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Oregon Trail 5th Graders Celebrate National Pollinator Week at BLM’s NHTIC

by Lesley Collins

This article highlights the DOI role in and commitment to pollinator conservation. Without pollinators, humans and ecosystems cannot survive.
June 24-30, 2007, has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Senate (S.Res. 580) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Find out what’s happening during National Pollinator Week in your area or post your event at: www.pollinator.org.

Oregon Trail Elementary School students prepare to go to work at the NHTIC.

Trails Center Employee Jason Vlcan talks to Oregon Trail 5th graders about native plants to Wyoming.

Oregon Trail Elementary School students work at the NHTIC.

Oregon Trail 5th graders help spread mulch around the new plants.

Oregon Trail Elementary School student waters plants in the new butterfly garden.

Students watered the new plants in the butterfly garden.

Imagine monarch butterflies stopping to rest at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (NHTIC) during their annual migration in the winter and spring. Imagine Trails Center visitors stopping to admire these colorful orange and black butterflies resting and eating in a beautifully planted garden.

This is exactly what 40 Oregon Trail Elementary 5th grade students hoped as they helped plant three monarch butterfly way stations at the Trails Center in Casper, Wyoming on May 24, 2007.

The NHTIC project is also what “Cat” Darst, Science Coordinator for the National Lands Conservation System in the BLM Washington Office had in mind when she suggested the Monarch projects. Cat works nationally with the Monarch Habitat task force of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a group that is interested in improving habitat across the country for migrating monarch butterflies.

The Trails Center is one of the first to add butterfly gardens to the resource interpretation tool box. Trails Center employee Gayle Irwin noted, “This project will make this area really colorful and vibrant. The children are helping beautify the Trails Center for our visitors along with providing habitat for butterflies, birds and small mammals.”

The U.S Department of Agriculture and U.S. Senate have designated June 24-30, 2007 as National Pollinator Week. The Oregon Trail Elementary School 5th graders decided to celebrate Pollinator’s Week early before school let out for the summer and partnered with the Trails Center on the project.

The students started their day with a field trip to BLM’s interpretive site at Bessemer Bend. Students picked up litter and studied plants and trees that had been planted two years ago as part of the Hands On the Land Program with the NHTIC. Bessemer Bend was the emigrants’ last crossing of the North Platte River. The NHTIC Hands on the Land program integrates the teaching of cultural history with natural history.

After Bessemer Bend, the 5th graders headed to the NHTIC where they were ready to start digging in the dirt. The students, assisted by their teachers Janet Wragge and Paula Sorenson, spent 1 ½ hours planting an assortment of plants to attract monarchs and other butterflies as well as other wildlife species to the NHTIC. The plants include butterfly weed, showy milkweed, various types of penstemon, purple coneflower, hopflower oregano, yarrow, orange carpet hummingbird trumpet, black-eyed Susan, Indian ricegrass and little blue stem grass.

Along with the plants provided by BLM, the 5th graders brought some of their own plants they grew at school using monarch way station seed kits. The kits include six varieties of milkweeds, and six general nectar plants. Milkweed is used by the butterfly larvae, and nectar plants are used by the adults.

“We want to get monarchs to come to our gardens. The butterflies take pollen from our plants and the pollen gives them energy,” said Oregon Trail 5th grader Brandy Harshfield.

Students learned about monarchs during a classroom presentation given by Irwin and her colleague Jason Vlcan. The two NHTIC staff members gave a talk to these students and to the 4th grade classes at Oregon Trail Elementary during National Environmental Education Week in April. Students learned that monarch butterflies are facing population declines as a result of human-induced habitat destruction along its migration pathways. Monarch habitat areas provide migratory butterflies energy to complete their journey south in the fall and north in the spring.

Before they started digging, BLM employee Jason Vlcan taught the students the importance of using native plants that will survive in Wyoming’s dry climate. “Native species are plants that are adaptable to our dry environment, plants that can live in the dry sandy soils here at the Trails Center,” noted Vlcan. “That’s what we want to plant here, and that’s the types of plants we will put in; these are the plants most likely to survive in this landscape.”

The kids were broken up into three groups. Two groups worked with Trails Center employees and volunteers on planting seeds and plants in the three butterfly gardens, while a third group helped spread mulch around the plants in all three gardens. The boys in particular enjoyed using the wheelbarrow to carry mulch to the different areas.

The project was a huge success, and the kids were proud of the work they had accomplished. They learned about native vegetation, monarch butterflies, providing shelter for other animals, and the importance of pollinators; they even discovered a few interesting bugs along the way! Teachers and NHTIC employees encouraged the students to bring their parents back to experience the project they helped develop.

When asked what he thought of the project, student Sam Maerz said “It’s just pretty cool to be outside.”

The Oregon Trail Elementary 5th graders are also BLM’s partner in the Hands on the Land Program. Irwin noted, “Hand on the Land is a nationwide environmental education program. Federal agencies partner with schools and get kids outside working on various projects.”

“The teachers at Oregon Trail Elementary really embrace the Hands on the Land Program,” Irwin added. “We are fortunate to work with such a positive group of teachers and administrators who believe education is more than books.”

Teacher Janet Wragge noted, “Anytime you can get kids outside, away from television and video games, it’s exciting.”

The NHTIC is a public-private partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, the National Historic Trails Center Foundation, and the City of Casper. For more information visit the web site at: www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/NHTIC.html.


Last updated: 05-13-2008