HOLDREGE, Neb. (AP) — Christine McCormick knew where she wanted to put a pollinator garden before the plans were approved.
“I knew I wanted it in this spot. I actually was telling people I was going to put it there before I even asked the city about it because it is just a nice garden area because of the sidewalk. There are a lot of people walking their dogs by it,” said McCormick about the large circular garden in South Park near the tennis courts.
The Kearney Hub reports that before the 2018 Holdrege High School graduate began the endeavor to create a pollinator garden in the plot, it contained peonies and was being overtaken by weeds. McCormick came up with the idea for the garden as part of her project for Youth Engaged in Leading Phelps.
“Through that you meet once a month for a year during the school year and kind of talk about leadership, and you are supposed to have a community project by the end of it,” she said. “I was just going to go door to door and have people plant pollinator seeds in their yard, and it kind of evolved into the idea of just a big community garden.”
McCormick’s passion for the environment began as child when she helped her grandma, Betty Sayers, with beekeeping.
“I helped her with bees when I was younger. It’s just something that has interested me a lot and protecting our planet,” she said. “I just think pollinators are so important because we need them. … Their numbers are going down. At some point we need to make sure we are protecting their populations.”
McCormick approached Holdrege City Administrator Bob Rager last spring about her idea to create the pollinator garden. He took the idea to the city council and McCormick received permission to proceed with the project.
She began researching pollinator plants that would work best in Nebraska.
“All the plants in here are meant in some way or another for pollinators. We have a lot of native and a lot of non-native plants but they do really well in Nebraska. They are all drought resistant, which is pretty important. They get some water from the sprinklers around here but that center sprinkler doesn’t work. It’s just whatever sprinklers that happen to hit the garden is what water they get,” she explained.
McCormick’s parents, Robert and Michelle McCormick, helped get the project started by helping purchase flowers, digging up the peonies and mulching the plot. As an avid gardener, Michelle gave McCormick advice about which plants do well in Nebraska and which plants attract pollinators in her garden. While many of the plants are thriving in the plot, it has been a learning process of what does and doesn’t work.
McCormick said: “I’ve had maybe three or four kinds of plants I was hoping would do well and they just didn’t take.”
Once many of the flowers were planted, McCormick began noticing pollinator insects right away. She has seen bumblebees, Monarch butterflies, painted lady butterflies, swallow-tailed butterflies and even some unique species of wasps.
After planting the garden, McCormick wanted to add an artistic touch. She approached Holdrege Elementary School art teacher Kip Stephens about creating stepping stones for the plot. McCormick wanted to involve all grades in the project, but Stephens suggested that fourth-graders would be the best option due to their level of comprehension and artistic ability compared to younger children.
“If we continue it, then it can be every fourth-grade class gets that opportunity,” McCormick said. “It was really fun.”
Each student painted a small plate centered around a pollinator theme, such as butterflies and bees. When the students were done, Stephens placed the plates in cement blocks. They received a letter to let them know the stones would be on display in the garden by June.
“I think that is really cool. I would have loved to have my art in a public park, and it has their little names on it,” McCormick said.
McCormick has continued to tend to the garden this year. She recently received a Watchable Wildlife Grant for $2,000 from the Nebraska Wildlife Conservation. The grant will help pay for an educational sign and labels for all the flowers that will be in place later this summer. A 25 percent match is required, so Tri-Basin Natural Resources District paid for flowers to be planted this spring and the City of Holdrege is providing mulch. She also comes to the garden as much as she can to remove weeds and tend to the flowers.
“It’s getting a whole makeover,” McCormick said.
She has been working tirelessly to educate the community and youth about the importance of pollinators and environmental conservation. She spoke to YELP and the local Philanthropic Educational Organization about her project. She was a presenter last summer at the Tri-Basin Natural Resources District Water Jamboree where she taught to approximately 600 fifth- and sixth-graders about pollination. She also had a booth at the Patriot Gardens Outdoor Festival this spring where she helped kids pot small flowers and teach about pollinators. She also has a Facebook and Instagram page called the Bumble Project.
“I’ve been trying to post stuff on there and try to expand people’s view on world issues for the environment and stuff,” she said.
McCormick plans to attend Macalester College this fall in St. Paul, Minn., where she intends to major in environmental studies. She hopes if she doesn’t return home next summer that someone will want to take care of the pollinator garden. She has considered starting a club at the high school or in the community that will focus on pollinators and conservation and will tend the garden. She’s also considered having Tri-Basin help with it.
“Ideally, I would leave it with someone to make sure it’s kept up. I wouldn’t want to put all this work in with the sign and just have the garden die next summer. It’s not a ton of maintenance but it does need someone,” McCormick said.
She may be off to college soon, but that doesn’t mean she plans to stop her work in Phelps County. Whether it’s handing out wildflower seeds or adding more pollinator plots in the area or in the park, McCormick is passionate about making a difference with the environment.