HARRISONBURG — The city of Harrisonburg has launched several initiatives to expand local habitats of pollinating species, such as bees and butterflies, in response to the global decline of pollinators.
The city will share its ongoing efforts to become a more pollinator-friendly city with the public through an event called Pollinators in Your Backyard, which will kick off at the Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center, 305 S. Dogwood Drive, on Feb. 24 from 1 to 4 p.m.
The event features guest speakers, interactive displays, workshops and children’s activities.
“We’ve been working on efforts to enhance our pollinator spaces in the city of Harrisonburg to help boost our local urban ecosystem,” said Brittany Clem, the marketing and special projects coordinator for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. “The goal of the event is to promote the creation of these spaces and support in the community.”
Bee City USA, a national nonprofit that encourages localities to create sustainable pollinator habitats, says 1 in 3 bites of food we eat is the result of insect pollination. The organization also says 90 percent of wild plants and trees need pollinators to survive.
“Pollinators are important ... to our local economy with the fruits and crops in the Valley,” said Jeremy Harold, Harrisonburg’s park superintendent. “It’s just important for human survival because pollination is the process where we get our food. If we don’t have them around, we’re not going to get our food.”
Bee City USA reported that the population of honeybees in the U.S. is declining at 44 percent or more each year. The disappearance of pollinators, including species of bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, beetles and moths, is due to “loss of habitat essential for food and shelter, diseases and parasites and inappropriate pesticide use,” according to Bee City USA.
The nonprofit runs a program that designates localities across the country as Bee Cities for developing sustainable habitats for pollinators. Clem said the city of Harrisonburg is working to achieve the designation.
The city established a Bee City Committee that includes local businesses, organizations and schools tasked with initiating efforts to create and maintain pollinator gardens.
The designation, Clem said, requires the city the host an annual event to “gain support for our efforts and elevate our efforts in the public eye.” The city is partnering with James Madison University and other local entities.
Pollinators in Your Backyard will begin with city officials giving an overview of Harrisonburg’s efforts to increase pollinator habitats in parks and green spaces.
“What we’re doing currently, what we’ve done this past year and what we’re looking at doing in the years to come,” Harold said. “We’ll share some of the projects we’ve already installed and just give an overview of our goals and objectives.”
Informative talks will be given at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. by Harrisonburg ecological design and landscaping company The Natural Garden, which will discuss native plants that are pollinator-friendly. Kate LeCroy, a graduate student in the University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences, will give a lecture about her Mason Bee Monitoring Project.
Interactive displays touching on a variety of topics will be available for guests to peruse from 1:30 to 4 p.m. JMU’s Edith J. Carrier Arboretum will have a display of pollinator gardens at the arboretum, as well as children’s activities. “Pollinator Spaces in Harrisonburg” will showcase a JMU geographic science student project of an interactive map of city gardens.
Mike Hott of Hott Apiary in McGaheysville will teach guests the basics of beekeeping. Girl Scout Troop 1219 will have examples of butterfly houses and pollinator habitats that can be built at home. Staff and students from Harrisonburg High School will have a display about the pollinator spaces at the public schools.
Other displays will include information about how to create and maintain pollinator spaces and rain gardens, as well as financial incentives for installing habitats for pollinators. Residents who install a pollinator garden can receive stormwater fee credit from the city, Harold said.
“There will be plenty of resources to teach you how to install a pollinator garden in your own backyard,” he said.
Harold said Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation staff have already begun planting perennial plants in green spaces to attract pollinators.
“As we were renovating a lot of our landscapes this past year, we were considering that a lot of pollinator plants are perennial plants that come back every year,” he said. “You have the benefit of having a lot of color and a nice aesthetic look all season long, but they’re also pollinator-friendly plants because they provide the nectar for pollinators.”
Parks and Recreation has installed several pollinator gardens in parks, including a few in Westover Park and a large one in Hillandale Park. Another pollinator garden was planted near the Interstate 81 interchange at East Market Street in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Parks and Recreation has five more landscaping projects budgeted for the upcoming year that will include planting pollinator plants.
“We have made great efforts to make pollinator spaces,” Clem said. “We have a lot of people at the table.”