer the community a chance to get together, enjoy hot chocolate and candy canes, learn about invasive species management on the refuge, and provide trees to people who may not have otherwise been able to get one! Instead of letting the “Charlie Brown” looking trees lay where they are, we loaded up trucks and brought them to our Visitor’s Center.

Refuge visitor loads a Scotch pine

Refuge visitor loads a Scotch pine

The event lasted two days, in the midst of a snowstorm, and we had 64 brave souls come out and pick up 57 of our trees. They were sent home with information on how to recycle their tree after the holiday season, a little piece of Canaan Valley NWR, and warm wishes from the volunteers and staff. This small gesture for our community went a long way, and many people were so grateful for the opportunity. Who would have thought that one person’s nuisance invasive species could be another’s holiday tradition?

She is Bat Woman

Emily Peters is an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Now in her second year of Americorps service, Peters continues to pursue one of her greatest life passions: connecting people to the environment through education. Throughout her career, Peters says she has had “incredible experiences of self-justification”, which demonstrate she is doing exactly what she is meant to do. Peters’ most recent experience was a two day celebration about one of nature’s most unique mammals: BATS.

And now, I turn this story over to Emily Peters, the real Bat Woman…

Peters (left) getting ready for day two of Bat Week - building bat boxes - with fellow AmeriCorps members, Lauren Merrill (middle) and Maddy Ball (right). Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Peters (left) getting ready for day two of Bat Week – building bat boxes – with fellow AmeriCorps members, Lauren Merrill (middle) and Maddy Ball (right). Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

This journey starts with a Bat Week event I planned last year. I will be honest: it was not my best work. I would like to say that I had exactly 7 days to coordinate the event, which is not an excuse but definitely played a role in the turnout. The outcome of this year’s event was partially influenced by some unasked-for critique I received from a local business owner in Elkins. She blatantly presented her opinion of the previous year, using words like “not fun,” “poorly advertised,” “bad” and “stupid.”

Despite the raging animal inside of me sharpening its claws, I kept my composure and put my professional face on. I thanked her for her input and explained that we did the best we could in the time that was provided. In reality, I had never been so insulted in my whole life. Did she not understand all the stress I went through to put that event together? Did she not understand that I was new and didn’t know Bat Week even existed until 7 days before!? I appreciate constructive criticism, but what she said was just plain mean. Needless to say, I took it very personally. So I used that negative energy to fuel my ambition for this year’s event.

When plans began to unfold for Bat Week 2015, I made a promise to myself that it would not get the same terrible review. I kept hearing this lady’s snide comments in my head and wanted to prove her wrong… SO wrong. In hindsight, I should thank her for pushing me to make the event bigger and better (but I’m stubborn and not going to). I put every ounce of my energy into planning the event this year and went above and beyond what any sane person planning a public event on their own would do.

Participants learn about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters

Participants learn about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters

The event featured 8 different interactive activities, each at different stations, with their own educational messages about bats and caves. I extended the event to last 2 days- ending with bat box building. The list of tasks I needed to complete never ended- it was filled with creating flyers, finding a venue, gathering all the supplies and organizing them into each station, distributing the flyers to every single student in all the elementary schools in the county, purchasing bat box kits, gathering tools and safety gear, advertising in general, and coordinating volunteers. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel overwhelmed at any point during the event planning.If you were to read my thoughts during the month I planned Bat Week, it would most likely be something like, “batsbatsbatsbatsbatsbats.” It was stressful, exhausting, my anxiety levels doubled, and I was not sleeping at night (was I becoming a bat!?). My point is: it was a lot of hard work.

Yet every second of it was absolutely worth it.

My Bat Week event was a HUGE success!! Over 200 visitors participated in the event throughout the 2 evenings! In case you don’t understand how small the town of Elkins is, trust me: that is a lot of people! Parents thanked me for my efforts, and children couldn’t wait to show off all of the new bat knowledge they had learned. On the second day, one mother stopped me on the sidewalk as I unloaded my ‘bat-mobile’, saying “Thank you so much for putting this bat event together, it’s wonderful. My kids loved it. They had a lot of fun last night and we will be coming back to build a bat box tonight.” I was ecstatic!

Families learned about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Families go batty for bat boxes on the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

I have a lot of people to thank for supporting me in my Bat Week ambitions. I have unlimited appreciation for all of my volunteers, who came from various backgrounds and organizations such as The Forest Service, WVDNR, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and AFHA AmeriCorps. The event would not have run without them! I also thank my co-workers for their support and encouragement throughout the planning process (as if they needed another reason to be amazing).

