BAXTER-A storm-damaged area of Loren Thompson Park will soon see new life with the planting of a pollinator garden.
The Baxter City Council learned about plans for the garden-which represents a partnership between the city's parks and trails department, the Crow Wing Power Green Touch program and Crow Wing County Master Gardener Ken Lueken-at its Tuesday work session.
Rick Pederson of Crow Wing Power said the park seemed a good fit for the program, which recently wrapped up a three-year project in Berrywood Park. The program provides funding up to $1,000 per year toward improving parks.
With downed trees and other damage occurring to the southeast corner of Loren Thompson Park in a July 2015 storm, Pederson said the area would benefit from a landscaped space.
"That corner was really trashed with the storm," Pederson said.
Lueken was brought on to develop a design and select plants that would attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators. The planned garden will consist of native prairie grasses, hedges and flowering plants, along with pathways, patio pavers, benches and interpretive signage.
Lueken said most of the projects he takes part in as a Master Gardener include the use of native plants, which offer superior erosion control and stormwater mitigation. Many of the plants Lueken selected are known specifically for their ability to attract native pollinators.
Lueken noted for about four weeks this summer, he was on site in the park on the weekends. He said the interest from park users was noticeable.
"A lot of people asked questions," Lueken said. "That's good. That's the kind of thing we were looking for, that we have with this project."
The design of the garden intentionally placed the portion intended to attract bees farthest from the nearby walking path. Pederson said he was sensitive to the placement of that area because he is allergic to bees.
"We didn't want them really close to the walking path down here, in case someone is allergic to bees," Pederson said. "We wanted to be conscious of that. ... But it's not going to be a colony of killer bees, obviously."
Pederson said the goal of the garden is to introduce a more natural environment for pollinators while restoring the landscape from the storm damage. Attracting butterflies and bees offers an opportunity to educate the public about their importance, Pederson noted.
"I didn't realize how big of a deal pollinators actually are, in terms of our food stocks," Pederson said.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, pollinating animals assist in pollinating more than 75 percent of flowering plants and almost 75 percent of all crops.
"Often we may not notice the hummingbirds, bats, bees, beetles, butterflies and flies that carry pollen from one plant to another as they collect nectar," the FWS website states. "Yet without them, wildlife would have fewer nutritious berries and seeds, and we would miss many fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like blueberries, squash, and almonds, not to mention chocolate and coffee, all of which depend on pollinators."
Recent studies on the populations of pollinators indicates a precipitous decline for a multitude of reasons, including habitat loss and disease. The FWS notes planting pollinator gardens, which offers a variety of nectar and pollen sources, is one way to help.
The educational aspect of a garden like this meant encouraging people to install gardens like this one at their homes, he said.
"It's a living classroom for the public in general," Lueken said, noting youth projects in the past have resulted in young people encouraging their parents to plant pollinator gardens.
Pederson said as the plan stands, it exceeds the total budget of $3,000 by nearly double at $5,420.
"This is a pretty grand plan of how to improve the area," Pederson said, noting he felt it represented the cost to do it correctly. He said they would seek matching grants and other outside funding to support the cost of planting the garden.
Installation of the garden is planned in three phases over three years. In the first phase, planned for this fall, the initial landscaping-including cutting sod and hauling in dirt-will occur, along with some path development and planting.
The second phase, scheduled for 2017, will focus on increased access to the garden. This includes the installation of benches, a bicycle rack and trash receptacles. "Hardscaping," or paths that will allow the use of strollers or wheelchairs, will also be added next year, along with additional plantings.
The third phase in 2018 will involve finishing "the nooks and crannies," as Pederson put it, including another seating area and additional hardscaping.
Ongoing maintenance of the garden will be performed by the Baxter Parks and Trails Department, the cost of which will be covered by that department's general operations budget.