Time to dig in: Pollinator park organizers prepare to ask for volunteers

Organizers working on a planned pollinator park near the Cummins Technical Center say they are hoping to find folks who might be interested in getting their hands dirty this spring with some planting.

It will be a few months before work actually begins, but organizers are planning a volunteer call out to find nature enthusiasts interested in helping create beautiful spaces.

An update on the latest designs for Pleasant Grove Pollinator Park, between McKinley Avenue and Fifth Street, is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library, said advocate and pollinator park coordinator Eric Riddle.

In addition to the volunteer call out, discussion items will include an education initiative, a 2008 Flood Memorial and art projects at the site.

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The pollinator park was approved by the Columbus Plan Commission last September. However, it could be up to six months before federal permission is given to begin planting flowers and installing a path, said Columbus Parks and Recreation Director Mark Jones.

The proposed park site is where 48 homes were destroyed by massive flooding in 2008, with water reaching as high as 9 feet above street level, Riddle said.

Since the Federal Emergency Management Agency was instrumental in clearing out the devastation and relocating families, FEMA has established the right to determine what may or may not be placed on the 2.5 acres property, landscape architect Rachel Kavathe said.

But while awaiting that direction from FEMA, there are still plenty of other locations where perennial native plants can be placed this spring or summer, Riddle said.

FEMA has already given permission for some plants to be placed in an orchard area on the south side of Pleasant Grove, near McKinley Avenue. Last summer, 10 Serviceberry trees were planted there to mark the 10-year anniversary of the flood.

Jones named three areas where flowers and plants can be immediately placed — an existing pollinator park near the Blackwell Park soccer fields, an area near Noblitt Park and a test garden in the Columbus Municipal Airport area.

Throughout Bartholomew County, there are now many groups excited about creating and enjoying pollinator parks, which contain flower species that are most attractive to butterflies, birds and bees. Advocates say the insects attracted to these types of gardens support farms and gardens, leading to healthier, more productive harvests.

According to the FEMA application, the new pollinator park will provide space for the community to observe and learn about the importance of our pollinators, their connection to our ecosystem and food system, and also simply enjoy a natural setting filled with beautiful flowering plants.”

In south central Indiana, perennial native plants include the beardtongue, butterfly weed, cardinal flower, false indigo and purple coneflower. Many of the plants that will be placed locally will come from a state nursery near Vallonia in Jackson County, Riddle said.

These types of plants don’t need to be replanted annually, and are known to be resistant to floods, extreme heat and the frigid cold, Kavathe said.

Since there are several groups expressing strong interest in working on the new pollinator park, Riddle said organizers don’t want to lose momentum while they wait on approval from FEMA.

“We’re trying to get the ball rolling, and get more hands on deck,” Riddle said. “We want to build up energy within the community for when it’s time to establish the park.”

Interested groups include the local Sierra Club, the Bartholomew County Soil and Water Conservation District, Foundation for Youth and the State Street Area Association.

Support has also been promised by Cummins Inc. and Dorel Juvenile Group, according to both Riddle and Kavathe.

In addition, several educators, including those at Ivy Tech, IUPUC and St. Bartholomew Catholic School, have said they want to get involved, Kavathe said. Long-term plans include a covered outdoor classroom, Jones said.

The proposed park could also provide a new People Trail link between the Seventh Street Bridge and Foundation for Youth, Jones said. While it is possible some plantings and trails could be installed in the park late this year, most development won’t take place until 2020 at the earliest, Jones said.

Last December, organizers reported that $16,000 had already been contributed from individuals and businesses for the new park. At that time, costs estimates for the park were reportedly between $100,000 to $200,000.

Jones said it’s too early to give an exact cost estimate for the new park. However, organizers said obtaining funding through state and local grants is still being pursued.

Although the city parks department has established a fund that allows pollinator park supporters to make contributions, donations are not being actively sought at this time, Jones said.

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The Columbus Parks and Recreation Department has been active in the development of the Pleasant Grove Pollinator Park plan from the project’s inception in early 2017.  

An eight-member committee that includes park employees, neighborhood residents and community members has been meeting regularly for the past two years.  

Phase One of the Pleasant Grove Pollinator Park was approved by the Columbus Plan Commission last year. But organizers could wait as long as six months to get permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin actual work on the property.       

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An informational meeting on the proposed Pleasant Grove Pollinator Park, as well as other areas where perennial native plants are located or could be planted, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday in the Red Room of the Bartholomew County Public Library, 536 Fifth St. The host will be Eric Riddle, a member of the Pleasant Grove Steering Committee.