Game and Parks works to reintroduce mussels in Big Blue watershed

BEATRICE, NE — These teenagers are doing more than just slogging through Cub Creek at Homestead National Historical Park.

They have mussels on their minds.

“So we’ve been going through the creek, mostly on our hands and knees, and with a PIT Tag reader, looking for mussels,” Homestead National Historical Park Intern Jorge Vargas-Barriga said.

“Mussels are a very important part of the biodiversity of a creek," Resource Management Specialist Jesse Bolli said. "They’re filter-feeders, so they filter the water to get their nutrients.”

Resource Management Specialist Jesse Bolli says mussels also serve as a bioindicator of a creek’s health… and their verdict is poor. 72 percent of mussel species in North America are considered threatened or at risk.

“The mussels have kind of been screaming lately that the watersheds maybe aren’t doing that good,” Bolli said.

This group - the youth conservation corps, interns and staff - they counted the mussels they found in the creek earlier this summer and now they’re planting Plain Pocketbook and Fatmucket mussels, provided by Game and Parks, into the creek.

This is the second year of restocking at Homestead. The group used PIT tags to track down last year’s shells.

“We can figure out from that data how many are still alive, how many shells we found, so we can kind of know what success rate we’re having with finding them so we can get a survival rate.”

29% made through winter and grew about 40 percent in size, both considered good marks. With luck, the cropped planted Tuesday will do even better.

“Hopefully, that will lead to maybe more mussels procreating with each other and increase the population back in Cub Creek," Vargas-Barriga said. "I think that will, just in general, increase the ecosystem of the park.”