Letter: Native plants inspire new AirPark Pollinator Path

From: Eric Riddle


Six years ago, I had never heard of a “native” plant.

I grew up playing in my family’s vegetable garden and happily started my own after buying my first home. I had no need for flowers because they weren’t edible.

I never thought about the vital nutritional importance that other plants served in feeding thousands of bees, butterflies, bats, birds, and beyond. When my plant leaves were eaten by anything other than me, I would reach for a pesticide.

My plant perspective changed when I met Andy Ertel from the self-proclaimed “Pollinator Capitol of Indiana,” aka North Vernon. Andy spoke to a committee that was working on a plan for the property in the Pleasant Grove neighborhood that was destroyed by the 2008 flood. Soon after the meeting, our group was convinced to develop a park that focused on a native plant landscape design.

What is a native plant? The National Wildlife Federation states, “Native plants have formed symbiotic relationships with native wildlife over thousands of years, and therefore offer the most sustainable habitat.” For this reason, native plants are often referred to as “pollinator” plants. Native plants are the main ingredients of a healthy food chain.

Soon after discovering the value of native plants, I learned that the local Sierra Club Winding Waters Group started a Pollinator Plant Project in Columbus that included planting natives at local schools and selling them annually to the public. I quickly joined the Winding Waters Group to learn and help promote the plants.

Over the last five years, my appreciation for the Winding Waters Group has continued to grow. I’m thankful that the Sierra Club agreed to be the fiscal agent for the successful AirPark Pollinator Path Project this spring and created the native landscape plans at the Columbus Community Garden and on the People Trail.

Other amazing organizations have played key roles in the Pollinator Path Project — Bartholomew County Soil & Water, Purdue Extension, Sycamore Land Trust, Blazing Stars CISMA, Ivy Tech, City Parks Department and the AirPark Maintenance Team. All of these organizations and more are part of the Columbus Pollinator Committee that helped Columbus become a Bee City USA affiliate in 2021.

Many thanks also to Patronicity for helping us develop a crowdfunding website and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which provided a $7,500 matching grant after we completed our successful fundraising campaign.

We’ll be celebrating the AirPark Pollinator Path with a ribbon cutting during National Pollinator Week in June. The event will include a walk on the Pollinator Path from the Columbus Community Garden to Blackwell Park.

If you are interested in learning more about native plants, the annual Sierra Club native plant sale will be on Saturday, May 21 and 28 at the Columbus Farmers Market.

To stay updated on all the great things happening in this Bee City, the “Friends of Pollinator Parks” Facebook group has volunteer events and an active news feed.