Story and Photos by Bryanna R. Poulin
For the thousands of guests visiting Table Rock Lake each year no visit would be complete without stopping by the visitor center featuring a state-of-the art interactive map of the lake, wall murals and a replica of an Ozark bluff.
Designed and built in 2012 the Dewey Short Visitor Center includes everything from 3 acres of creative landscaping to an up close look of the lake however a key element was missing.
“We needed pollinator beds and planting areas,” Leah Deeds, natural resources specialist, Little Rock District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said. “We started with a trail from the parking lot to the building that went through mowed grass. It had a bridge and was fun but it wasn’t very interesting and the trail didn’t get used very often.”
A pollinator bed is a garden that is planted predominately with flowers that provide nectar or pollen for a wide range of pollinating insects but were never finished when the visitor center was built.
Cherrie-Lee Phillip, conservation biologist with Little Rock District, spearheaded the project with Deeds explained further how there was contractual issues the beds and planting areas adjacent to the building were never successfully established and were in disrepair and in urgent need of restoration.
This drove Deeds, who works at the visitor center, to reach out to Phillip in June 2016 expressing her desire to replant some of the unfinished areas.
“Leah called with a plan in mind and I was able to assist her in reaching out to potential partners who were interested and together they made it happen,” Phillip said.
Of course it took time, money and resources to plant new pollinator beds and revamp the area outside the visitor center.
“So far the total cost to complete the entire project is $4772, 100 hours of volunteer service plus the donated seeds and plants,” Phillip explained.
Fortunately the project has outside support.
“The Handshake Partnership program is available Corps-wide and the Pollinator Conservation Initiative is a national initiative established by the previous administration directing agencies to develop plans to increase and enhance pollinator habitat,” Phillip said. “Both tools were available to make this project work.”
Phillip said the visitor center was chosen since it’s a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified facility with a gold rating. This means the landscape restoration project establishing a pollinator garden aligns perfectly with the facility design standards and LEED values.
More importantly the pollinator beds support two of the Corps principles stemming from the June 2014 memorandum issued by former President Barack Obama creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Since USACE is a federal land management agency, it was directed specifically to incorporate conservation practices for pollinator habitat improvement on the 12 million acres of lands and waters at resource development projects across the country.
“The establishment of a native plant pollinator garden at the Dewey Short Visitor Center aligns with two of the Corps Environmental Operative Principles by fostering sustainability and supporting environmentally sustainable solutions,” explained Phillip.
Even with outside help it took a few months for the Handshake Partnership to award funding for the beds but Table Rock personnel were eager to get started.
“Table Rock staff knew they wanted this project done with or without the Handshake Partnership,” said Phillip.
As they waited for the partnership funds, Table Rock personnel used their own project money so they could start the beds immediately.
“They purchased and planted plants native to their ecoregion in Missouri and the interpretive staff were able to get three of the flower beds started” said Phillip.
Eventually the partnership funding was awarded.
“Once the $3772 is received from the handshake money more plants will be purchased as well as benches, interpretive signs for the flower beds and edge material for the gardens,” Phillip said.
But waiting for the handshake money was just one obstacle they dealt with.
“The biggest challenge was the length of time from the announcement of winning the award in December 2016 to actually seeing the funds, which was one month before the close of the fiscal year on Aug. 27, 2017,” said Phillip. “Also start early like we did and once you have a partner keep the momentum going. If we had waited and started the work when we received the handshake funds, I don’t think we would have kept the interest with our volunteers and other organizations who helped.”
In the meantime the partially completed beds have many benefits for the Corps and guests who visit.
“Visitors are already enjoying the trail and beds,” Deeds said. “As we fill in the planting gaps and incorporate the beds into our interpretive programming the area is only going to get more use. It really expands the visitor experience at Dewey Short.”
Phillip followed up saying “It’s a teaching opportunity for the Corps and multiple learning opportunities for the visiting public, especially kids, to see and be able to ask questions about the natural environment that they live in. In this case, the project took a few months and in that short time span, the plants grew, bloomed and the habitat was restored and created for insects, birds and other wildlife.”
Deeds hopes the amount of guests visiting Table Rock will start protecting pollinators when they go home.
“Last year 160,000 visitors came to Dewey Short Visitor Center from all over the U.S. and the world,” Deeds concluded. “This year that number looks to be around 175,000 and we are making progress if just a fraction of those visitors implement native landscaping and pollinator protection in their home communities.”
Another benefit is the impact the beds have on the pollinators.
“Pollinators; bees and insects are in decline for several reasons like invasive species competition, destructive pathogens or parasites and the use of pesticides,” Phillip explained. “Pollinators, also include bats and other small mammals are all vital to our existence as a species, not just from an agricultural perspective but also for flowering plants in our urban and natural ecosystems.
Deed agreed saying, “A few of the major reasons pollinator numbers are dropping is because of pesticide use, habitat destruction, and invasive plants.”
As a result the pollinators need the restored native flowerbeds.
“Somewhere between 75 percent and 95 percent of all flowering plants on the earth need pollinators to pollinate,” Phillip said. “Pollinators provide pollination services to more than 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops. That means that one out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators.”
Not to mention the tiny critters perform billions of dollars in ecosystem services each year.
“If we want to talk dollars and cents, pollinators add $217 billion dollars to the global economy, and honey bees alone are responsible for between $1.2 billion and $5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States,” Phillip said further. “In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife”
Now that the project is almost finished the future goal is for other field offices throughout the district to build pollinator beds in their area.
“All ideas are laid out in the USACE Pollinator Protection Plan,” concluded Phillip. “We can conduct prairie restoration, flowerbeds, make accommodations for beekeepers to keep their hives on acres that we own, teach interpretive sessions to increase education and awareness. All the field office has to do is let me know or show me that they are interested and I’ll get the ball rolling. When Table Rock project is completed, 5 acres of enhanced pollinator habitat would be included in the Pollinator Conservation Initiative 7 million acre goal.”