On the road to pollination

The route for the Pollinator Pathway as envisioned through Wilton.

The route for the Pollinator Pathway as envisioned through Wilton.

Everyone needs a way to get from one place to another, and that includes the birds, bees, and butterflies that pollinate our flowers, fruits and vegetables.

A group of conservation proponents have gathered together to create a “pollinator pathway” from one end of town to the other to enable these vital inhabitants of our local ecosystem to travel not only through Wilton but to neighboring towns as well.

“It’s a way to promote connectivity,” said Donna Merrill, executive director of the Wilton Land Conservation Trust, who noted that geographic borders mean nothing to animals.

It’s also a way to make the local environment, that has been altered to benefit humans, a little more friendly to our smaller residents.

The pathway is a joint project of the land trust, Woodcock Nature Center, Norwalk River Watershed Association, Wilton Garden Club, and Wilton Go Green. It is also supported by the Conservation Commission although that body is not actively involved.

A program to introduce the pathway to the community and recruit participants will take place Tuesday, April 18, 7 p.m., at Wilton Library.

While everyone in Wilton is encouraged to participate, the main pathway will stretch from the center of town north along Ridgefield Road to the west, and on the east side along the Norwalk River and the Norwalk River Valley Trail parallel to Danbury Road.

“We want to create a pathway for wildlife from here to Devil’s Den,” Merrill said during a gathering with Jackie Algon and Liz Craig of the garden club and Mike Rubbo of the nature center. “Wilton has an extraordinary amount of green space.”

That green space — which includes neighborhood back yards — can be put to good use as a corridor of contiguous pollinator-friendly feeding and watering stations, free of harmful chemicals.

The idea of a pathway might sound excessive, but pollinators can have surprisingly expansive ranges. Bumblebees, of which there are more than a dozen types in Connecticut, can fly 100 yards to more than a mile from a hive in search of pollen. Solitary bees fly even farther, from half a mile to a mile and a half for some species.

The pollinators that will be seen in one yard will surely make their way to a neighbor’s yard if it offers friendly plants. If not, they will have to move on.

The idea originated in Oslo, Norway, which built the first “bee highway” consisting of  numerous foliage stations throughout the city. Sunflowers, marigolds and other nectar-producing flowers provide the bees with sustenance as they migrate across the city. Individuals, schools and businesses have all gotten on board with the project.

Wilton’s pollinator promoters hope to do something similar here. Those interested can get on the entrance ramp, so to speak, at the event coming up at the library where they will hear a panel of speakers, can sign a pledge, and receive an explanatory pamphlet and starter packet of milkweed seeds — vital to monarch butterflies.

Speakers will include:

  • Shaun McCoshum, Ph.D., who will explain what pollinators are and why we should care about them;
  • Lepidopterist Victor DeMasi who will look at what’s happening in the local environment;
  • Jim Nordgren, an environmental consultant, who will discuss what individuals can do in their own yards to make a difference.

By raising awareness, organizers hope to show that threats to pollinator habitat can result in threats to human habitat.

While the pathway will benefit mostly birds, bees, and butterflies, there will be a mutually beneficial result among other animals — such as rodents, bats, and small mammals — that also act as pollinators as they brush up against plants.

Then, there is the whole “circle of life” aspect as insects and small animals become a food source for animals higher up the food chain such as birds, snakes, and raptors.

As towns become more and more developed, it is more and more difficult for some of these pollinators to survive. Many native plants have evolved with certain insects, making them the sole host plants for those insects.

“This is the case with the monarch butterfly, which requires leaves of the genus Aesclepias (commonly known as milkweed) for their larvae to eat when they hatch,” noted Jackie Algon. “No Aesclepias, no monarchs. Conversely, if you plant it, they will come! Having various types of host trees and shrubs will result in the butterflies that eat their leaves starting to appear in the garden.”

Lawns

While deceptively green, it has long been known that lawns are the “dead zone” of suburban living. When lawns are treated with pesticides and insecticides, water runs off and carries those chemicals into ponds and underground aquifers, thus contaminating the water supply.

“By reducing the size of our lawns and converting some of that space to small gardens of native plants that are in flower throughout the life cycle of insects, we are establishing a healthy, natural method of sustaining ecological balance on our properties,” Algon said. “By not adding pesticides to the remaining lawn, we are helping to ensure that all the wildlife that do come to forage on our properties are finding a healthy environment on which to complete their life cycles. And what is healthy for butterflies and other wildlife is also healthy for our children, pets and ourselves.”

The work of the Pollinator Pathway will not end with the April 18 event. That will be followed up with planting a pollinator garden on Sunday, April 30, from 9:30 to 12:30 along the Norwalk River Valley Trail at Sharp Hill and Autumn Ridge Road. Volunteers are invited to help remove invasive plants  and replace them with native pollinator-friendly shrubs, trees, wildflowers and grasses. Park at the lot on Autumn Ridge Drive, just off Sharp Hill. Bring gloves, shovels and spades if possible. Limited supplies will be available. More information and registration is at info@norwalkriver.org or 877-NRWA-INFO (877-679-2463).

Later in the summer Woodcock Nature Center will host a workshop to build bee hotels, and a butterfly walk is planned for Aug. 5 at Keelers Ridge Meadow. More information will be provided as details are worked out.

For information on the Pollinator Pathway, visit facebook.com/WiltonPollinatorPathway.

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