HARRISONBURG — The fourth-grade girls in Girl Scout Troop 1219 are concerned about the global decline of pollinator species, including bees and butterflies, and have been looking for ways to make a difference here in the Shenandoah Valley.

On Saturday, the Girl Scouts planted a pollinator garden in Hillandale Park in partnership with Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. The girls planted lavender and two different varieties of bee balm, as well as salvia, in the turnaround circle located at the end of Hillandale Avenue.

“It’s to help plants grow and help the wildlife,” explained Bree Iwanicki, 10. “They’ll have the flowers to pollinate.”

The troop, based in east Rockingham County, built its own butterfly and bee houses earlier this year, painting wooden boxes with bright colors to attract the insects. The girls had the houses on display at the city’s Pollinators In Your Backyard event at the Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center in February to share what they’ve learned about pollinators with the community.

“It’s making a place for bees and butterflies to pollinate and have a home,” said Emma Weze, 10.

Over the past few months, the Girl Scouts have learned about the importance of bees, butterflies and other pollinating species that humans rely on for food and how their decline affects the entire food chain.

“They help get us our main food, like honey, wheat, fruits and vegetables,” said 10-year-old Paige Green.

The troop purchased the plants and the materials for the houses through a sponsorship with F&M Bank. The Girl Scouts are working toward earning a bronze award to add to their vests.

“We have to put in 20 hours of community service toward one project,” said co-troop leader Cristin Iwanicki. “We’ve just decided that our focus is going to be pollinators.”

The city of Harrisonburg has created a pollinator committee with the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments to increase pollinator spaces in the city.

A pollinator garden was planted near the Interstate 81 exit ramp off East Market Street in partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation. Another pollinator garden was installed in Hillandale Park last year, in addition to a few in Westover Park.

“We have an Adopt A Park program. So, we were thinking about maybe rolling that into having an Adopt A Pollinator program as we continue to put these throughout the city,” said Jeremy Harold, superintendent of parks for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. “Somebody, or a group, could adopt a certain pollinator garden and help maintain it.”

They planted perennials to have flowers in bloom all through the year, according to Mike Hott, the landscape manager for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation.

“There’s a lot of time frames that pollinators come through. So, we wanted to make sure we catch every single pollinator from April all the way through September,” Hott said. “The salvia will bloom from June all the way through September. The bee balm will hit in May and bloom to September. The lavender will keep its bloom until we decide to cut it, usually in November.”

Hott, who owns Hott Apiary, a honey farm, said the salvia will attract monarch butterflies.

“They’ll put their cocoon on the salvia flower stalk and they’ll be able to come right out and start eating to gain their energy,” he said.

The Girl Scout troop’s project will have a lasting impact on the park’s ecosystem.

“The investment that the girls are doing now will continue to produce year after year,” Harold said. “It’s been a good project.”

Cristin Iwanicki said the girls plan to return periodically to maintain the pollinator garden.

“They’ve been looking forward to this,” she said. “They’ve been really proud of everything they’ve done, too.”

Contact Shelby Mertens at 574-6274, @DNR_smertens or smertens@dnronline.com

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