Snakes return to Noxen
BY JEFF HORVATH
and ROBERT L. BAKER
Wyoming County Press Examiner
Kevin Noldy of Hop Bottom said he’s seen his share of black and garter snakes, but Sunday was a Father’s Day first.
He saw a rattlesnake for the first time, up close and personal.
And, he was impressed at how informative the Noxen Fire Co.’s Rattlesnake Roundup was.
“This is really interesting,” Noldy said, while his nine-year-old son by the same name stroked the animal’s body as Fish and Boat Commission volunteer biologist talked about the poisonous snake’s features.
“That is really neat,” the youth said, while admitting he was glad the animal wasn’t capable of striking as its head was in a plastic tube.
About 30 feet away another dad, Glen Elsworth III of Sweet Valley was also beaming because not only did his 14-year-old bag a rattlesnake, but so did dad.
His shirt noted, “This is what a really cool dad looks like.”
Noxen Fire Chief Lew Hackling said on Saturday, it was three hours into the weekend hunt before the first rattlesnake was brought in.
“Yeah, I was a little concerned,” he said, “But I knew they were out there.”
At the end of Saturday eight rattlesnakes were brought in.
By the end of Sunday, some 53 registered hunters brought in 18 total rattlesnakes, five copperheads and 16 nonpoisonous snakes.
Although down by about a third from the 66 snakes brought in 2012, Hackling proclaimed the hunt a success for the fire company which used the weekend to educate the public about the slithering reptiles.
The Roundup serves several purposes, but the most important for resident snake-handler Bill Wheeler is to dispel some myths about the snakes. “These aren’t the evil monsters that they are portrayed to be,” he said. If we can educate some people about the animals we will be doing us both a favor.”
Wheeler has been participating in snake “roundups” since he was a child when he and his father would go “hunting” for the snakes together.
While the event is technically a “snake hunt,” none of the snakes are harmed. The timber rattlesnake is an endangered species, so every snake that is caught will be marked and returned to the location where it was found.
Wheeler is very concerned about the wellbeing of the rattlesnake population. He says, “If we can teach even one or two people to not kill every snake they see then we have done our job.”.
Hackling reflected this sentiment.
“These snakes get a bad rap,” he said. “Going back to the Bible, for thousands of years people have regarded snakes as monsters. We think they are misunderstood.”
“The snakes just want to be left alone,” says Wheeler, “and if we don’t bother them they won’t bother us.”
Along with educating the public how to act in the presence of snakes, Chief Hackling also stresses the importance of preserving the snake population.
“Urban sprawl has destroyed many snake dens and contributed to high mortality rates,” Hackling said. “We want people to know how important snakes are for the ecosystem.”
Snakes keep rodent populations down while providing food for other predators.
Another important function of the Rattlesnake Roundup is to raise money for the Noxen Vol. Fire Dept. It is by far the largest fundraiser the Fire Department holds and is directly responsible for supplying the fireman with the resources necessary to serve the community.
“This is where we get the money for the new equipment that we need to do our job”, Hackling said.
He attributes the success and popularity of the event to the fact that “we are the only one around, and because of all the things we have to offer.”
The roundup has many options for the more squeamish visitors who may not want to hang around a snake pit.
There are a large variety of food and craft vendors on site, as well as several rides and games. The fire company has even provided an exotic reptile display, where, for a $5 fee, visitors can have their pictures taken with either an alligator or a python.
According to the Chief, “We have everything your average fireman or church bizarre will have, with an added buzz.
It is this “buzz” which draws the Chapin family of Noxen to the Roundup every year.
Sue Chapin and her four children were taking a break from the excitement to enjoy a hamburger lunch when she said, “the kids like to see all the local snakes and I think it is important for them to learn about them.”
The largest light phase rattler was 51” brought in by Don Webber; and dark phase was also 51” in a tie for snakes brought in by caught by Fawne Hopfer and Thomas Gaeta. Most rattles belonged to Ronald Reed with 13. The lunker of the hunt was a 38-pound tie between Don Webber and Glen Ellsworth III.
Most species brought in belonged to Glen Ellsworth IV with nine. The largest copperhead belonged to Donna Kime at 40” and the largest non venomous snake, a black rat snake belonged to Jim Finnegan.