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Community members take advantage of the new birding opportunity provided by the restored habitat at Hamilton County Park. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Park.

Community members take advantage of the new birding opportunity provided by the restored habitat at Hamilton County Park. Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Park.

One Indiana county park system is helping us save pollinators

As the need for pollinator habitat is increasing across the Midwest, our Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program has been working with stakeholders to pinpoint strategic locations for native prairie plantings. One Indiana county park system in particular has stepped up to the challenge. Over the past two years, the Hamilton County Parks & Recreation Department has been working with our Partners Program Biologist Julia Kemnitz to plant more than 100 acres of native prairie and enhance 45 acres of their existing prairie at Strawtown Koteewi Park, a popular 750-acre park located just north of Indianapolis.

The initial prairie project started with discussions between Partners Program Biologist Scott Fetters and Hamilton County Parks. Once all the partners were established and a project plan was in place, a 41 acre crop field was converted to a diverse, native wet-mesic prairie in 2016. Then in November 2016, existing prairie on the site was enhanced using prescribed fire conducted by one of our burn crews that included staff from Big Oaks, Muscatatuck, Patoka River and Ottawa national wildlife refuges as well as the Indiana Ecological Service Office. Just adjacent to this project, an additional 60 acres of prairie was planted into a crop field this year under a Partners agreement.

Park Operations Manager of Hamilton County Park Bruce Oldham and Partners for Fish and Wildife Program’s Private Land Biologist Julia Kemnitz hold the Partners Program sign. Photo by Scott Fetters/USFWS.
Park Operations Manager of Hamilton County Park Bruce Oldham and Partners for Fish and Wildife Program’s Private Land Biologist Julia Kemnitz hold the Partners Program sign. Photo by Scott Fetters/USFWS.

These projects with Hamilton County Parks provide a unique opportunity for federal, state, local government and other partners to collaborate on a large habitat restoration project at a popular park located just a short drive from the Indianapolis metropolitan area - home to more than 2 million people. Diverse partnerships are key to completing these types of projects, and this effort involved contributions by Hamilton County Parks, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District, Pheasants Forever, and Cardno Nursery.

Planting numerous forbs, including common and swamp milkweed, along with other necessary nectar plants will benefit important pollinators, such as the monarch butterfly. Furthermore, the diverse mix of forbs will provide nectar sources for all of the bloom periods of the growing season, ensuring that pollinators have a steady food source. Meadowlarks, dickcissels and several other grassland birds will also benefit because of improved nesting and brood rearing cover and increased foraging opportunities provided by the diverse species included in the seed mix. The project will also benefit nesting mallards and blue-winged teal, which utilize floodplain wetlands on the property.

Besides creating and enhancing habitat in the field, these projects will expand the educational opportunities at Strawtown Koteewi Park by creating more diverse habitat areas for the educational programs to utilize in their curriculum, including their Lepidoptera Host Plant Hike, Foraging for Wild Plants Hike, Community Seed Day and Autumn Amble in the prairie and woods. Additional educational events hosted at other park locations include Search for Butterflies and Bugs, Habitat Creation Roundtable, Pollinator talks, Habitat at Home, and a Monarch Migration Celebration.

Along with these public educational and outreach events, Hamilton County Parks will be participating in the Monarch Wings Across the Eastern Broadleaf Forest project, a multi-state effort funded through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to create a volunteer seed collection and distribution network and establish more than 4,600  acres of monarch habitat. Not only will Hamilton County Parks participate in the collections, they will also host collection teams to gather native seed from their prairie locations at multiple park sites including Strawtown Koteewi park. By working with Hamilton County Parks we are doing our part to address the need for pollinator habitat across the Midwest.

By Julia Kemnitz
Indiana Private Lands Office

Last updated: September 13, 2017