HARRISONBURG — The Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center was buzzing with informational displays, hands-on exhibits and educational talks about bees, butterflies and pollinator-friendly plants on Sunday for the city’s Pollinators In Your Backyard event.

Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation held the event to educate residents about the city’s efforts to increase pollinator habitats.

Local groups also shared their initiatives to save pollinator species that are disappearing due to loss of habitats.

Members of Girl Scout Troop 1219, based in the area of Penn Laird and Keezletown, built butterfly houses to be placed in Westover Park. The girls painted the wooden boxes with bright colors and will put fruit inside. The top can be opened for butterflies to fly in or they can enter through slots.

“The butterfly would be attracted to these bright colors and then they go through these slots; if it’s raining they wouldn’t get wet, so they have a nice, dry place,” said Emily Rea, a 9-year-old member of Girl Scout Troop 1219.

The butterfly house project is part of the troop’s efforts to win a bronze award given for 20 hours of community service. The troop is planting a pollinator garden in Hillandale Park at the end of March.

“The girls have decided they just really want to help pollinators,” said troop co-leader Cristin Iwanicki.

Butterfly houses are an easy way for people in the community to make a difference, Emily said.

“I hope people can make more butterfly houses and put them in their backyard so then the butterflies can come into their backyard and hopefully that will raise the population of butterflies,” she said.

The troop also had a craft to demonstrate how the process of pollination works. The girls have learned about the importance of pollinator species, such as bees, butterflies, beetles and wasps.

“Bees and butterflies and pollinators are vital to our survival,” said Olivia Spitzer, a 10-year-old member of the troop.

The honeybee population in the U.S. is declining at 44 percent or more each year, according to Bee City USA, a national nonprofit that recognizes localities for their efforts to create sustainable pollinator habitats.

The organization also says 1 in every 3 bites of food we eat is the result of insect pollination, and 90 percent of wild plants and trees need pollinators to survive. The city of Harrisonburg is working becoming an official Bee City.

James Madison University’s Edith J. Carrier Arboretum had a display at the event to showcase the various pollinator-friendly plants that are featured in the arboretum.

“We have a lot of plants planted for pollinators, and then we have stream plantings that go almost all the way through the arboretum with different perennials that are blooming at different times of the year,” said Lisa Bauer, the greenhouse grounds manager at the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum.

The arboretum’s monarch waystation contains butterfly milkweed plants to provide them with nectar and a place to lay eggs. The oak hickory forest also provides habitats for caterpillars before they transform into butterflies.

“The trees are a great habitat,” said Bauer, a horticulturist. “They provide early nectar and a food source for caterpillars.”

The arboretum gave away seeds for residents to plant native species in their own backyards.

Other displays and talks informed residents about how to create and maintain pollinator spaces and rain gardens, beekeeping, as well as the city’s financial incentives for installing habitats for pollinators.

Trevor Chase, a biology and ecology teacher at Harrisonburg High School, spoke about the high school’s meadow project in partnership with On The Road Collaborative, an after-school program, at his display booth.

The project is part of On The Road Collaborative’s apprenticeship program for 10 students who are designing and planning the creation of a native meadow on the 4.5 acre hillside behind the tennis courts.

“Our goal is to do our site prep over the summer and then the seeds will be planted in the fall, in October to November,” said Chase, the teacher coordinator of the project.

The project is funded by a $3,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in addition to a $1,000 grant from the Harrisonburg Education Foundation.

The students are working on determining which native species they will plant, from black-eyed Susans to wild Indigo and bergamot.

“Now, our next process is to figure out a mix based on the height of the plant. So, we’re planning on low, medium and tall plants and also when their growing seasons are, because we want plants to be coming out at different times of the growing seasons so there’s always some kind of pollinator species available for pollinators,” he said.

Bauer said the Pollinators In Your Backyard event is important in promoting the protection of pollinators and preservation of their habitats.

“I think it’s an excellent event,” Bauer said. “To promote the public awareness of the needs of the pollinators and their destruction of habitats, I think, is really important.”

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

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