I really believe it’s one of life’s greatest feelings when you put all your energy into planning an event and it turns out incredibly successful. I know I did something right when both the kids and the parents can take value in their experience and walk away smiling. That outcome makes all the stress and anxiety melt away. It is why I work so hard doing something I truly love.

Peters may not don a cape (in public) or drive the Batmobile, but she owns her role as “Bat Woman” when it comes to educating the public about one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures.  Tune in tomorrow to read more about Peters’ batty adventures…

The Canaan Valley NWR YCC Crew, summer 2015. (Photo caption: Holly Black, USFWS.)

Meet the Crew @ Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia!

We’ve been sharing posts about our Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) crews this week. Today we’ll hear from the dedicated YCC crew from Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

The Canaan Valley NWR YCC crew worked on important conservation projects this summer, spending their days among the diverse wildlife and habitats in the valley. Canaan Valley NWR, in Davis, WV, is home to the largest wetland complex in the state, and the highest large valley east of the Rockies. The valley floor is 8,500 acres of unique wetlands, with forested walls and trails that climb to amazing valley views.

The Canaan Valley NWR YCC Crew, summer 2015. (Photo caption: Holly Black, USFWS.)

The Youth Conservation Corps crew at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge on an educational hike to Seneca Rocks, summer 2015. (Photo caption: Holly Black.)

The YCC program provides opportunities for youth to perform meaningful conservation work while learning about the natural environment, wildlife, and natural resources. The youth also have the opportunity to learn about the natural world through hands-on refuge biological activities.

Teamwork, learning and work ethic are stressed as an integral part of the program.

The YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR hard at work tearing out a destructive beaver dam. The beavers gave them a run for their money, as the crew had to go back three more time! (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

The YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR hard at work tearing out a destructive beaver dam. The beavers gave them a run for their money – the crew had to go back three more times! (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

The YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR has been a really hard-working team, says YCC crew leader Holly Black. This summer the crew worked on an amazing variety of activities, including installing fence post, pulling fence post, tearing out a destructive beaver dam, gardening work, cleaning ditches, truck maintenance, monitoring bluebird boxes, bat monitoring, and water quality monitoring.

The YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR monitored bluebird boxes for new eggs, abandoned nests and empty boxes. (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

Among their many tasks, the YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR monitored bluebird boxes for new eggs, abandoned nests and empty boxes. (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

Among their many tasks, the YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR monitored bluebird boxes for new eggs, abandoned nests, or empty boxes.

The YCC crew notes their observations during bluebird box monitoring. (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

The crew also went on educational hikes, and found the time to make a bench!

Hear from crew members Jared, Natalie, Jameson and Elizabeth about their experiences at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge this summer:

Why did you want to work at the refuge this summer?

Jared: To go outside, do something different and meet new people.
Natalie: To be outdoors and to earn money.
Jameson: Get some work to do and learn about wildlife.
Elizabeth: To get experience.

What is your favorite thing about working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? What activities do you enjoy the most?

Jared: The learning experience and I enjoy the hikes.
Natalie: I enjoyed taking out fence post and working with the bluebird boxes.
Jameson: Getting to meet the workers and learning about how they got their job. I enjoy weed-eating and maintenance work.
Elizabeth: Hikes and maintenance.

What is your favorite animal and why?

Jared: The eagle because it represents freedom and because it is an awesome bird.
Natalie: Bluebirds, because we learned what habitats they live in and we got to see how long it takes for them to hatch.
Jameson: White-tail deer, because I’m a big hunter and love how they live and adapt.
Elizabeth: Deer, because I see them a lot and they are pretty.

Bluebird box monitoring was one of many favorite activities for the YCC crew, (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

Bluebird box monitoring was one of many favorite activities for the YCC crew at Canaan Valley NWR. (Photo credit: Holly Black.)

Do you plan to continue with your interest in wildlife and environmental conservation after the summer?

Jared: Yes, I want to learn more about wildlife, the environment and maintenance.
Natalie: Yes. I want to study marine biology in college.
Elizabeth: Probably more than I would have before, because I am more aware now.

The YCC crew performs monitoring for bats on a beautiful summer day in Cannan Valley. (Photo caption; Holly Black.)

The YCC crew performs bat monitoring on a beautiful summer day in Cannan Valley. (Photo caption; Holly Black.)

The YCC program lasts for approximately 8 weeks each summer, and takes place at numerous National Wildlife Refuges. For more information, including how to apply to the program, click here.

See more stories from the YCC 2015 crews!