The Big Year Eco-Challenge

The Big Year Eco-Challenge (BYEC) will be a year-long effort to identify and document all the plant and animal life of five natural areas in Gloucester County, and two additional sites beyond the county. Site leaders and small teams of volunteers will periodically visit the sites from January 1 through December 31, 2021 to identify as many species of wild plants and animals as they can find. The project will involve Club members and county residents using an app and website called iNaturalist to document biodiversity of the five sites. The iNaturalist app empowers ordinary people to participate in citizen science and to become more knowledgeable naturalists.

BYEC is based on an iNaturalist project that club members Jeff Mollenhauer and Karl Anderson did in the Autumn of 2020 on the Elephant Swamp Trail near Elmer. The work at that site (still ongoing) has identified over 700 species of plants, birds mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fungi and more! And it has revealed fascinating associations and relationships among creatures that inhabit that area.

The five project BYEC sites in Gloucester County will include Elephant Swamp Trail, Tall Pines State Preserve, Ceres Park, RiverWinds and Piney Hollow Preservation Area. All of these areas are featured in the newly released Natural Places of Gloucester County book. The sixth project site is located in Cincinnati Ohio: Otto Armleder Memorial Park. The seventh project site is yet to be identified.

The following Club members/County residents have volunteered to help survey the five Gloucester County sites: Rich Dilks, Marie Hageman (Tall Pines State Preserve), Jayne Rhynard, Marilyn Henry, Barb Bassett (Ceres Park)… Dan Ceravolo and family, Karl Anderson and Gale Cannon (Riverwinds Park), Jon Stippick, Joe Arsenault (Piney Hollow Preservation Area), Jeff Mollenhauer, Kris Mollenhauer, Erik Mollenhauer (Elephant Swamp Trail). Maria Keefe and Kevin Jeffers have also offered to help. Additional volunteers can be added to the teams if people are interested.

During the 2021 year, teams from the BYEC sites will engage in light-hearted competition (“challenges”) to see which team and/or person identifies the most species and the most interesting life-stories at their site. The year-long challenge will be broken into four mini-challenges by season… each about 3 months in length… providing multiple opportunities for teams and individuals to share discoveries and to win a challenge and the associated bragging rights.

BYEC is a perfect project for this time of COVID-19 since site surveys can be carried out by individuals or teams of two to four socially distanced people… and there is no long-distance travel. Teams can visit their sites as often as they wish. Some knowledge of plants and animals is helpful but not necessary. What is necessary is a pair of eyes… curiosity… and a desire to learn more about the fascinating plants and animals of our natural places.

Jeff Mollenhauer will serve as Principal Investigator for the BYEC and will help train and support the site leaders. Karl Anderson has offered to serve as Principal Botanist for the sites. Monarch Teacher Network has secured funding to produce a film about the year-long BYEC project. The finished film will feature sites and teams involved in the surveys. Waterworks Productions… which produced films for Monarch Teacher Network and the “Mad Hatter Tree Party”… will be the producer for the BYEC film.

As the 2021 year unfolds, we will provide monthly summaries discussing what BYEC teams have found.

Monthly Summaries: Click on the date of the monthly summary you wish to read, which will open the document in a new window already formatted to print according to your printer. To return to this page simply close the new window (click on the 'X' in the upper right-hand corner of the window). You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader software to view these files. To download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader, click here.

  • February 2021 Summary
  • January 2021 Summary

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